What If, If Only, and Why?

In the book, Calm My Anxious Heart, Linda Dillow talks about three “spiritual diseases” that disrupt our calm: What If, If Only, and Why.

What if…

Do you worry about your children, your finances, or your health? What ifs borrow trouble, causing fear about the future, rather than doing our best and trusting God. If we indulge in this spiritual disease, as the author calls it, it will lead us to anxiety. Psalm 112:7 proposes a better way: “[The righteous ones] will have no fear of bad news: their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. (NIV) God doesn’t guarantee us that all will be well, but we know God will be there with us. He will help us through, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Dillow says, “Attack the what ifs,” like Willis Carrier, who writes:

  • Ask yourself, “What is the worst that could possibly happen?”
  • Prepare yourself to accept the worst if you must, and then
  • Calmly proceed to improve on the worst.

If only…

 

We think, “If only this had happened or that hadn’t, THEN we’d be happy/calm/satisfied, etc.” But dwelling on the if onlys expresses a doubt that God is in charge of our lives, that He has our best interest in mind, and loves us very much. We may not understand His choices and the struggles He allows us to bear, but we aren’t God. We don’t see the future, or even the full story of the past and present. As hard as it is when our life seems to be falling apart around us, we must trust Him. If we indulge in if-only thinking, self-pity will lead us to anger.

Dillow reminds us, “There’s an if in every life—something God could have done differently if He had chosen to do so. He has all power, yet He often allows that if to be there.”

She quotes philosopher Epictetus, “I am always content with that which happens, for I think that which God chooses is better than what I choose.”

How does Dillow propose to overcome the If Onlys? She says,

Read Psalm 77 and hear the psalmist’s pain-drenched words:

“My soul refused to be comforted. I remembered you, God, and I groaned; …I was too troubled to speak. …Has his unfailing love vanished forever? …Has his promise failed for all time? …Has God forgotten to be merciful?

These questions sound like my questions. But listen to how the psalmist’s despair changes from pity to praise.

I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds. Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.”

I will remember. This is a key to trusting God. Many nights I have gotten out of bed, taken paper and pen in hand, and forced myself to remember what God has done in the past, to remember His faithfulness to me. As I list all God has done, it helps me to trust Him in the present.”

 

The third “spiritual disease” that steals our calm is:

Why?

Why did our loved one die? Why does a child get cancer? Why am I the way I am?

We don’t know why, and this side of heaven, we might not ever know why. But God does know, and He treasures your loved one, and the child with cancer, and no matter what you’ve done He loves you completely and unconditionally.

I am reminded of Corrie Ten Boom, who in a Nazi death camp asked God why, on top of everything else, her barrack had to be infested with fleas. Before long she realized that because of the fleas, the guards rarely entered her building. As a result, she could lead her bunkmates in studying God’s word. From this she learned how to be thankful in all circumstances.

After reading Ten Boom’s book, I remember trying to pray with thanksgiving on countless nights at 3 a.m., as I fed and calmed a sleepless baby. I look back now and realize she and I bonded in those wee hours when her sisters were asleep. I couldn’t have focused as well on her had she enjoyed her waking hours at the same time as her sisters. When I am stuck on asking why, perhaps I simply have not yet discovered the blessing of whatever “fleas” are in my life.

I love Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer. It has become associated with Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs, but can be a guiding light for any worriers:

God grant me the serenity to accept that which I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference, living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will, so that I may be reasonable happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Blessings on your Lenten week ahead! We are half way!

The Eye of the Storm

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Find your calm.

 

Sometimes we have a right to feel overwhelmed. We are bombarded with responsibilities, or challenges, or trouble. It’s as if we are swept up in a tornado. At times like those, we need to strive to get to the eye of the storm. Some call it centering.

