“Imagine your life, wholly untouched by angst. What if faith, not fear, was your default reaction to threats? If you could hover a fear magnet over your heart and extract every last shaving of dread, insecurity, or doubt, what would remain? Envision a day, just one day, where you could trust more and fear less.
“Can you imagine your life without fear?”
For many years, my answer to this questions has been, “no”.
If there were an Olympic sport for worrying, I would be a Gold Medalist… just ask my family. “Oh my gosh Mom, if I don’t check in with you within 5 minutes of when I’m supposed to, you immediately think there’s been an accident.” “Honey, just go to sleep. It’s going to be fine. You worry all the time.”
In fact, last spring was really tough. I was taking some prescription medicine to help me sleep at night and come to find out, one of the side effects was: anxiety. I was having chest pains and my heart was thumping out of my chest. Should I go to the ER?
(Having had these same symptoms a few years ago – and now realizing I was on Ambien then, too –I did go to the hospital and they said I was having an anxiety attack.) So I was pretty confident that these symptoms were history repeating itself. But it was still scary.
I prayed a lot. “Please Lord, take these feelings and symptoms away. My head knows you’re in control of all things, but my body is feeling otherwise!”
After I stopped taking the medication, although I didn’t get much sleep, the anxiety decreased dramatically.
Still, the worrying plagues me.
Just for the sake of brevity, I’m going to cut to the chase and tell you two things that have helped me.
First, my friend Mike Hyatt wrote an excellent blogpost called Worry and Imagination: Two Sides of the Same Coin?
After reading it, I began to be able to not get sucked into the anxiety provoking image that was in my head, but step back from it a bit and look at it as an “imaginative scene”. Then I could be more objective about it and evaluate the likelihood of its occurrence.
Then, I just finished Max Lucado’s new book, Fearless.
Now, I was hoping that Max would just lay out the simple formula on how “not to be anxious for anything” and I would be “cured”.
But actually what he gave me was much more valuable.
He took me to a place, where I could wrestle honestly with my core questions… if God loves me, and He loves the world, why do bad things still happen? And do I really trust God with my life and the lives of those I love? Is there really a plan where “all things will work together for good?”
Yes, I knew there wasn’t a simple formula to make it all better. But, particularly in the discussion guide, Max gave me tools to make my worries “concrete.” He helped me focus on the One who says to the wind, rain and thunder, “Peace. Be still.” and all is quiet.
Does it mean that bad things won’t happen? Of course not.
But it does mean that I can trust the God of the universe with my life, my worries and my imagination.
This morning, out of the blue, I got a Facebook message from an old friend. He asked, “Are you still waiting for Y2K to hit?”
I’d like to share my answer to that question with a little background first.
For many of my friends who knew me in the late 90’s, I was very involved in “the whole Y2K thing” because, for me, it wasn’t about a “computer problem,” it was about three things:
- Being prepared for any emergency.
- Being emotionally okay during hard times.
- Being ready to serve others if the need arose.
You see, “being prepared” made sense to me. My dad was an independent insurance agent and he drilled into my head since I was very young that unexpected things can happen.
Even as a little kid I remember having fire drills at home so we would know how to get out of the house and where to meet if there were a fire. I was admonished that under no circumstances was I to stop to go get my favorite stuffed animals and that my parents would be responsible to get our dog out of the house. We kids weren’t supposed to worry about anything; we were just to get ourselves out of the house (I’m a firstborn and they knew me well!).
Obviously, nobody “expects” to be in any kind of accident, but accidents happen – whether it’s your fault or not. That’s what insurance is all about. It’s about planning for something that might happen so you’re okay if (or when) it does.
At the time when people were thinking about possible Y2K problems, I was also very concerned about how women, in particular, were coping emotionally with their concerns about how life might change if there were a crisis or emergency. Since by training I’m a Marriage and Family Therapist, I knew that difficult circumstances can create enormous pressures on people and can have major consequences. Trying times can often draw people together but it can also pull them apart.
I was also concerned about being able to care for others. As a person whose faith is very important to them, I know that in both good times and in desperate times, there is a call to help people in need. When I think of how to take care of the people I love, I also need to think about how to care for my “neighbor,” whether that person is next door, in my office or in another part of the world.
So I began writing an online newsletter called “Dear Karen” with advice on being physically, emotionally and spiritually prepared for what might happen in an emergency or crisis.
And the good news was that when the clock turned over to the year 2000, many of the problems had gotten fixed or didn’t happen and everything went back to “normal” for most people.
But I continued to write my column for a few more years because for a number of people, they actually did find themselves in difficult or challenging circumstances.
I got many letters from women whose husbands had lost their jobs, had passed away or left them alone to fend for themselves and their kids. I got letters from women whose neighborhoods had been hit by tornados or floods or lost power for long periods of time from snowstorms. I also got letters from women whose best friends or neighbors had run into seriously hard times. But because they had prepared, they had their basic needs covered and were okay until they could get back on their feet (or they were able to share what they had with others).
So here we are in 2009 and given the current economic crisis, things are happening we never imagined or expected. And not only are they happening, they are on the front page of the newspapers, TV and Internet with lightening speed – increasing anxiety and fear like never before.
With that as background, here’s my response to my friend’s question:
“Unfortunately, “Y2K” is hitting everywhere… economically! It was always about being prepared for an emergency or crisis… and for many people, sadly, they are in a crisis and aren’t prepared for it. The good news is always that God will see us through… even in the difficult of times.”
The three things I was concerned about then, I’m concerned about now: that people haven’t planned for a “rainy day” (which was always the mantra of parents of Baby Boomers), that stress is taking its toll on individuals and families, and that the economically hurting “newly poor” now include our families, neighbors and friends and maybe even… us.
That’s why I want to share now, as I did then, that there is hope. Hope that we can handle whatever comes our way, we will get through this, and with God’s help, that it is never too late.
And if the problem sometimes feels too big, remember this. My favorite old joke has always been, “How do you eat an elephant?” The simple but profound answer is always the same, “One bite at a time.”
Let’s pass the fork.