Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright…

a blog about anxiety

Tiger - digital art
Last Tuesday I turned a corner and came face to face with a wild tiger. You can only imagine the pounding of my heart as a million butterfly cocoons hatched in my stomach, my hands started shaking and my breath came in ragged gasps. OK, it might not have been an actual tiger hiding between the shelves of a restaurant supply warehouse, but that’s exactly how my body responded. If you had been there, YOU might have seen a difficult, four-hour national exam waiting for me to sit down at the computer (and, yes, it was actually in the back of a restaurant supply store). It’s the first time in several years that I have been so anxious, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to share with you a few things that were helpful to me.

  1. Breathe. Taking three deep breaths helped reset my respiratory system for a few minutes, at least. I did this several times during the four hour testing period. It seemed to help my concentration, as well.
  1. Pray. Praying not only gave me access to the only Person who could possibly help me under the circumstances, but it also reminded me that there is a much bigger picture than the one staring me in the face at that moment.
  1. Stretch. My stomach muscles were bunched and painful, not only during the exam period but both before and afterward. Standing and stretching provided some temporary relief and helped me calm down a little bit.
  1. Accept. The biggest change in my Tuesday experience, compared to anxiety reactions I’ve had in the past, came from my tolerance of it. Instead of worrying about how the anxiety would impact my exam results, growing frustrated at my inability to extinguish it or shaming myself for it, I told myself that I would just be anxious for a while and that was OK. A little anxiety is helpful in academic settings, and even if mine was over-the-top, it would eventually subside, and I could let it be.

I sometimes tell clients that the important thing is not to get rid of all your fears (not a very practical goal, either) but not to let them stop you from doing the important things you want to do. Jesus was not without anxiety before He went to the cross, but it didn’t stop Him from completing His mission. In a way, I think I feel better having faced the tiger of anxiety and surviving it intact than I would have if I’d never faced it at all. It’s not courage if you are never afraid, is it?

Related Resources:

Anxiety Handout

How God Can Use Anxiety for Good – Christianity Today

A Prayer about Anxiety – Scotty Smith

Filling Our Mother-Shaped Holes

Im TragetuchMany church-going dads get a little tense around the middle of June when they realize Father’s Day is just around the corner. It’s become common practice for pastors and bloggers to challenge men to step up to their responsibilities and to bandage the wounds of those with absent or failing fathers. At some point you’ve probably heard a sermon about the ways our heavenly Father’s love can fill the holes left in our hearts by earthly dads. While we do have a crisis of fatherhood today, it is equally fair to say that there has never lived a mother who perfectly performed her own God-given role. Whether the product of sin and neglect or the unwitting victim of good intentions, many of us carry mom-shaped holes in our hearts, too. So in honor of Mother’s Day this Sunday, I want to highlight some characteristics of the mother-love of God which is also necessary for filling up hollow humans.

Nativity. Job 38:29, John 3:4-7. God brings forth creation the way a mother brings forth a child from her own body. The unique ability to bear a son or daughter is a painful gift which keeps on giving throughout our lifetime and pictures for us the self-sacrificing grace of God’s willingness to continually bring forth life in this broken world. Even more astounding is the second delivery, ushering God’s children into His spiritual Kingdom where they will finally become all that He birthed them to be. If you never lived up to your mother’s expectations or she failed to dream of a beautiful you, don’t give up. God’s love is making you new.

Comfort. Is. 66:13. What could be warmer than the comfort of a tender mother? Where fathers impart strength and teach us to shake off our wounds, mothers kiss and console. This is the comfort of our God whose “everlasting arms” are ever-ready to receive our tears and embrace us in our grief.

Immanence. Is. 49:15. While men have traditionally shown us the transcendence of God, traveling far afield to make a living or a conquest for their families, mothers demonstrate the constant presence of the Lord in our lives. As the mother of two grown children, I can tell you that they are never far from my thoughts even when they are far from my hands. God is vast enough to surround us with both His hands and His thoughts at all times and places.  Run to Him.