It doesn’t need to be for long, but for our health and sanity, we need to find a way to that peaceful place. Maybe you have a favorite place you can imagine that always makes you feel better: the ocean, a meadow, a mountain view, or on the shore of a lake. Picture yourself in that place and breathe slowly. Next picture God there with you. Just sit a moment with Him. Or talk to Him and tell Him how hard things are right now. Imagine sliding a huge backpack off and letting Him hold it for you.

I’ve heard doctors tell children to imagine a pain machine with all its lights lit. Then the children picture themselves turning down, one by one, the controls that reduce the pain. They watch the flashing lights slow, and one by one, go out.

Some people need to expend energy with a brisk walk or a fast run, or even jumping jacks right where they are. Some find that a particular type of music helps them detach from their escalating emotions.

I’ve heard of therapists who ask people in the throes of a panic attack to count 5 things they can see, then 4 that they can touch, then 3 that they can hear, then 2 that they can smell, and one they can taste. This reconnects people to where they are right now, rather than reliving a past trauma, or obsessing about a future what if.

We need to find ways to move ourselves out of a hurricane-like situation and into a place of calm. If you are a caretaker, you can’t stay there long, but even a few moments will help you feel better.

Even before we have mastered claiming some peacefulness for ourselves, it is possible to…

Be someone else’s calm.

As you learn to soothe yourself, you can become the eye of the storm for others. You can be a soft resting place, a source of encouragement, a soothing person to visit. This world desperately needs people who can bring calm and reason to a situation.

Where do you start?

Not by telling someone to calm down. Particularly in the work place, a man telling a woman to calm down can come across as very patronizing. There are times when anyone, man or woman, is justified to be passionate. Being told to calm down makes a person feel belittled.

Instead, stop and hear what the upset person is saying. Being thoroughly listened to can go a long way towards defusing a difficult situation. Even with children, a demand to calm down without an effort to acknowledge their frustration will only increase the upset. Yes, children need to learn to control themselves. Otherwise, their two-year-old tantrums will become a serious problem when they are teenagers. But hear what they are saying, teach them how to name their feelings, and then how to express them constructively.

Ask an obviously frightened person what needs to change to feel safe. If possible, help him or her change it.

Resist any temptation to judge or criticize. Enough people in the world are ready to pour negativity into others’ lives. A person must feel safe and respected before they can learn from your experience. For now, simply be their safe place. Simply the knowledge that someone else is nearby and willing to help can make a significant difference. Maybe later you can offer them advice or very gentle suggestions, but it won’t be accepted until you have their trust and they know you value them just as they are.

It is especially difficult to bring calm to a situation when someone is angry with you. Particularly someone you care deeply about. My Grandma used to say, “When people are the hardest to love is when they need love the most.” My first reaction to someone being angry at me is to be angry in return. Of course, that doesn’t accomplish much. Rather than the very human response of defensiveness, or worse, going on the offense, take a deep breath, say a quick prayer for patience, and then, if it applies remind yourself how much you love this person. If not, try to remind yourself how much God loves this person. Delve beneath the anger for the underlying emotion of hurt, fear, or frustration. Sometimes simply acknowledging the cause of the anger can defuse the situation. “You were really frightened when you couldn’t get hold of me,” or “I hurt your feelings when I made a joke at your expense,” or “Yes, I can see how I caused you to be frustrated.”

Whether for our own actions or the simple unfairness of this world, offering a sincere, “I’m sorry,” can be the quiet eye of a storm for a person who is weather-beaten by more hardship than they can handle alone.

So strive to find your own calm, but sometimes it is even more important to help others find theirs. You might discover that helping others distracts you from your own worries, or makes you realize they are small by comparison.

Blessings!

Tactics Against Fear

Has the news disrupted your calm lately? Do you worry about the future of our world, our country, our community? Are you afraid for your family?

You’re not alone. I rarely feel uplifted after reading the headlines or watching the evening broadcasts. Within a half hour, we can be presented with terrorism, dire financial predictions, the plight of the homeless, and an increase in cancers, homicides, unfaithfulness, or depression. The news can leave us feeling overwhelmed.

