November 19, 2014

I woke today with the familiar feeling of my heart starting to beat too fast and my mind racing. I know this feeling. I know what it means. I know that, as a recovering anxiety addict, it means that today will be a day when I have to fight for peace. These days are rare now- the result of the gift of healing. But they creep in on occasion, threatening my soul and demanding more attention than I desire to give. It happens, even to recovering anxious people.

Anxiety was a trademark of my childhood, though I am not sure how often people knew it. The remnants of a child hyperaware of others feelings and thoughts. The residue of a little one so fearful, who would lay awake nights mulling over the slightest thing that might have occurred… or not occurred. The jumbled up heart of a person who had been taught early to people-please and that love was attached to how pleased people were. And as any of us who struggle with anxiety in our own ways will say, anxiety leads to more anxiety leads to more anxiety. It becomes this dark rabbit hole journey, spiraling earthward. Some of us learn to live so skillfully in that rabbit hole, we never return to the surface in all our years and instead inflict our anxious spirits on innocent passersby. Some of us grow so cynical in that place, we refuse to recognize the pernicious lies that speak into our hearts. Some of us get so tired of the anxiety, we jump to the other extreme, living with a reckless disregard for all things and people. The journey out of chronic anxiety is an arduous one. A dying to the things that keep our survival instincts in tact, and a sometimes painfully deliberate choice to let our whitened fingers be pried apart.

For a long time, I did not like the Philippians passage that speaks to anxiety and joy. I despised it because it seemed so simple. Too simple. And the people who spoke about it in my younger years seemed to press the point that somehow if you did this magic formula of prayer and controlling your worry in these simple steps, poof! life would not longer feel so sharp and panicky, and you would go on your merry way with a smile on your face and a skip in your step.

It never worked for me. Because that’s simply not what Philippians is saying. When Paul writes of joy, he is not whistling past the graveyard wearing glasses colored in all sorts of shades of rose. He is in prison. He will eventually be killed for his faith. He knows suffering. This is not just some “had-a -bad-day-and-in-the-grumps-so-just-think-happy-thoughts-and-get-of-out-it” advice being spoken here. When Paul writes this word, “Rejoice” he is speaking of the good gifts of God. Of choosing even in the darkness to remember the goodness that we are given. Even if that gratitude is small; even if you can barely muster up the strength to find one thing to be grateful for, that’s a start. I learned long ago that sometimes gratitude must begin with the simple things- with finding the blue of the sky to be worth noting as God’s good gift, or to be thankful for the food in the pantry. These may seem shallow, small, insignificant, but for a heart struggling to remember the goodness of God, it’s a start. So “rejoice” points us to the presence of a good God, a God who is still up to something even in the midst of our struggles. This sort of rejoicing isn’t something we can just put on like a pair of pajamas. It is instead often forged in the dark struggles, in the daily worries that drown us, in the painful times. It is forged in the furnace of hard.

And then Paul writes the famous words we see sometimes hanging on people’s walls and stitched into overpriced throw pillows at the bookstore and tossed around on the lips of well-meaning and deep-seeking people alike. “Do not be anxious about anything.” The word for anxious here means shattered, or broken up into pieces. I think I could agree that anxiety has that special way of ripping up. It has this way of ripping up sleep and soul. It has this way of ripping up the simple act of breathing and it has a way of ripping up the complexity of relationships. It has a way of ripping ups the mind and ripping up the gifts that come to our lives. Anxiety shatters us. It shattered my morning. It shatters our hearts. When we are anxious, we splinter, sometimes just a few pieces, sometimes into a million pieces. We splinter and shake and the mess around us feels bigger than anything else we know.

Do not be anxious. Splintered. Shattered. Broken up into a thousand shards. Do not be…

But that’s the part of this scripture I did not like for so long. Do not be? Do not be? How? Anxiety is not something easily taken off. It’s not something easily put on a shelf and left to the ravages of dust. Its splinters sink deep into the skin, in the soul and aren’t easily tweezed out. And those shards feed the fears that lurk in our hearts.

So what do we do? What can we do? Paul does not go on to give a formula. He doesn’t have a three step plan to recover from anxiety. Instead he gives us a picture, a way of living. A way for our hearts to be molded and shaped so that every day, whether an anxious day or not, can be filled with the knowing that in the hard, God is. He encourages us to be people who walk closely with a God who is mysterious and near. A God who doesn’t let us know the end of our stories, but who lets us read the last page of his Story. Paul encourages us to become people who walk through this world while leaning into, speaking with, throwing our heaviness against a God who is utterly beyond us and never apart from us at the same time. To choose relationship with this God, who doesn’t always make sense, but who is good.

This is how anxiety is kept at bay. Not that there won’t be anxious moments, not that there won’t be reason to feel shattered. But that we can lean our heaviness against him because he’s strong enough to handle it. To carry what we are so weak to hold.

In Colossians, we read this phrase: In [Jesus] all things hold together. All things. It doesn’t always feel like all things are held together. It doesn’t always feel like anything is being held together. But it is. When we are threatened to shatter into a billion bits, Jesus is wrapping us tightly. When we are threatened to break apart, Jesus is catching those shards and putting us back together. It doesn’t always look like it, but it’s true.

Hi. I am Karen. I am a recovering anxiety addict. I have come far in this journey but I still have mornings like this one every so often. I still have days where I have to fight for the peace God gives. But I also have Jesus. And you do too. The one who, in the end, holds us together. Holds all things together.


2 Responses to “Shattered”

  1. Reid Olson said

    Reblogged this on pastoreid and commented:
    This is so very well-said. Thank you Karen.

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