Quietness and Trust. Ps. 131. When my father didn’t know what to do with us, he would wrestle or tickle or find a job for us to do. It’s a mother’s instinct to gather her children in, to quiet them for bed, to settle them with a story, to calm them with a hug when the world gets too big. Our God has a still, small voice that He uses to soothe His little ones, a whisper which can overcome the raging wind outside. While there must be trust in risk-taking and active pursuits, our trust in God is honed as we rest in His lap, basking in His mother-love.

Sustenance. I Peter 2:2, 3. Only a mother can feed her child from her own body. That beautiful act is used as a metaphor in the New Testament for the life-giving food of the word of God which proceeds from God Himself. We drink from His bounty, and we grow strong as a result, maturing from mother’s milk to stronger meat. There are many mothers in Scripture who fed their children on the wisdom of our faith, but if yours did not, it’s never too late to find that guidance in other Christians and in the sustaining wisdom of God’s loving Spirit.

Protection – Luke 13:34, Ps. 91:4. A father’s protection looks like an army charging out to meet the enemy. But a mother’s protection looks like a hen gathering her chicks before the storm. In God we find both kinds of safety. Whether you need someone to storm the gate for you or you just want to hide your face in your mother’s skirt, in God you are never abandoned, unparented, unheard, or unprotected.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gen 1:27, NIV) We need both a mother and a father to show us the full range of God’s love. It’s a wonderful privilege to look to Him as a model for our own parenting, yet, there is no human family which can truly impart His wholeness. As you turn toward God our Father for all that you may have missed in your own upbringing, may you be richly blessed this Mother’s Day with the Lord’s own mother-love poured out for you.

The Continuum of Desire: Sin or Sadness?

Портрет красивой грустной девушки на мостуPeople hate on themselves for a lot of reasons. But Christians have a special tendency to become their own judge and jury, accusing and punishing themselves like a penitent pilgrim gone berserk. Please note, I don’t mean we shouldn’t judge our own hearts when real sin is the culprit (e.g., I Cor. 11:28). I am only saying that placing blame is so important to our sense of control, that we sometimes find sin where no sin exists. Take longing, for example. I’ve heard hurting people describe themselves as terrible sinners because they “covet” what someone else has – when in reality, they are only yearning for something good.

The word “covet,” as it is used in the Ten Commandments, is a synonym for “lust.” It means to find something so irresistibly desirable that it must be consumed on the spot. It is elsewhere described as an evil emotion, springing from a failure to love one’s neighbor and an inclination to plunder them (Prov. 12:2). Probing the use of the word in conversation, it is rarely true that we want to steal from someone else. A childless woman, for example, doesn’t really want to kidnap children off the playground, but that would be the evil intention of a genuinely covetous person. I think it can be helpful to put this emotion on a continuum. Let’s call it:

Continuum of Desire

And let’s use common sense and a dictionary to come up with a few definitions:

Hope = the feeling that something desirable will happen in the future

Longing = a wistful, unfulfilled desire for something perceived as good

Craving = an obsessive preoccupation with the object of one’s desire

Jealousy/Envy = the inability to be happy for someone else who has what one desires

Covetousness = the evil desire to steal what someone else has

Where does sin actually enter the picture? I’ll let you judge for yourself, but for me it would be somewhere in the neighborhood of craving – which becomes idolatry in its more extreme and demanding form. Hope is a virtue, and longing is a sadness. Neither of these emotions is inherently sinful. In fact, one of the deep, unlooked-for beauties of the Christian life is the ability to live with unfulfilled longings in a way that preserves good desires and yet gives God the right to be Lord over them.

So let’s stop labeling sadness as sin, and let’s reserve our righteous hatred for the truly evil.

Related Content:

Lessons from Longing – Colleen Alden

Godly Jealousy – Ray Stedman

Jealousy in Your Relationship – dearchristiancounselor.com