Living Anxiety…and the many ways we fail to kill it [Part I]
Am I using my life to it’s fullest?
Am I making the best use of my life, gifts, time?
Am I making a big mistake?
With freedom to live life comes anxiety about what you do with that life. Freedom confronts us with the uncertainty of our future. Am I really being led in wisdom or by God? What will my life amount to? What will the future hold? Can I handle it?
No one likes anxiety. But anxiety was supposed to be a helpful tool for us. For instance, no one likes the feeling of hunger or thirst, but thirst is a helpful tool that tells us we are beginning to run empty, and need to refuel. No one likes to feel cold, but that sensation is an indicator our body is running below optimal operational temperature. It is not good to ignore these sensations, these helpful tools.
The same is true of anxiety. It doesn’t tell us we lack food or water, or warmth, but it tells us that we are lacking peace, we are lacking Shalom. It tells us that there are still pockets of our heart that have not been exposed to God’s peace. The healthy way to respond to anxiety is to lean into it. Let it be a gentle guide to lead us to where we are not at Shalom. When I’m cold, where am I cold? Are my hands cold? Do they need gloves, or do I need a jacket? Are my feet cold? Do I need to put on some socks? I’m feeling anxious – what about what she said made me feel anxious? I’m alone in my car and the silence makes me feel uneasy – what about the silence makes me feel anxious? There is a place in our heart that is not at Shalom, there is a place where we have not experienced God’s loving presence. Anxiety is supposed to be “the dummy light on the dashboard of our soul.”* It is to make us aware of a problem that our heart is not operating in the trust of God and His love as it should.
That is the way a healthy person would respond to anxiety but that is not the typical response we normally have. There are at least four ways in which I’ve identified my typical response to anxiety so I’m sure you will relate to at least one or two of them (I’ll spend some more time going into detail about each of these in future blog posts):
- Medicate/retreat (repress) “I don’t want to think about it.” Facebook, videogames, Netflix, relationships, sport – You can medicate with just about anything not just drugs and alcohol.
- Faint/surrender (depress) “Life just shit on me again.” When that happens you can die a little inside. Turn off to the possibilities; shut down to the future to protect yourself with fortified emotional defenses.
- Resist/fight (suppress) “Life’s trying to shit on me, but I wont let it happen. I’m too willful to accept this. I am the captain of my destiny.” You can also shut down to the present by being unable to accept what is. There is no time for an open-heart while a problem goes unsolved.
- Fantasize/create illusions (impress) “These things don’t happen to other people.” You can’t handle the present reality so you dream about yourselves as another person – a person who is okay in the future. You fantasize about being somebody in the future that really is strong enough, or smart enough, or able enough to handle whatever we are anxious about. Illusions are the most dangerous in my opinion because they fly under the radar, and we don’t honestly think they are a problem; they’re just a happy harmless thought.
Which strategy do you most relate to? What is your go-to response?
*This phrase and many of these ideas come from Dr. John Coe who has influenced my thinking tremendously.