Tuesday, December 9, 2014

God's Peace for an Anxious World--Christmas 2

"Humble yourselves, therefore,
 under the mighty hand of God
 so that at the proper time He may exalt you,
casting all your anxieties on Him
because He cares for you."
1 Peter 4:6-7

We inherited a small white maltipoo from our kids who moved to Japan. She's a well trained dog who believes she is human. She was pretty anxious from the change when we first got her, but I had a viral infection that caused extreme fatigue and got to spend ample time cuddling her. She also soon attached to my husband and a son who lived with us at the time. If I left for any reason, she sat with one of them. Then one day the movers came and once again she watched stuff get packed and another person disappear from her life as our son moved and she she seemed even more anxious.

When I put her down to clean house, she follows me from room to room looking worried. There are time I sit down with her and feel her trembling, which is what she does when she realizes we are getting ready to leave the house without her. Her anxiety seems to have risen to a whole new level and that  grieves my heart because she gets so anxious anticipating a possible abandonment that  she  can't always enjoy time she spends on my lap. In watching her, I realized I spent many years living with the same kind of anxiety and I couldn't enjoy life or enjoy God.

Anxiety is a common human experience and rises during the holidays. It has increases when many lose jobs or are suffering economic set backs because the rising cost of living is not met with pay raises. There is also the anxiety that comes with living under the threat of terrorism as the idea of going to crowded places to shop where an active shooter might be show is unsettling. There is more  anxiety because of the fires the weather may cause mudslides and floods, impacting life and property and the rebuilding that has begun. There is also anxiety that comes from wanting to have the perfect Christmas, give the perfect gifts, and respond perfectly to the gifts we receive. There is the anxiety in anticipating family dysfunction and family drama that erupts when people with unresolved baggage come together and pretend everything is alright. We also struggle with anxiety because there is always extra costs during holidays and our tendency to go overboard in gift giving, realizing we  have to be accountable at some point to pay off the debt after Christmas. 

For believers, anxiety tends to create toxic shame because we believe we aren't supposed to be anxious. But the truth is we all experience anxiety at sometime. We just tend to deny it or to hide it, choosing to live a lie instead of honestly acknowledging it. Because of this, we  don't  resolve it and it festers and grows.

There are several reasons we experience anxiety. First, we live in a fallen world and may have experienced painful or traumatic events that altered our brain chemistry. A normal healthy response to early trauma includes anxiety. I think of those who experienced childhood trauma at such a young age they didn't have the mental or emotional capacity to process it. Their body responded with surging chemicals designed to help them stay safe, but they were too young to know how to use that energy. So, the anxiety was imprinted in such a way that it recurs when it gets triggered now by things that the mind remembers subconsciously--a smell, a sound, a season of the year, holiday lights, etc. As they experience triggers, anxiety rises often without a person knowing its source.

There is also anxiety provoking things going on in the here and now. I think of those who've been given a diagnosis of cancer, once, twice, or maybe even thee times. If we put ourselves in their shoes we realize they face mortality daily in ways we don't. They face difficult decisions about therapies that potentially poison their bodies as it kills the cancer. They face soaring medical bills and battle insurance companies who refuse to pay because they value profit more than people. Anxiety can also come from not being sure they can tolerate chemo and the shock of their balding head. It comes from wondering if their faith will be strong enough to endure the illness and its treatment. It comes from wondering if they will suffer well and continue to be a light or be able to experience God and His love while knowing He can heal, but may choose to not do so.

There is anxiety when families deal with sick children. I follow the posts of two mom's whose children were born with heart defects. One, a little girl named Charlie who has gone through two open heart surgeries. They found out while Charlie was still in the womb that half of her heart hadn't formed. The road they travel is long and death will always be a very real possibility. They  walk closely with God and the song they sing over her has continually declares yes to God's will and yes to His ways. But there is anxiety to be reckoned with when Charlie faces life threatening bumps of all sizes and fights to survive with half a heart. The other child is sweet little Caleb who has already been given a new heart. But the new heart didn't stop the anxiety from reoccurring when the drugs preventing rejection left his immune system compromised and vulnerable to blood cancer with which he's battled brave. I know his mama and am sure she experiences anxiety when he gets sick, even in the midst of a great big trust she has placed in God.

There is anxiety felt in families struggling with addictions. Anxiety rises at holidays as each wonders what they will face. Everyone walks on eggshells, fearful they will say or do something that will cause a relapse and the drinking, the drug use, or the porn use will start up again along with the chaos and wounding behaviors that follow. There is also anxiety because holiday stress could trigger an addict to drink, snort, shoot up, or return to the darkness of his or her infidelity through internet porn--the fix that degrades the whole family, leaving it open to all sorts of dark spiritual influences that can pass to future generations.

There is anxiety in families in which mental illness dwells. Will this be the holiday the depressed caves to suicide? Will mom (dad, or a sibling) be calm and happy, agitated and angry, depressed and unavailable, or on a mania high?  Will the fear instilled by the paranoid come to fruition? All the while the children are trying to figure out if there is something they did to cause the illness or if there is something they can do to bring some stability into the instability--a responsibility way to big for little shoulders to carry, causing anxiety to become their norm.

There is anxiety in homes where marriages are broken. Each family member experiences it as they find themselves wondering if the next mistake made, the next thoughtless word, the next problem with the kids, the next financial setback or argument over money might be a final trigger that ends the marriage for good, fracturing a family into two. Anxiety also comes to the children  overhearing arguments and assuming responsibility to smooth things over so mom and dad stay together.

