I have always been a fearful, high strung individual. I blame my over active imagination for being so highly developed that I can go from ‘puppies!’ to ‘murder!’ in 0.1 seconds.
As a child, I worried about everything. My parents dying. Me dying. Suddenly having to move. People not liking me. Getting a B in gluing (I have never been a good glue-er). You know, the big stuff. I remember very vividly the pit I would get in my stomach on the drive home after taking a family trip, just knowing that when we turned the corner into our cul-de-sac, our house would be gone, burned to the ground by some neglected appliance or worse, some ski-masked arsonist.
I can assure you, I put that vivid imagination to good use elsewhere, but it has always been both my best and my worst quality.
My Dad wrote out Psalm 23 on an index card and taped it to the wall next to my bed. When he would come into my room to pray with me at night, he would smooth out the furrow in my forehead, already collecting the worries for tomorrow, and we would recite this verse together… the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
I was 10 when Columbine happened. It was my best friend’s birthday, and she had recently moved to Littleton, Colorado, where the shootings occurred. The phone lines were busy that day, and I couldn’t get through to her to wish her a happy birthday. I kept wracking my brain to see if I could remember how old her sister was, so I could know if she would have been at the high school that day. I had never thought to worry about being unsafe at school- I added it to the list.
I was in high school when people I knew started dying in drunk driving accidents, experiencing serious mental health issues, and committing suicide.
By the time I was in college, I didn’t need to use my imagination to jump to the worst case scenario- so many of the scenarios I had pictured now had names and faces and dates.
All of my fears seemed totally JUSTIFIED. Bad things DO happen and I was not safe from that. It was best to be prepared, right? I hedged. I worried. I prayed very specific, superstitious prayers that left God little room to do anything except exactly what I asked of him.
Not surprisingly, my anxiety increased.
So. I turned where my Dad was trying to direct me all those years ago with that index card above my bed. I love stories, so I searched for people’s stories. The bible doesn’t shy away from exposing the very hard, sad, terrible things in our biblical heroes’ narratives: Sarah’s years of infertility, her desperation to have a child. David’s fall from grace, his son seeking to kill him. Israel’s slavery, their forty years wandering in the desert. Jesus’ death on a cross, his sweat turning to blood as he asked God if there was any other way.
I realized that I had to accept that the world is a bad place- broken, sinful, not the way it is supposed to be. Jesus promises trials and hardship, and I had plenty of evidence to corroborate that claim. I knew I couldn’t accept comfort if I was full of confusion and accusations every time something went wrong.
I then had to do the hard work of admitting that I couldn’t control my future, or anyone else’s future for that matter. So (I guess) being anxious wasn’t really doing much for me. But I couldn’t stop worrying if it didn’t make sense to.
Finally, I had to turn to Jesus and let myself be loved by him. Let me unpack that Christianese statement- I confessed my sins of worry and control to the Lord and asked for forgiveness. I asked for compassion for people so that I would be prompted to pray for them and active in loving them, instead of spinning my wheels worrying about them. I begged for peace. I thanked God for hope. I tried to remember promises: Sarah’s long awaited child, David’s nearness to the Lord, the Promised Land, the resurrection.
The verses below are just some of my favorites, the ones I find myself returning to again and again when my mind starts spinning out of control with anxious thoughts. I remember reciting number two over and over again to myself while in an MRI machine, getting tested to see if I had MS after waking up that morning with my legs and arms so stiff I could barely walk, or hold a glass. The rhythm of these words soothed me as I went over them again and again, they kept me from losing my mind as I lay in that machine for over an hour, keeping absolutely still, loud beeps sounding in my ears, alternately holding my breath and breathing slowly as the lab tech commanded.
Part of the reason I love these verses is that tell us a lot about the character of God- as a father, as a comforter, and as a provider for his people. He may have been using these words to talk to a people who lived very long ago, to address their specific situations, but these verses still have profound implications for our world, and how we are called to live in it today. This world may be in darkness, but we are called to live in the light by the very person who created the sun, moon, and stars. I can get behind that.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
John 16: 33
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1: 1-5
do not be anxious about anything,
but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Phillipians 4: 6-7
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
Isaiah 43: 1-2
And a bonus:
yet I will not forget you.
Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.
Isaiah 49: 15-16
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Proverbs 3: 5 -6
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Psalm 46 (the whole dang thing!)