What do you do when you’re anxious?

What do you do when you’re anxious?

Two dogs shouting at each otherHave you noticed? Lots of people are feeling anxious these days.

Some people are feeling anxious because in not so many days we’ll have an inauguration that will lead us into uncharted waters. What will it mean for us as a country? For the world? What will it mean for me as an individual?

Some people are anxious because no matter who is president, the problems at home are still the problems at home. The car is still making that funny sound. Every time you start to get an emergency fund saved up an emergency comes along to wipe it out. You don’t quite know what’s happening in your relationship and the not knowing is as anxious as dealing with the problems. There’s still the matter of that test the doctor ordered. The lab is being awfully casual about getting your results back, not knowing that you can’t sleep until you know.

Some people are anxious because, well… it’s just what they do.

One of the keys to dealing with anxiety is to identify what’s under your control, which probably a lot less than what you think in your imagination. Once you identify that, focus on taking concrete actions where you do have control.

Sometimes those actions feel small and useless in the face of worldwide events. Sometimes they seem to be hopelessly inadequate baby steps in light of the mountains we have to climb in our lives.

But take enough small actions and they  add up.

This summer I went to a birthday party for a friend. Included in the guest list was a family whom she’d been helping. I watched the children playing soccer and saw their wide eyes as they surveyed what was probably the biggest birthday cake they’d ever seen.

And then I thought about other children, the hollow eyed children of Aleppo. You see, this family was a Syrian refugee family. They were here because of the work of a lot of people but also because my friend had decided to do the things she could do. She couldn’t broker peace in Syria but she could help one family find a new start and a new life. Or maybe find life itself, away from the bombs.

This month I’m offering a webinar on anxiety, “If I love Jesus why do I need Xanax?” We’ll look at what causes anxiety, how our brain feeds it, what faith has to do with it as well as talk about some tools for dealing with it. I’ll also share one of the roots of anxiety that I’ve discovered in over ten years of working as a therapist. It’s not one people talk about a lot, but it can make all the difference in how you handle anxiety.

Click on the link to register. You’ll have three different chances to attend, and the webinar will be both live and free all three times.

https://my.demio.com/ref/4C6tOUT8I2EeSuAU

In the meantime, what helps you when you’re anxious?

 

 

Stupid Stuff Jesus Says

When a young man in our church was killed in Iraq while serving as a Marine I had the honor of participating in his memorial service. The pastor called to give me my assignment.

“I’d like for you to lead in the prayer for our enemies,” he said.

“Can’t I do something easier?” I asked, “Like raise Andrew from the dead?”

It’s one of the most difficult prayers I’ve ever had to pray in public or private, not made easier by the rows of blue uniformed Marines at the service. In the prayer I confessed to praying though clenched teeth.

When a Marine angrily challenged the pastor for having such a prayer in the service for a fallen comrade, the pastor replied, “But we are Christian. This is what we are commanded to do.”

(Recently as a part of my own spiritual journey I started praying for my enemies. Very quickly I realized my prayers were not so much for their well being but for them to be more like me. I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant.)

That’s one of the stupid things Jesus said. Love Your enemies. Pray for them that persecute you. (And I don’t think he was talking about plain red coffee cups, but if you feel the need to pray for Starbucks have at it.)

Praying for people who hate us? Praying for the candidates that you feel would be absolute disasters for our country? Praying for people of other countries and other faiths who may even want to kill us? Who does that?

Evidently we who are followers of Jesus are supposed to do just that.

There’s more stupid stuff Jesus said. There’s the one I can’t get out of my head this week: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” So as a Christian I am supposed to care about refugees not because it’s a nice thing to do but because that’s where I’ll find Jesus. Who can live like that?

Apparently we who are followers of Jesus are supposed to live just that way.

Fear is our common currency these days. And yet we’re supposed to buck the trend and live not out of fear but out of faith and love?

“You don’t have to be so scared,” Jesus said in the Cotton Patch Version of the scripture, and he meant it for any language. But who does that?

Actually, I think he’s looking at us.

I am reminded this morning that being a Christian is hard stuff. Oh, I’m not persecuted in this country. I can worship where I will or not worship at all. It’s hard because Jesus said stupid stuff like this, and what’s more, expects me to follow him anyway.

I am continually called to go beyond what is easy or cheap or self serving. I am called to consider the world beyond the sound bite or campaign slogan. I am commanded to take into account the welfare of those who have no money, no resources and no standing, because Jesus stands among them.

Who does something so stupid?

God willing, we will.

 

Ferguson, boarding passes and race

In these last few days as the racial tensions in Ferguson, MO have made public the simmering tensions of our culture, I’ve been thinking about an episode of the TV show, “Airline.”

In the show cameras follow Southwest Airline employees as they evaluate whether or not a passenger is too drunk to fly, deal with bags infested with ants, juggle late arrivals and thunderstorms. In this episode the conflict centers around an African American man and his fiancee. The employees are debating whether or not to deny him boarding.

