Coping With Fear
We are now in the middle of a three-week period of mourning that culminates with the 9th of Av, the day the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed twice. It is a time, our sages teach, that the Jewish people are most likely to find themselves in hard and scary situations. One lesson we can learn from these times is how to cope with fear, neither by ignoring it nor letting it paralyze us, but by using it to spur us into positive action.
In our story, some kids struggle to face up to fear.
"FEELING THE HEAT"
Maya and her sisters, Janet and Sue, were in the middle of one of their intense Sunday morning Monopoly marathons.
"Park Place! That's mine." Janet clapped with joy. "Hmm, let's see, with a hotel and two houses on it you owe me..."
Their parents had gone out shopping and three budding real estate tycoons were having a good time when suddenly Maya stood up.
"Hey, do you smell smoke?" she called out.
Sue looked up in a panic. "Smoke? Smoke!" she cried nervously as Janet calmly waved her hand and smiled.
"Do you guys think you can distract me so easily? Let's go, pay up. This time I'm gonna win."
"No, really. I think something's burning," Maya insisted. By now the smell was getting stronger.
"It's a fire, FIRE! We're trapped and there's nothing we can do!" Sue had tears running down her eyes.
"Oh, stop being so dramatic, Sue" quipped Janet. "It's just probably Mrs. Klein next door who burnt her husband's toast! Forget about it. Come on, sit down and play. Whose turn is it to roll the dice?"
Maya held her ground. "True, there's no need to panic, but we can't just blow it off either, because it may be something serious. I'm going to go investigate."
Despite Janet's protests, Maya walked quickly over to the bay window and peered into their back yard.
"Oh no! The tool shed next to the house is on fire! Come on - we've got to leave the house right away."
But to her surprise, neither sister stood up to join her. Sue just flopped down, put her head in her hands and wept hysterically, and though Janet was laughing as if nothing was happening, Maya could tell she was really scared too.
Maya also felt pretty scared and part of her also felt like just crying or pretending it wasn't happening. But she knew that even though she was scared, she had to keep herself calm and act fast. "God, help me stay calm..." she said to herself.
"Okay, let's go!" Maya quickly dialed the emergency fire number. Then she grabbed both of her siblings by the arms, practically dragging them out of the house. She led them in the opposite direction of the fire, away from the billowing smoke, across the lawn to their neighbor's house where she called her parents' cell phone to tell them what was happening and assure them that they were all safe.
Fire trucks roared onto the scene only a moment later and the three sisters, together with the concerned neighbors, watched as their powerful fire hoses quickly doused the flames.
"All under control," said the burly fireman to the three sisters. "Thanks to your cool heads and fast action. Thankfully, the fire didn't spread and nobody was hurt."
As he turned to leave, all eyes turned to Maya, who had taught them a lesson in how to feel the heat without losing her cool.
Q. How did the kids feel when they first smelled smoke?
A. Janet pretended it wasn't happening, Sue panicked and Maya felt scared but stayed calm and took action.
Q. What can we do if we hear about something scary?
A. If there is anything helpful to do, we should do it and we should always remember that God is there to help us.
Q. What life lesson do you think can be learned from what happened?
A. When we're afraid it's easy to try to deny our fear, like Janet did, or let it overwhelm us, like Sue. But the best and most effective way to handle it is, as Maya did, to feel the fear but still try to stay calm and do whatever we can.
Q. How do you think praying to God can help in scary situations?
A. Firstly, it reminds us that He's there with us, which is very empowering, and second, our prayers have a very real impact on the events of our lives and throughout the world.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Do you think a person can grow more spiritually in easy, calm times or scary, difficult ones? Why?
A. Scary times and events, though not pleasant, can be big spiritual growth enhancers. They have the effect of focusing us on our most important values and bring out from us inner strengths that would otherwise remain hidden.
Q. What can a person do to avoid panic or denial during challenging times?
A. To the extent that we internalize that everything that happens is from God and for our ultimate benefit, we will be able to maintain our perspective and act effectively in all situations.