Today I need to heed my own words: “What will happen if I don’t?”
“We stopped checking for monsters under the bed, when we realized they were inside of us.” (The Joker from Batman)
For years, I struggled with a horrible disease. It hurt my family. As I sit here in the wee hours under cover of darkness waiting for my first grandbaby to be born, one of my greatest desires is that he won’t ever succumb or even have to fight this monster. No, it’s not cancer. It’s not heart disease. It’s not anything that modern medicine in the traditional sense can address. The disease is fear. What is the cure?
One of the “not-so-good” things I do when I don’t feel well or have some kind of physical symptom (I know at least two or three of you reading this do this exact same thing) is check WebMD. There is a handy symptom checker, and most of the time, many deadly diseases come up as a possibility when I have a headache, my left-side hurts, and I have a funny mark under my chin (you get it…you’ve had those weird symptoms too). Needless to say, it sends me to a “not-so-good” place (if you are taking notes and you have medical-related anxiety, NEVER USE THE SYMPTOM CHECKER ON WEBMD!).
I don’t need a symptom-checker for fear. The manifestations have been evident in abundance for as long as I can remember in my own life, the lives of those I love, acquaintances, and even strangers. It doesn’t take long to spot them. They include: striving, hating, arguing, comparing, performing, blaming, controlling, bragging, shaming, judging, pretending, slandering, and hiding, among others. I’m sure you have your own list to add. It’s a little more tricky to understand the driver behind these behaviors: fear.
What is our greatest collective fear? I would venture to say it might just be the fear of being unloved, not belonging and ultimately rejection. No wonder there are so many symptoms. It makes so much sense.
Left unchecked, fear increases. Hope diminishes. The above symptoms get worse. Sometimes, addictions develop. Relationships with ourselves and others suffer.
So what is the cure? I can confidently shout from the top of my roof that the cure is LOVE, plain and simple love. “Perfect love casts out fear.” (John)
“Love is an experience that is given and received.” If we had a symptom-checker for love, it would include: safety, connecting, trusting, humility, vulnerability, harmony, encouragement, openness, and resting. These certainly sound like the very opposite of fear.
One of the things that fear does to us is isolate us from others, from what our hearts long for: love, belonging and acceptance. We believe that we can protect ourselves through isolation and lack of trust. The result is the contrary: fear grows and multiplies. Can this true debilitation be treated? Yes. True treatment is not in protection, but in vulnerability, scary as that is. It happens on walks, around tables, in homes, all kinds of places, anywhere that hearts connect.
Is that enough? Do we just need the venue? I would plainly say no. We also need the conduit. It’s not enough to be with people, side-by-side, together, but alone. We have had enough of that at big parties or even small family gatherings, to understand that fear can abound in any environment. What we really need is the language of grace. Received and given. My new online friend, Janet Newberry speaks these words:
“Grace is a language, and it’s so much more than a language.
There is real, and supernatural, power in the words we speak, and the words we refuse to speak. There is power to heal or destroy, to strengthen or weaken, and we hold this power in our words.
When grace is spoken, new life is wooed forth, from our new hearts within. Good life. Deep satisfying life.”
Fear language speakers are filled with the symptoms we noted above. You don’t have to go too far (just go on social media, watch the news, check out what’s going on in your own home or maybe even passing through your own lips), to see blame, shame, judgment, comparison, slander, arguments, boasting, and the list goes on.
The opposite is also true. Humility, trust, understanding, kindness, encouragement, and vulnerability permeate the language of the grace speaker. Connection happens. Fear is quelled. Love prevails.
God’s ultimate will for us is that we love and be loved. He gently reminds us to love others the way He’s loved us. That’s a love you can trust. God communicates to us in the language of grace. He is the ultimate grace-giver.
Yes, the cure is Love. “Love is a connection that speaks grace.” Love is not a blog. Love is not a sermon. Love is not a book. Those are good, but they are one-way streets. Love is relationship. Love is people. Connection. Safety. Vulnerability. Humility. The ultimate language of grace is to know another and be known, to accept and be accepted, true and unconditional love.
Will baby Broden’s generation be the one that has the cure for this horrible disease called fear? I am hoping for that. I want to be, as Janet reminds me, a “cure carrier,” who speaks grace in safe relationships. It’s free for you and for me. I pray that my heart will be on this continuing journey of receiving and giving grace, hope and love. And that out of that more healed heart, my mouth will speak loudly and often.
“There is no fear in love.” (John)
(Click HERE to see Janet Newberry’s website, who I follow whole-heartedly because she speaks the language of grace which I need desperately and want to learn more about. I have taken much of these thoughts from her in this post. Anything in quotes is from her.)
