Last year as I was compulsively scrolling Facebook, in the midst of lockdown, trying to avoid the 101 “what-ifs” constantly plaguing my mind I came across someone recommending this book as approaching anxiety and combating it from an orthodox perspective. Given the heighten state of things for everyone I decided to buy it and looked forward to it’s encouraging words. However, when the book arrived it ended up just sitting on my shelf, until I was making my pile of book to read this year (mostly the same as last year with a few substitutions and about 25 titles in all). So it went to the top of the pile, because I don’t know about the rest of you, but the pandemic, lockdowns, and political upheaval has not helped my anxiety one bit.
First, I have to admit it took me a long time to believe that I have anxiety. I have always been a “worrier.” I think about worst case scenarios, worry about those around me significantly, replay old conversations and think about what I could have done better and so much more. I never thought about all of this as anxiety, nor did I consider any of this holding me back from anything… doesn’t everyone do this? I think everyone does, but I don’t think everyone has these sorts of thoughts on their mind 99% of the time like me. For example, when expecting someone to arrive at 3pm, I’m ready early and generally just sitting and waiting, then as 3 approaches, I get nervous and the questions start coming: do they know/remember how to get here? Is traffic ok? Is there a parking space available? Then I notice dust or something under furniture and debate with myself if I have time to vacuum, but what if they come while I’m vacuuming and I don’t hear them knock? Inevitably, I don’t clean up because I don’t want to miss them, but then it’s like two minutes to 3 and I need to use the restroom… again I don’t want to miss them or make them wait at the door, so I decide to hold it and I can excuse myself for a moment after they arrive. However, they are late. At 5 after 3 I’m pacing, starting to worry that they have gotten lost or been in an accident. At 10 after, I contemplate calling/texting, but don’t want to seem pushy or over-bearing and don’t want to distract a driver. At 15 after, I usually have to force myself to take the quickest potty break I can, chastising myself for not doing it earlier. Then around 3:20 I start giving up, thinking that our meeting has been forgotten or the other person is in serious trouble or a multitude of other things.
This happens to me with every appointment, it doesn’t matter if it is a family member, friend or somebody picking up an item we are selling on craigslist and no it isn’t normal. It is anxiety and it is interfering with my life. And this is only one example, while this is going on, I’m also worrying about Ian being on the road, other family members, neighbors, friends and other situations in general. It is mentally exhausting and I never thought it was anxiety because I believed it was love. I have all of these thoughts and worries because I love and care about people. However, it has caused a lot of tension, judgement and anger within me both towards myself and people who had done nothing other than being a little late.
I began to admit I had anxious feelings when a certain tumultuous relationship made me actually fear doing certain things because if I ran into these people, I believed they would hurt me, which was seriously debilitating. The more I looked for ways to overcome that specific anxiety though, the more I realized, my problems ran much deeper.
A part of liturgy that I had not given much thought to or even realized pertained to my anxious state of being, until I read Nun Katherine Weston’s book, is during the Cherubic hymn we sing, “now lay aside all earthy cares.” I mean it seems pretty straight forward, we are at church not tending to our earthy jobs or household. However, as Sister Katherine says, “the Lord, as the Therapist of souls, commands us to be without care,” not simply physically in the church, but with a clear and unburdened mind and heart too. If we can not abandon these taxing thoughts and put out trust in Christ, we can not truly meet him in communion at church, even if we are physically there. When our minds and hearts are else where and filled with other thoughts and emotions, there is no room to feel or exchange the love of Christ. This is true for in the church and in our everyday lives.
Take the example above, when people arrive, I am full of tension and angry, because I stopped my day for them and waited. I resent them for being late, even if it wasn’t their fault. I resent myself for putting my life on hold and for judging whoever it was for being late, when I am just as a big of an offender. With all of these big emotions, does the fact that I love these people come through, or do I seem cold and agitated? I would like to say that I’m a warm person, but I know I let a lot of little things get in the way of the love I have to give. So I am starting to put my trust in the Lord. I don’t have to worry about everyone else all the time. I can continue living and invite people into my life as I’m living it, not an ultra clean, we never leave toys out or are in the middle of playing a game, etc life. Not saying I’m cured, I have a long way to go, but you know what they say, recognizing you have a problem is the first step to recovery.
Sister Katherine’s book talked much more in depth about both anxiety and trust than I’m am saying here and I thoroughly recommend it for anyone, who is feeling burdened by their thoughts or feelings. Beyond this, though, she talks about gratitude. On the whole people today are thoughtless about giving thanks. Sure we thank people for gifts or when they do something for us, but are we thankful for things we have but are blind to? As the Garth Brooks song says do we really “thank God for unanswered prayers”? Do we remember that the good we have right now, is full of both answered and unanswered requests and that as hard as we try to plan, we don’t know what the future holds for us, so we just need to be thankful?
As I work through anxious moments now, I am humbled because I realize I am getting so caught up in the past (things that I can’t change) and the future (things that haven’t happened yet) that I forget to live right now and be thankful everything that I have and don’t have in my life. Slowly as I become more aware, I hope to take on a more gratitudinous way of thinking, especially because the more I am thankful for everything right now, the less room there is for fear, worry or anger, however thankfulness does open the door for love.
This was a great book to kick off 2021 and to start thinking deeper about my anxiety. What are you reading?