Learning the unforced rhythms of grace

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Anxiety

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I like to think of anxiety as an invisible wire.  At some point in my day, the wire is tripped and it sets off a quiet, but annoying alarm. My focus shifts to the single pursuit of turning it off. I feel annoyed but not sure why. My thinking becomes cloudy. I’m tempted to drop what I’m doing and fix this feeling.

Not true for you? Perhaps. Let me explain it another way.

You start the day out happy. With a coffee in hand, you smile at people around you. The day is ordered and planned and you are motivated.

Before heading out the door, you skim over the headlines of the news. Something catches your eye and you read about the homeless in your city. You then realize you need to get going to the store, so you grab your keys and head to the door. Your daughter runs into the front room and asks you for a ride to the mall. You agree but feel troubled, (the anxiety wire has been tripped). You wait for her to apply her makeup and fix her hair. As you drive, you decide to use the car ride as a teaching opportunity and make sure she knows about the homeless people in your city.  You don’t realize it at the time, but you are intense and ‘teachy’ and she senses it.

By the time you drop her off at the mall, she is frustrated with your assault of words and jumps out of the car without thanking you. Your annoyed feeling seems to increase and you have a sudden thought that she needs to go on a mission trip.  At the grocery store, you run into a friend who just returned from a mission trip. As she tells stories about her daughter helping feed the orphans, your phone buzzes in your pocket. You see that your daughter is texting you. She wants shoe advice. Suddenly, you think that your daughter is selfish and that your parenting is bad and that your life needs to change and your friend is better than you and you feel some guilt for the load of food in your grocery cart.  Your mind begins to fill with quick-fix solutions about how you can call a family meeting tonight and change the way your family spends its time. Then you have a quick flash forward to the church service where your family will be honored for volunteering a month of your summer holidays to feed orphans across the world. Suddenly you begin to feel a little better, but prideful. You’ve forgotten what your to-do list was about today. You return to finishing groceries but your mind is cloudy. None of this registers yet, just an annoyed feeling that is expressed in a quick and snappy returned text to your daughter telling her to catch a bus home. “That will teach her to be thankful”. You stuff the phone back in your bag and finish your groceries.

Before I stir up any more agitation, I’ll stop. You get the picture.

To love and be loved, we must manage our minds well. Reading the news is important. But it may not be the best for you first thing in the morning.

Give yourself some grace. A lot of information comes toward you often throughout the day. If you are married with kids, or live with roommates or spend time with co-workers or students, you will receive stories, information, facts, questions and feel people’s stress throughout the day. If you are in the school phase of life, then September is full of questions, new schedules and forms to sign. There are many invisible wires of anxiety that could set off that alarm again and again throughout the day.

So, give yourself some grace. Here are a few ideas how:

1. Book 15 minutes at the end of every day to check for anxiety ‘invisible wires’. This can be as simple as a clipboard and writing words about how your day went. It might look like this:

...read news, took daughter to mall, met friend at grocery store, felt annoyed, not sure why, troubled by how our family doesn’t help homeless, felt confused, to-do list didn’t get done, too much to do in one day. Need to chill. Groceries took time. I was tired. Glad daughter called me for shoe advice, she’s a good thinker, might need to talk to her about how agitated I was….will journal about the homeless thing tomorrow, might be overreacting…

2. Let this awareness enter your prayers. After an anxious day, God doesn’t want to hear a nice, tidy prayer. He wants you to pour your heart out to Him. He wants to comfort and counsel and guide and love you. By being aware of the things that happened in your day and how you felt about them (even if you’re not sure why) is the place where God already is.

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” Philippians 4:6 (The Message)

May you have a calm and steady second week of September.