Yet, over and over in the Bible, God instructs us to cast our worries upon Him, to leave tomorrow for tomorrow, and to fear not. The phrase, “Do not be afraid,” appears 70 times in the New International Version of the Bible. Frequently, “Do not be afraid,” is followed by, “or discouraged,” reminding us to act with courage. Some say other versions of this phrase appear 365 times, one for each day of the year. Often the command to not be afraid is followed by a reassurance of God’s protection. God doesn’t want us to go through life frightened about tomorrow.

Does that mean we shouldn’t plan or prepare for the future?

No.

It means God doesn’t want us to be paralyzed by fear, or even worse, to become so overwhelmed that we despair. He asks us to place our trust in Him, for faith casts out fear and allows us to become our best self, ready to do the tasks He sets for us.

When we are afraid, we have tactics we can choose:

  • We can give the situation over to God, trusting Him to be all-loving, then
  • We can face the fear and act to overcome it, or
  • We can turn our backs on the fear.

 

When is each appropriate?

 

1. We Turn to God

 

Let our first reaction to fear be to turn to God.

Yes, we will meet evil, danger, hard times, suffering, and death. We simply cannot avoid all difficulty. Our best arsenal against fear is our trust in God. He is all-good, all-loving, and all-merciful, but our world is imperfect, and we will suffer. When we do, we need to remember what it felt like to be a child comforted on a lap in a rocking chair. Then we crawl into God’s arms to be cradled, knowing this too shall pass, and that we are treasured and loved beyond limits. Our trust in God, and His faithfulness, will get us through.

Some dangers that are very real, but beyond our reach to affect. North Korea is perilously unstable. Legalizing marijuana might result in people driving under its influence. Our children may meet with evil and be unprepared. Cancer or heart disease might lurk within us or our loved ones.

There is a quote from St. Francis de Sales: “The same Everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day of your life. Either He will shield you from suffering, or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then, and put aside all anxious thoughts.”

So first we “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

Once we have placed ourselves in God’s care, we can return our attention to our difficulty and know that “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

 2. Face the Fear

 

When we are afraid, worried, or overcome with anxiety, we need to ask ourselves how realistic the fear is. Are we in true imminent danger, or are we borrowing trouble that might happen?

If the danger is real, we need to determine the best way to react. Sometimes running away is a great choice. Usually though, facing our fear means we need to calm ourselves enough to think clearly. We need to assess our strengths and weaknesses, apply our strengths to the problem, and take whatever steps we need to overcome our weaknesses. Is the danger something we can lessen, or do we need help from someone else?

For instance, if I’m in danger of not being able to pay my bills, I calm myself so I can assess the situation. I might use my strengths to add part-time work, or to think through where I can cut back. If I know I’m weak in self-discipline or in budgeting, I work to improve my abilities in those areas or seek help from someone who has those strengths. In some of the weeks ahead we will consider ways to overcome weaknesses that disrupt our calm.

3. Turn our Backs on Fear

 

Many fears don’t deserve facing for longer than it takes to realize they are not worth our time. Some things are so unlikely to happen, or so trivial if they do, that we simply need to realize we are wasting our energy if we let them upset us. Does it really matter what an acquaintance thinks about what we do? Or whether a friend has more or is doing better than us at something? Or if we are occasionally embarrassed? Sometimes we turn our backs by deciding the trouble is not important enough to worry about. We let it go.

Summary – When Fear is Overwhelming

When we are overcome with anxiety, we need to calm ourselves. We pray. We take deep, slow breaths. We can meditate. Perhaps we take a brisk walk or run. We might reach out to a friend for help.

When we are calm enough to be able to think clearly, then we can decide whether we need to face our fears or turn our backs on them. If we need to face them, we can begin to plan (with a sense of strength, not fear) and prepare ourselves for what lies ahead, knowing as St. Augustine did that we can “Pray as if everything depended on God, and work as if everything depended on [us].”

Blessings on your week!

 

 

WordPress Themes