So I worry. About all sorts of things. I’m pretty sure it’s the reason why animals in my house turn out a bit funky—they live in a soup of my worry pheromones…poor things.
Since my mom passed away, I’ve noticed more about how anxiety sits in me, how my body holds it. When its really acute my arms go numb. My shoulders tense up and I have to physically choose to relax them. It almost hurts to let them down, the tension is pushing in so much. Its like my whole body is on high alert, my whole body is condensing around my inner organs. My mind in this state has already gone to tunnel vision, turned into a dense fog, wrapped itself in wool. When mom was dying, I experienced this for weeks. Every day.
Since then, I’ve noticed it happen and I can name it now- I am recognizing how it feels and what’s going on inside me when my body is doing this thing. Anxiety, dread, a sense of loss, a sense of losing. I call it having “griefy arms.” As in when my husband asks, “ How was your day Jacqui?” I sometimes say, “honestly, its been really hard…I had griefy arms today.”
Griefy arms requires a few hours of actual rest. There is no other thing that will help.
But sometimes the anxiety is more low key. Its there, like it is when its acute, but it seems more muted. This is regular anxiety – the kind I think we all live with more than we’d like. This is the kind of anxiety that living life just seems to produce. I am noticing my regular, run of the mill anxiety more. The anxiety about work – “Am I doing well enough? Will people keep coming?” Anxiety about parenting – “Is this going to turn out? Are they going to be ok?” The anxiety about just being a grown up – “Am I managing all the details of life well? Have I remembered to do everything? Good gracious, there are so many details!” The anxiety is that I never feel like I have a handle on it.
I worry about if I’m shopping efficiently enough, getting all the deals. I worry about if I am keeping the right records for taxes enough. I worry about all the decisions and all the things I should do about church, church, church, MRU, and the kids…..the kids, the kids, the kids, ….
Yesterday I was faced with my worry and stress again. It was a pretty normal decision about rooms/rent/church stuff. It was one of those decisions where there are pros and cons on both sides. And I was, once again, faced with the reality that I don’t know the best path. I was faced with the knowledge that I don’t know how to effect the perfect result in every situation. I am not able to account for every possibility that might happen out of this decision. It simply just hit me hard that this decision might not work. It might backfire. It might affect others negatively. It might—but it also might not. But after the discussion, I got dizzy and my shoulders started to compress. We Brad and I were later walking with the girls outside and I needed to sit down a while and breathe through the beginnings of an anxiety episode. It passed, more or less.
Maybe I was extra tired. But this connection to my griefy arms, and my deep anxiety of not knowing how to make it better was made crystal clear.
What happened to me yesterday was the accompanying anxiety that comes when I reach the end of my resources. Do you get this too? When I reach the end of my ability to forecast, and I’m not sure how decisions are going to turn out, this is producing a deep anxiety. This ache blooms when I realize that in whatever needs to happen, or what I think needs to happen, I am in the end incapable of fulfilling this on my own. With this sort of unknowing, there is a new anxiety that blooms – ripe and dropping its seeds everywhere. When I have to rely on something other than my own strength, the weighty anxiety grows until the roof cracks and falls. When I do not have an inkling of actually HOW I am going to get through something, or make something happen, my body starts to tell me I need to take a minute.
Later, I turned on an old sermon from one of my old seminary professors Darrell Johnson. And he said this—when you are worried, what Jesus is telling you to do is to look away. Literally, stop looking at what you are worried about, and then look at a flower. Turn your head. Look at a bird. In Matt. 6 Jesus declares, simply, clearly “Do not worry. Look at the birds, look at the flowers—God takes care of them. And you too. Even you Jacqui.”
Look at the flowers. Look at the birds. Literally.
This is the spiritual practice that is saving me right now.
I live a 3 minute walk from a huge provincial park. Deer, cougars, bobcats, bears (its happened!), snakes, mice, rabbits, grouse, hawks, starlings, robins, squirrels, and very offended chipmunks walk the paths that I walk almost every day.
So today I am looking. At the flowers that nobody planted, that nobody tends. But they grow every year, again and again, seeding, rooting, blooming a kind of beauty that is so unnecessary to exist and so needed to live.
Today I am looking at the birds. The birds who make their nests in the rock. Who flit in and out and find food for their babies. They leave and return and they keep growing enough to start a new life. Start a new nest. Find a new nest and create more.
The way of this Christ I follow is one that is not flashy. Birds and flowers? Seriously? When faced with decisions that might work and might crash and burn? When faced with my own weaknesses? When I might make a mistake that hurts others? Birds and flowers?
Yup, birds and flowers. His way is a way of trust. Not effort. But trust. Not success. But presence, but trust. A trust that reconciles my fearful, untrusting, resisting, resentful heart back to his.
I’m staring at my fear, staring at my fault line, staring at all the possibilities I cannot possibly account for and my arms are starting to tingle. I’m staring at the recriminations that are scaring me to death if I make a wrong move…..
Stop staring Jacqui and look at the flowers. See it. See the petals. See the little bugs on it. See how delicately I delight in this world. Even you. Be present to me. That’s where your heart can stay.
Stop staring Jacqui and turn your head. Look at that bird. Its yellow, its green, its black and grey and it knows its business. And I have provided for it. It lives in trust. And I made you, Jacqui. I made you to live in trust. I know it feels so foreign, so unlike every self help book you’ve read. But trust me, and trust the life I’ve given you.
Birds and flowers. This is the spiritual practice that is saving me right now.
Birds and flowers. And eyes to see the truth.
—This is the Word of the Lord—Thanks Be To God—
I read this in Brennan Manning’s Ruthless Trust this morning:
“When the brilliant ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at “The House of the Dying” in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life. On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa. She asked, “And what can I do for you?” Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him.
“What do you want me to pray for? She asked. He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the United States: “Pray that I have clarity.”
She said firmly, “ No I will not do that.”
When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”
Birds and flowers. Jesus.
What kind of kingdom is this that values trust over clarity? His. His. The kingdom of the King of Creation. Trust is what was lost and trust is what was restored. And its so beautiful.