“I need you to love me a little louder today.” (Healthyplace.com)
This past year, our dog, Autumn, tore both of her ACLs and we made the very hard decision to put her to sleep. She was an absolutely beautiful dog, a loving dog, an active dog, a mischievous dog, and a highly-anxious dog. At our first vet visit when she was just a puppy, we were told that she probably had neurological issues (because we made the lovely decision to buy a pure-breed). Little did we know then, but soon found out, that this dog was one nervous-nelly.
Life marched on and she had all kinds of typical dog anxiety related to thunder, strangers, and loud noises (like Allen and I yelling at the TV during Steelers games). But she also had “not-so-typical” dog anxiety where she panted and paced often for no reason, snapped at the air like she was catching flies even when she was alone (it’s called fly-biting syndrome) and tried to climb out of our home through the fire place.
Needless to say, you get my point. Like her loving owner, this dog had some serious issues with the dreaded monster of anxiety. As the years went on, I learned some very valuable lessons from my Autumn, many that I remind myself on the days that anxiety rears its ugly head in my own life and the lives of those I love.
#1 Anxiety can come out of nowhere.
There are times that I find myself in a place that only moments before was nowhere to be found. I am going along just fine and out of the blue, I have thoughts that are absolutely ridiculous and filled with fear. (I haven’t heard from Josh today. I wonder if he’s okay. He is, Esther. You are ridiculous. But he could have fallen in the shower and all his housemates are already at school. He might be laying there bleeding or worse, he might be dead. How will we deal with this? I will be wreck. Stop it Esther. This is nuts.) This may have come on the heels of enjoying a nice breakfast out with a friend while drinking chamomile tea.
#2 Anxiety usually passes.
After years of observing Autumn’s and my own anxiety, I have come to realize that it doesn’t usually last. The same way it roars into my life, it often makes its way out. This is a lifeline for me in the throes of it. On a very bad day, I remind myself that it will eventually pass. It might take some time, but it won’t be like this forever. It seems to be cyclical. Shalom (meaning completeness, soundness, peace) is a life-long journey, with many fits and starts along the way.
#3 Anxiety isn’t about trusting God.
One day, Autumn was just beside herself. It might have been a thunderstorm. She was pacing and panting, wide-eyed and whining. In a moment of clarity, I said to her (very tongue-in-cheek), “Autumn, you just need to trust God more.” You are probably thinking to yourself, “That’s ridiculous. She’s a dog.” And you know what, it is ridiculous. For years, I added to the shame of my anxiety by berating myself about not trusting God enough. I memorized verses about fear, the “do not fear” ones especially (and yes, I do know that here are 365 verses about fear, one for every day…I would imagine you might sense the sarcasm). I promise you. If memorizing these verses and trying really hard to “trust God more” would have done the trick and that formula could have worked, I would be all over it, preaching it from the mountaintops. If it were only that easy. But the hard truth is it’s not.
This is a message for all of us. Anxiety is a neurological disorder. Anxiety is when a person’s central nervous system is telling them there is an emergency even when there isn’t one. Anxiety comes from a place of fright without solution. Yes, we can feed it and make it worse (learned all about those neurons firing and giant pathways being created in my Physiology class in college). I am an expert at feeding it. And yes, new pathways can be formed that bring calm to the nervous system. I am in the process of feeding those new pathways now and have been for many years (which has helped tremendously). In the end, it’s all very complicated and I am not an expert in the field. But that’s not the point.
Here is the point. For those of you who don’t struggle, please don’t tell the person in the middle of it to “trust God more.” I promise you it won’t help. It may just heap more frustration and shame on the person and send them deeper into hiding. And for those of you, like me, who have this monster hounding them on many days and during many seasons, think about my dog. Give yourself some grace. Tell yourself some truth. It’s just as ridiculous to say “trust God more” to yourself as it is to my dog.
#4 Anxiety dissipates by being “held.”
The best thing we could do for our dog, when she was at her worst and visibly shaking with fear, was to hold or pet her, come close to her, and speak gently and kindly to her. That’s really what those of us with anxiety need. We need someone to listen to our fears, be gentle and kind to us and most of all, hold us until it passes (this can be emotional or physical). My favorite words in the whole world are, “It’s going to be okay. You (the real you) are going to be okay.”
