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For Your Marriage

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family.

Fear Itself

What does one do with fear?

It feels like a 10-pound dumbell tied around your neck, like an angry hawk trapped in your ribcage. It is a ruthless arithmetic that adds up to nothing.

What does one do with that? Fear is an evolutionary mechanism, honed over millennia, that motivates urgent action on behalf of survival. What happens when there is nothing one can do?

On the day of the Boston marathon, Stacey and I had already been wrestling with fear. Here in South Bend, there had been an anonymous threat to area schools—someone claimed that 20 children would be killed in five schools on April 15.

Our school’s administrators had notified parents, noting that the school would remain open on that day, but also giving us the option to keep our kids home with an excused absence. There was a marked and impressive response by police, who were present at, in, and around schools all day long.

News outlets reported that the police receive a number of these kinds of threats during the spring as restless kids play pranks or try to get an extra day off of school. Still, authorities seemed to be taking every precaution.

Stacey and I spent the weekend thinking over what to do. Should we hold them out of school for the day? Our three children are the most important parts of our lives—nothing else comes close. Would it be reckless to send them to school after a threat like this?

As we talked, we took our cues from those who are in positions of responsibility—people who have demonstrated in the past that they execute that responsibility well. The school principal leaves nothing to chance, and proves that in how she handles everything from snow-day decisions to playground bullying. While she ensured every precaution—including not allowing children to go outside for recess for the day—she decided that school would remain open.

Stacey and I recognized and named the fear we both felt, and it was very tempting to let that fear rule the day. It would have been very easy to simply hold them out of school for the day, knowing that nothing would PROBABLY happen, but preferring to err on the side of safety. What is one day of school, in the end?

We have felt this kind of fear before—after the Sept. 11 attacks, after the Newtown shootings. We feel it now, after the bombing in Boston.

On a small, personal scale, Stacey and I have this maxim for our marriage: “Committed love has no room for fear.” We are diligent about shining light on any corner of our relationship that hides in the shadow of fear. Fear leads to self-interested decisions, which is the opposite of love. In a relationship, nothing good ever comes from fear if it is not attacked and rooted out.

On the bigger scale of our family’s life in the world, this can also be true. Fear might keep us safe, but at what cost? Might it also prevent us from living fully? While we certainly will not be taking our kids hang-gliding, we know that fear might also keep us from running headlong into life, engaging the world with optimism rooted in faith.

There was no easy decision in our school threat situation. Loving, thoughtful parents could make two different decisions and both be right. We decided to send our children to school.

We are, of course, so grateful that the day passed without any kind of incident. Our conviction to send the children to school did not allay moments of panic—“what if” moments struck us throughout the day, sometimes vividly for Stacey. Such is the nature of fear, though—it is hard to shake with reason.

In the end, our decision came down to the fact that we don’t want to be the kind of family who makes decisions because of that fear. We want to be reasonable and responsible, of course, but also generous and open. We’d never sacrifice safety for the sake of holding on to a principle, but we will also always take every opportunity to proactively define and uphold the values we want to live by as a family.

Isn’t this our responsibility as parents? We are obligated to teach our children little things in life, like table manners, for example, or how to read, but isn’t it just as important to teach them how to live life?

We refuse to live in fear.