What happened was this: A white woman stepped in front of him in the boarding line. She had a boarding pass for the B group and the man was at the front of the C group. He didn’t understand this distinction, and immediately demanded to know why this woman was allowed to jump in line.

I felt like I was watching hundred years of history in just a few moments. For the man, a lifetime of being treated as less than rose to the surface. “It’s not right,” he demanded. “My money is just as good as hers.” As he got angry he got loud, and as a large, loud black man he now became a threat to bystanders. The gate agents reacted and denied boarding to the couple on this flight because he was “scaring the other passengers.”

The episode made me feel very sad because everyone walked away with their fears and prejudices confirmed. For the man, it was just more evidence as to why there is no justice for a person of color. For the gate agents (and at least some of the passengers) it was a reinforcement that loud, angry black men are to be feared.

I felt sad because it was all so unnecessary. All it would have taken is to listen to one another. All the gate agent had to do was to listen to why the man was upset instead of immediately trying to shut him down. All the man had to do was to understand the system and that in fact, the woman was simply acting within the boundaries of that system.

But no one explained that. All he needed was to be heard, but everyone was too busy trying to get him to be quiet.

pic - boy with black lab puppyI don’t know what really happened in Ferguson. I know that police officers live with knowing that the next driver they stop may pull a gun on them and end their lives. I know that many African Americans live in a world I cannot imagine, a world in which boys have to be taught how not to be scary simply because of the color of their skin.

My sadness is that the conversations that didn’t happen in the airport terminal still aren’t happening. No matter what the issue, we’ve seemed to have lost any desire to listen to people whose experience is different from ours. We aren’t interested in what their lives are like, only as to how our lives will be affected. The question as to whether or not this is best for the greater good has been replaced by the question of what it will mean for me. When that’s the only question we ask, we’re in trouble.

I don’t have the answers. but I know they will not come until we can begin to listen to one another.

Left Out

Today is National Left-handers Day. I know, you meant to give me a card.

When I began learning to write (actual making of letters not the making of books),  I was ambidextrous, switching from one hand to another. Had I been born a generation earlier, I would have been forced to become right handed. Fortunately I had a wise teacher who said, “Let her choose. She’ll decide which one works for her.”

I chose writing with my left hand, although I do the ambidextrous things from time to time. When I first started playing tennis I had no backhand – I just switched hands. If I’m painting a picture and working on the right side of the canvas, I may switch to painting with my right hand if I’m not doing detail work.

Neither my teacher nor my parents were afraid of my being lefthanded. That’s not always been the case. From a Wikipedia article on bias against left-handed people:

Western countries also attempt to convert left-handed children due to cultural, societal and religious biases. Schools tend to urge children to use their right hands, sometimes against the wishes of the child’s parents. In America until corporal punishment was outlawed in schools it was not uncommon for students to be physically punished for writing with their left hands:[25] “I was educated in the USA in Catholic school in the 60’s. My left hand was beaten until it was swollen, so I would use my right right [sic] hand” … “I had a teacher who would smack my left hand with a yardstick every time she caught me writing with my left hand” … “My fourth grade teacher […] would force me to use my right hand to perform all of my school work. If she caught me using my left hand, I was hit in the head with a dictionary. It turned out that she believed left handers were connected with Satan.”[37]

While I suspect that navigating the world is easier from a right-handed perspective (no pulling the left-handed desk out of the corner of the class, no ink smudges on your hand) I suspect these people were not acting out of a desire to protect their students from those challenges. They reacted strongly because left-handers were different. And differences tended to scare us.

They still do.

When you find yourself reacting strongly to someone, take a moment to ask yourself what is really fueling your ire. Is it because they are a threat to you? Or is it because they are different and thus feel like a threat to you?

One of the hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry is that he reached out to the people who were different, who were viewed with suspicion… the hookers, the IRS agents, women in general. He wasn’t afraid of them because he could see what was most important about them: they were a child of God, and so were his brother or sister.

What do you see?

Oh, and by the way, we left-handers may be a minority but we rule when it comes to modern presidents:

Of the seven most recent U.S. Presidents, four, including Barack Obama, have been left-handed, while a fifth is said to have been ambidextrous: Ronald Reagan, who was left-handed by birth,[36][37][38] became president after he defeated left-handed candidateGeorge H. W. Bush in the Republican primary election. Four years earlier, Reagan had lost the Republican presidential primary to incumbent left-handed President Gerald Ford. George H. W. Bush succeeded Reagan and later ran for re-election against left-handersBill Clinton[39] and Ross Perot.[38] Clinton’s second term opponents included Perot, and Bob Dole who had become left-handed when his right arm was paralyzed in combat 50 years earlier. Left-handed then-Senator Obama defeated left-handed Senator John McCain in his race for the presidency.[40]