The big question that nags is what if there is not someone tangible to hold us? Can we go to God? Will He calm our hearts? It’s not magic and certainly not a quick-fix formula, but I promise you that He cares for you. He loves you. He will listen. He will be kind and tender to you. He will hold you until your heart and mind calm. A verse that I reprimanded myself with for many years got flipped on its head one day by our counselor. I Peter 5:7. Instead of “cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you,” it is actually the reverse in the Greek. It really says, “Because He cares for you, you can cast all your anxiety on Him.” God is the initiator here. We ARE cared for. He holds us. To that truth, I cling with my life. Shalom.
(By the way, I loved my dog and I miss her very much. I wouldn’t have traded her for the world, fly-biting and all.)
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” (Desmond Tutu)
“Are you doing okay?” my husband asks at 3:30 am. “It seems like you are having a hard time sleeping.” “I just had to pee,” is my response. Half-truth. Statement that quiets the other’s worry. Words designed to make everyone (including myself) believe that “I’m okay.” This happens often with the struggle of anxiety.
I have fought with what’s best described as Generalized Anxiety Disorder since my late 30s. More than 14 years.
If you knew me growing up, in my 20s and early 30s, you would have told others I was independent, strong, and care-free. I was the teen who drove to Canada to see my boyfriend and slept in the back of my beat-up Ford Pinto without any thought to the dangers of a young woman alone at a rest stop. I was the young adult who left home after college, delivering pizza while looking for work, and sleeping at friends’ houses with only about $20 in my pocket. I was the young mom who allowed her preschool children to play in our cul-de-sac without supervision, never hesitating to think they might be snatched, hurt or fall into the river that was only 50 feet into the woods behind our house. Not someone you would classify as anxious. Far from it.
I will never forget that morning. I woke up. Just as I was getting out of bed, my left leg collapsed right out from under me. I fell. My heart raced and I panicked. I got up slowly and was able to walk normally, but called the doctor immediately. “What was happening? Did I have a brain tumor?” Not sure why that thought immediately came as I had never paid much attention to my health. I was crippled with fear almost in an instant. I was pretty sure I was going to die.
A battery of tests for brain tumors, lyme disease, and MS. With each waiting period and diagnosis in the clear (my leg was probably just asleep when I fell), I thought I would have some peace. I only got worse. The final diagnosis: a full-blown nervous breakdown. For three months, I lay in my bed, cried, couldn’t leave the house, and had what they call depersonalization, the feeling of being “out of body.” I thought I was going crazy. It was the darkest time in my life.
Fourteen years of counseling, on-and-off medication, progressive muscle relaxation audios, my Headspace app, exercise, comforting Bible verses on sticky notes, deep breathing, prayer and begging God for relief, yoga, chamomile tea, close friends and a husband who shared my pain, changed diet, not watching the news or clicking on WebMD. You get the picture. Fighting it from every angle. Seasons of relief and seasons of being back in the fight. Fast forward 14 years to the past 24 hours. I am back in the fight.
A day in the life of half-truths (the whole truth being said inside my head):
7 am “Good morning Allen. I am glad Jared has work today.” (“Will he get up on time? Should I wake him? He’s 23. Don’t do that. Bad boundaries. But what if he doesn’t get up? He will lose this job. He won’t be able to pay his student loan. He will get bad credit. His future could be ruined.”)
8:45 am (knowing he is supposed to leave at 9) Send a text. “Want a smoothie before you leave?” (“Hopefully he is awake and moving. If he doesn’t respond, I can call him. Don’t do that. Bad boundaries again. But what if….”)
9:45 am (“Sarah’s sonogram for the baby is right now. They are rechecking some weird spot they found on his heart. What if he has Down Syndrome? It’s a soft marker for that. Stop thinking that, Esther. The doctor said it’s a super slim chance and all the other markers were fine. You need to get over this. Go to the grocery store. And don’t text her. Wait until she texts you.”)
10:45 am Send a text. “How did your appointment go?” (“Is the baby alright? Is Sarah going to have to quit her job to care for a special needs child? Will she be able to handle this? This would be horrible. No, it wouldn’t. Lots of people make it through and actually thrive.” And on and on with the back-and-forth while I don’t hear anything for almost two hours. Shaking at this point.)
12:37 pm Send another text. “?” Response: “Everything is fine.” (“Why do you keep doing this? You are supposed to be over this. See. It was all fine and your worry was useless. You have issues. Maybe you should go back on medication. Don’t want to do that.”)
12:45 pm (As you can see…relief was short-lived) “Hey Rachel. How are you feeling?” (said daughter had wisdom teeth out four days prior and had almost died of a tooth infection as a young girl) (“Does she have an infection? Do we need to call the doctor immediately? Please just say “better.”)
