"The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold."
As a volunteer youth worker, I had the privilege of having many young ladies tell me about the things that caused them emotional pain. I remember having a conversation with a girl about the things that made her feel anxious. She shared that her parents were going through a rough spot in their marriage. They were fighting a lot and in their frustration their fighting had been getting louder and some things were being said that I am sure they both regretted. As she spoke, I was overwhelmed by this feeling of having everything fall apart. I brushed it aside, assuming that the feeling was only the empathy I was feeling for her.
I asked her what she did when they fought. She said she would take her little sister in her bedroom and put on loud music and give her toys to play with and then she would go sit at the top of the stairs where she could hear and see what was going on without being observed. I asked her why she did it when the issue was obviously between her parents and caused her so much anxiety. She said something to me that resonated with me to the core of my being. "I have to hear so I know what to expect! Not knowing if they are going to stay together or not is more terrifying than hearing what they are saying." I tucked her words back in my mind to think about later, but avoided them.
That conversation took place over twelve years ago. Yet the Lord has brought those words to my mind again. I have since done some work with a Christian therapist and I know why I was so triggered by her words. I was the same little girl she was describing herself to be. I was only nine when my parents went through a rough spot and considered divorce strongly enough to tell us kids. They worked through it at that time, but I know every time I heard them talking late at night I tried to hear their words. Every time they went into their bedroom and closed the door, my little ear was listening at their door...because not knowing what was going on was more terrifying than knowing the truth.
I had taken on a false responsibility of trying to keep our family in tact. I know now it wasn't my job and that it is impossible for a child to control the decisions parents make, but it seemed so real that when I left home for college I experienced extreme anxiety and horrible homesickness because I didn't know what was going on at home. Don't get me wrong, my parents weren't loud mean fighters...they were really good at hiding their stuff so I had to be extra vigilante to read the signs of trouble brewing. When they later did divorce, my gut reaction was guilt and a sense of failure. But as an adult, I was able to reason that it really wasn't my fault.
As an adult I have experienced the same fear and anxiety that comes with believing things are falling apart. The most obvious was when the twin towers fell on 9-11. I have heard many people express that feeling when the economy took suck a big down turn a few years ago. Sadly, I have also experienced that feeling many times in the different churches of which I have been a member. I know anytime a group of individuals with differing temperaments, spiritual gifts, backgrounds, goals, and desires come together there will be conflict and sometimes it handled well and sometimes it isn't.
But looking back, every time I have heard of conflict in a church I am attending (and it has been in every church I have attended) that old familiar anxiety comes up and I become that little girl ever listening at her parents' door. I have known for awhile that the amount of anxiety I experience has always seemed too big for the situations. Yesterday, I think finally figured out why.
As a little kid, it was normal for me to look to my family to feel safe and secure. As a preschooler I saw a bad accident on the road and looked to my mom to reassure me that everything was going to be okay. During the Cuban crisis every time I heard an airplane fly over, I would look at my dad to see if he looked worried or scared. When he didn't, I knew I could relax and all would be okay.
After I left home and got married my parents divorced and I transferred that need for security to my church. We have lived in several states and attended many churches. In every one of those churches things have happened where that sense of security was shaken. Sometimes through conflict, sometimes through the loss of pastors or key leaders or close friends with whom I spent hours fellowshipping.
Had I grown up in a Christ centered home my parents would have taken it as their responsibility to teach me that my true security, my family's security, my churches' security, and my country's security is in the one and only true Rock -- Jesus!
Yesterday, Pastor Brent Van Elswyk preached a sermon about the sayings of angels around the birth of Jesus. Two points of his sermon spoke volumes to me in regard to those yucky feelings of my world falling apart. The first was "Do not be afraid...when every thing falls apart. Trust God!" I realized that fear and anxiety set in because I focus on the state of feeling like my world might crumble, but the truth is God is in control even when it doesn't look like it from the view down here. Instead of transferring my security from my family to God, I had transferred it to church which is simply made up of a bunch of other wounded souls, who like myself, are learning to work out their salvation. The truth is God was, is now, and always will be trustworthy.
The second point that spoke to me was, "Do not be afraid...when God burst into your life!" He went on to point out many different ways that God can burst into our lives and I have taken the liberty to expand his list.
God bursts into our lives with the announcement of a pregnancy , planned or not.
He bursts into our lives with changes in our government, desired or not.
He bursts into our lives during natural disasters -- flooding, earthquakes, or tornadoes.
He bursts into our lives, in the loss of those close to us, some old, some way too young, some with sweet goodbyes and some without.
He bursts into our lives when kids disobey or are wounded to the core by bullies.
He bursts into our lives when we realize our spouses aren't perfect and that living with them exposes our own sinful attitudes, strongholds, and unresolved issues.
He bursts into our lives in the midst of ugly divorces and fractured families, some with abundant grace and some with deep and painful bitterness.
He bursts into our lives when friendships crumble and reconciliations fail even when we have done everything we know to do to make them work.
He bursts into our lives when we are traumatized by events, past or present.
He bursts into our lives by altering our dreams and plans...when infertility robs us, when a baby is born way too early, when a company transfers us, when early retirement is forced, when ministries are shut down, or when we are told we aren't needed anymore, when injuries or health force changes in careers, when accidents change us in someway forever either physically or emotionally through PTSD.
By learning to reframe anxiety provoking situations which turn me back into that little girl who listened at her parents door into "bursts of God" into my life, I can be a woman who finds my hope in Him who by His very nature is both sovereign and good. If I can let the truth of His goodness and His sovereignty sink into the deepest recesses of my heart, then those bursts, instead of provoking anxiety, become opportunities to see God at work in my life just as He did in the life of Noah who in facing a flood survived God's judgment on the earth...just as He did in the life of Abraham who was called to sacrifice his only child saw the miraculous substitute ram...just as He did in the life of Joseph sold by his brothers in to slavery who ended up being their salvation during a famine...just as He did in the life of Rahab who saw her city crumbled to become the grandmother of David...just as He did in the life of Ruth who buried one husband to become a part of the lineage of Christ...just as He did in the life of young Mary who was faced with an unplanned pregnancy not of her own doing to giving birth to the Son who became her Savior as well as mine.