Mental tug of war
I just got home from the gym. I haven’t bothered to shower yet. Sometimes the fullness of my heart and head is so overwhelming that I have to ease the pressure by writing some thoughts down.
I was about three miles in on the treadmill, watching Dead Poets Society, when the tears just started flowing down my face. I understand that an elevated heart rate leads to an intensification of emotion, but somehow I think the tears would have come even if I had been standing perfectly still.
Yesterday a dear friend shared information about the trauma she has been experiencing. There is no clear path forward. There is fear. There is desperation. There is the utter brokenness of a mother’s heart. So, the tears flow as I pray and stand helplessly on the sidelines, going on with the living of my life while her world is upended.
For me, being invested in someone else’s life has always come with a deep sense of empathy. But, oh how I struggle with not letting that someone’s pain become my own! In my heart there’s a tug of war between “Bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and “Be anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6).
Since college, I’ve been an A student in the subject of anxiety. With adulthood and independence came a profound awareness of the broken nature of the world around me. If there wasn’t something to be anxious about at the moment, then I would begin to worry about what might be coming down the road to inflict pain and suffering. Perfectly healthy? There’s likely a bad diagnosis ahead. Children seem to be doing well? Just wait until they rebel. No major issues? I’ll probably lose my job.
My disturbing thought life produced pain of its own. Robbing any chance for peace and tranquility, my mind ensured that I had an endless stream of worries to concentrate on. Working in the nonprofit sphere certainly didn’t help. Seeing countless people who were drug-addicted, homeless, hopeless, and dejected only served to further fuel my distress. It wasn’t until recently that I came to a realization of how much of my life has been wasted by living in a state of anxiety.
I think that we human beings don’t like the notion of things being out of our control. The unpredictability of life leads us to an unconscious (or conscious) need to maintain a firm grasp on anything we can regulate. For me, when an uncontrollable issue is introduced, my default mode is to worry and think about it ceaselessly. After all, isn’t worrying at least doing something?
The revelation of my distorted thought process came slowly, but with an intensity I could not ignore. Was I so desperate for a sense of control that I would willingly surrender my peace for the sole purpose of being the conductor on my own personal anxiety train? Sadly, I realized the answer was “Yes.”
So, with this revelation, the question then becomes, “What do I do when I experience pain or learn of someone else’s pain?” The simple answer: Pray, rest, repeat. My anxiety produces nothing good. It doesn’t solve the problem or reduce the discomfort. If anything, it robs me of sleep and concentration. Prayer is an essential part of the process. Purposeful interaction with the Lord allows the rest to come. If I’ve placed the problems in His very capable hands, I must relinquish any misguided notion that He needs me to handle the situation. He may certainly give me some tasks to carry out, but the outcome? That’s His responsibility. True rest comes in the choice to believe that He can be trusted with my burdens. And when the anxiety wells up again, it’s time to start the prayer and trust process anew.
This mental tug of war between rest and anxiety will likely last for the rest of my lifetime. But hopefully, as I continue to experience a deeper understanding of God’s goodness and trustworthiness, my hands will more quickly release the grasp on my side of the rope. The beautiful reality is that when I let go, God doesn’t lose His balance and fall down. Rather, He winds the rope in His strong hands with a smile on His face that says, “Child, go enjoy your day. I’ve got this under control.”