There is anxiety caused by core beliefs that we developed at such an early age we don't even realize we had them. Yet, these core beliefs impact thoughts, actions, reactions, and feelings. Some of my anxiety inducing core beliefs were: "I am responsible for everyone else's happiness." "My being loved depends on me being a perfect size, a perfect wife, a perfect mom, and a perfect believer." "My value and worth as a person comes from what I do." During holidays, my anxiety is tied to wanting to find the perfect present for everyone as I answered for every penny I spent. Ironically, it also came from wanting to have the perfect response to every gift I received. As a person who was a emotionally-reserved introvert, that's always been difficult for me. I don't remember ever getting a gift I didn't love, but know my lack of spontaneous expression left others wondering if I did. That  perfectionism gets complicated because having the perfect marriage, perfect family, and perfect holidays depends not just on me being perfect (and I am not), but on others being perfect (and they are not). I realize I've no right to project my perfectionism on others. I am simply called to love well, to extend grace, and to speak the truth in love. When perfectionism is my goal, I try to control things I can't control and that anxiety rises like a snake ready to strike. My frustrations grow, and my temper explodes into a big ugly mess.

Over the last few years I've learned some things that have calmed my anxious heart. First, I learned that God doesn't demand perfection. He desires me to be humble and to express my anxiousness to safe friends who are not-judgmental. I am graced with friends who listen well and friends who remind me they hear me and see me and their powerful words remind me that my heavenly Father sees me as well. Sometimes my friends share truth about God's goodness, bigness, and graciousness in non-shaming ways, but most often they just listen, knowing I simply need to bring it to the light. Sometimes they remind me to cast cares on God, because He cares for me and offer to help me do that in prayer. Because I've had a few people in my life who shame with admonition rather than gracing with encouragement, I've learned to share with those who understand God's love and grace and those who understand we live in the hard of a fallen world and will experience anxiety, but whose gentle encouragement reminds me to continue believing our God is bigger than it all!

The second lesson I've learned is when I feel panicked and anxious I can talk freely to God about it because He isn't waiting to strike me with lighting because of a feeling I am experiencing. He's always  inviting me to remember who He is and who I am in Him. Remembering God's character, strength, love, and grace has helped me to stay calm through some pretty big events--like an accident our daughter, her husband, and infant son were in. Like an ATV accident our youngest had, leaving him with painful injuries including a ruptured spleen. Like when one of our granddaughters was born three months too soon. Like when I suffered such a severe break in my ankle that the doctors said, "If you walk again..."

The third lesson I learned was that I could dissolve or manage anxiety that was caused or increased because of lies I believed. I learned some of the lies from others who were misguided, some from seeing things accurately while interpreting them incorrectly, some from being tempted by The Enemy who seeks to destroy and to squash faith with the lies he whispers in our ears. He feeds  anxiety when he convinces us that women are too much and not enough and men fall short of what it takes to be a man. He stirs anxiety when he whispers lies about God and His character, stirring doubts about His love, goodness, and faithfulness. He whispers lies about who we are, causing us to forget we are created to be His "image bearers" designed to worship the Creator.

The Enemy would have us forget we are chosen, accepted, redeemed, beloved children who have been bought with the blood of God's own son and sealed with His own Spirit. He would have us think our circumstances prove we're bad, forgotten, unseen, or abandoned by the God who calls us His own. How The Enemy loves to shame us by telling us anxiety is proves we're bad. He shames because shame causes us to hide or deny our reality instead of casting it on Him through prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving. The Enemy uses shame to stir a form of pride that drives us to look "all together" while quaking to the core. He does this because he knows if we hide in shame, we won't experience the care and comfort of our God. He knows that if we engage with others, we will get out of our own heads and be able to identify the lies he speaks. The Enemy deceives so we will feel responsible for things of which we have no control--things like other peoples' feelings, attitudes, choices, beliefs. and actions. He prompts us with the should of shame, the seduction of power, and reminder of sin already confessed.

So, why do I write of all this in a advent post? I write it because this holiday is a Holy Holiday  commemorating the birth of our Savior--the God-man who took on flesh to die as a payment for sin, the birth of our Shepherd who loves and seeks His sheep, the birth of our King who had made us joint Heirs with Him. The Enemy wants us to take our eyes off Him and put it on anxiety-provoking things like the creation of the perfect Christmas. If we aren't careful, we will buy into the lies he tells and return to anxiety instead of resting in the Gift of His peace and joy. I wonder what would happen if the goal of perfection were replaced with the goals of  connection  and loving well through celebrations of simpler traditions, acceptance of imperfection, sweeter conversations, simple gifts, and remembering Jesus.

2 comments:

  1. "He desires me to be humble and to express my anxiousness to safe friends who are non-judgmental."

    While distantly related, humility is somehow connected to freedom from anxiety (sort of a god-complex). Reminds me of this part from "Mere Christianity" ("The Great Sin") --
    [We must not think Pride is something God forbids because He is offended at it, or that Humility is something He demands as due to His own dignity-as if God Himself was proud. He is not in the least worried about His dignity. The point is, He wants you to know Him; wants to give you Himself. And He and you are two things of such a kind that if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble - delightedly humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which has made you restless and unhappy all your life. He is trying to make you humble in order to make this moment possible: trying to take off a lot of silly, ugly, fancy-dress in which we have all got ourselves up and are strutting about like the little idiots we are. I wish I had got a bit further with humility myself: if I had, I could probably tell you more about the relief, the comfort, of taking the fancy-dress off-getting rid of the false self, with all its "Look at me" and "Aren't I a good boy?" and all its posing and posturing. To get even near it, even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert.]

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  2. Thanks for reading and commenting and sharing from that great book. ;-) You might also like reading some of Mike Yacconneli's books....write's a bit like manning. Two of my favorites were Messy Spirituality and Dangerous Wonder, the Adventure of a Childlike Faith.

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Introduction

Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!