1:30 pm “Josh, did you hear from Uber yet?” (“Why did we allow him not to get a real job this summer? We should have been stronger with him. Is that controlling? He better start working. I will feel so much better when he’s making money.”)
5:30 pm From Allen: “Any word about the truck selling?” My response: “Lots of people are looking at it and taking pictures.” (“This truck is the death of me. Why did we ever let Rachel buy it? It will never sell. We will be stuck with it. I just need it gone. This box needs to be checked off my list before she leaves for college. Why isn’t it selling? I will be okay when it sells. What if it doesn’t? I won’t be okay.”)
Dinner out with friends. Distraction. Bed time.
Fitful night’s sleep filled with dreams about above items.
3:30 am Allen: “Are you doing okay? It seems like you are having a hard time sleeping.” Esther: “I just had to pee.” (“If he only knew. Don’t want to talk about it. Maybe I should write a blog post to get this sorted out. Would others read it? Would they love it or stop reading all my future posts since I don’t have my act together? Maybe it will bring this stuff to light. Maybe someone will feel understood. Is it worth the risk?”
As you can see, I believe it’s worth the risk. I believe that I am not alone. I believe that bad stuff thrives in the darkness, in the hiding. So, here I am, bringing it into the light. A glimmer of hope arises in my heart that I have just taken another step towards healing.
You? What do you need to bring into the light? Where can you have hope? Healing?
“I will not be mastered by anything.” (The Bible)
Fitness trackers are the latest things in the exercise world. Promises of helping you become more active, eat and sleep better and ultimately, turn you into a healthier human being abound. I bought into this promise about two and a half years ago.
Dosed with excitement because a friend was using a FitBit, I ordered one immediately, very excited to get my 10,000 steps and track my sleep. At first, it served me well. I was paying attention to my activity level and exercise, walking more, going to bed earlier and becoming what I hoped was a healthier person.
Very quickly, however, this servant “became the boss of me.” I found myself leaving family at Thanksgiving evening and going out alone at 9:00 pm in the chilly darkness to get my 10,000 steps. At 11:50 pm one night, I began running in place just to eek out those last 300 steps, missing the mark by just a few as the clock struck midnight. I became obsessed.
It worsened when I bought my husband one for his birthday and found there was also a “community” I could invite friends to. Now, I had others to compete with, especially the man I shared my home with. I spent my days keeping track of and trying to beat those who walked miles and miles a day. I became a lunatic about “keeping up” with the person who had the most steps.
The day I realized that it was no longer serving me, but had become my master, was a light-bulb and life-giving moment. It wasn’t just about FitBits, but about life. I recalled a quote by John Seymour, “Emotions are excellent servants, but tyrannical masters.” I realized it wasn’t limited to emotions. It wasn’t limited to FitBits. Most things in life make great servants, but terrible masters. Here’s a taste:
(Aside: my FitBit just buzzed to remind me to get off my behind and get moving…WOW)
Anger, fear, sadness and happiness are all great servants. Anger causes us to act for justice and right the wrong in the world. Fear prevents us from doing things that would harm us or warns of impending trouble. Sadness helps us process through loss and heartache. Happiness invites celebration of blessings. However, each one is a terrible master. Rage causes both physical and emotional harm. Anxiety cripples. Depression paralyzes. The pursuit of happiness at all costs can destroy.
Much good comes from making and using money. We care for ourselves and our families and even provide for the poor. However, money as a master can be all-consuming, with the result many times being workaholism and even soul-wrecking addictions.
Many of us exercise power in our worlds. We influence the next generation, bring people together for a cause and lead others to a better place. However, the thirst for power produces dictators at every level, and even, at its worst, war.
These are just a glimpse. What about food, shopping, phones, medicine, exercise, just to name a few? And in the end, something as simple as my FitBit.
I am certainly not opposed to my FitBit. In fact, it’s one of the things I love (see What I Love and Don’t) and if you click here, you will be brought to Amazon to find out more about the one I wear. It sits proudly on my wrist and some days I do better than others allowing it to be the boss of me. The problem doesn’t lie in the technology. It resides in me.
When I sense the “take over,” as I like to call it, the simple questions I ask of myself are “Who is the boss? Is this my servant or am I the one in chains? Who is serving whom?” The immediate answer in my heart tells me all that I need to know and I am reminded of the great and loving Master who never makes me a slave, but calls me a friend and a daughter.
Now I will ask you. What might be something in your life that started as a really wonderful servant, but now may have become your tyrannical master? Feel free to comment below, just hold it in your private place or maybe share with a trusted friend. Lastly, and as always, please share and subscribe below so that you don’t miss out.