Rusty Pipes Part 2: My Oceans of Anxiety
I am an anxious person; I always have been. I admit, it’s not the inability to walk or the loss of sight or sound, but for me, it is a weight. At times, it is a weight that pulls you down when you open your eyes in the morning, and when you stretch up into the air and slide your legs alongside the bed and look out the blinds at the world, the sun cutting through in vertical splashes of light. And the world calls to you with daily worries, future worries, and past fault. You can only hang your head in your hands and try to tell yourself that somehow it will be okay. That was a lot harder before I knew Jesus was the cure, and my cure was a lot more self-destructive then, but that is another story.
I sometimes feel as though I am drowning, drowning in my own oceans of anxieties. I kick at the current and scream at the top of my lungs and I thrust through the breaking waves to the sky, pleading for help, but the water overtakes me, my pleas are choked with the torrid wake, and I gasp and panic as my feet desperately search for a ground I know isn’t there. My anxiety turns to despair as I beg for one last breath and I sink down.
I had called my parents to talk to them about what lay before me: the struggle to continue to find work or to take the job back at the university which would help me get by at best.
“Well, what are your first thoughts about it?” my mother asked me. I sat resting my cheek on the phone, my upper body a mish-mash of limbs across my desk as my eyes wandered over the email again.
“I don’t know. I mean, I want to think I could find full time work, that I could get rid of all that debt, that I could save some money, that I could prepare for a future. I kind of feel like I need to be thinking beyond just me now, to some extent,” I replied.
“What about the job at the university?”
“I don’t know. I could get by again, but I don’t think I’ll have the same chance to get a summer job as easily as I did last year. I think I’d die financially if I did that again. I’m supposed to graduate in less than a year, and I might not have a job to step out into. I’ll be broke, standing on the street holding a useless degree with no clue of what to do with myself and not a dime to get me there.” I bit my lip as I felt the waves pull at me. “I mean, I guess it would give me a chance to keep playing music with Dave, for the conference and stuff that is coming, I’d probably have time to write again, do more Kingdom work…”
My eyes shut, as if I had been dragged down abruptly into the dark, murky, blue as the words escaped my lips.
“Sounds like that is your answer then.” My mother’s voice echoed about in my head as I imagined another semester of anxiety.
“Do you know that story about the man who was in a flood and crawled to the top of the house and prayed for God to save him?” she asked me. I drew my fingers through my bangs as I switched hand and cheek.
“Yeah, lifeboat guy.”
“Right. There was a lifeboat, a ship and a helicopter, and he kept saying no, God will save me. When he drowned and got to heaven, he asked God why He didn’t rescue him, and God replied, ‘What are you talking about? I sent a lifeboat, a ship and a helicopter?’” she continued. I sighed heavily into the phone.
“Yeah, yeah I get it.”
The university job was God’s whale to my Jonah. It really was, and my Jonah was my brokenness. I accepted, and prepared for the week ahead and the workload that would prevail from my notorious new professor.
I think there is something to be said about meeting God halfway, as He often meets us more than half way if we care to look, and I think sometimes He has to shake us up to remind us of the path He has laid out.
I had some time to think, while sitting in the mouth of that whale, about my writing and why I had spent so much time running from it. During my break from school, I had come up with reason after reason to not sit down and type, and there was no good reason. All my hopes sat on finding a secure job, I was too afraid to think about what it meant to be in ministry and act on behalf of God. The only event that required my attention was playing bass for Dave Roberts at the Rooted conference in Riverside, California. The rest of the time was a blur of anything else, anything that erased my responsibility to God and it convicted me. I began to think that there was no guarantee that I wouldn’t fall into the same pattern of uselessness, as I’ve run from responsibility my whole life. God had given me time, or more likely thrust time into my face, and though I knew there wouldn’t be much with the workload I was facing I realized that I had not been faithful when He always had been. I decided that my time was my wealth, and it was God’s, so I decided to tithe it.
I would dedicate one day a week, a social fast, from when I woke up to when I went to sleep, to the Lord. I would dedicate it to reading, to prayer, and to writing. I wouldn’t call, or text, I wouldn’t go to events or gatherings. I would spend a day with Him and listening to what He had to say, or didn’t have to say, and somewhere in that decision, I found peace.
The day before class started, I got an email from the school. They told me they had made a mistake with my job assignment, and instead would have to give me another smaller class, with a professor I had worked with before, one who didn’t believe in busywork. It was a blessing, an increasing of time. No, it wasn’t much. It wasn’t more money, and it wasn’t the promise I wouldn’t be homeless in a few months because I couldn’t pay my rent, and it wasn’t the promise of a good job ever, but it was a reminder that He is faithful. Since then, though not much, I’ve been able to earn small amounts of money by serving Him.
A week or so ago, Sadie was preaching on Matthew 6:24-34. I suppose that is a lot to read, so I’ll just say what I have to say about it. As I was looking at it with Sadie, I started to really think about what those blessings were for the birds and the flowers, and why Christ took the time to talk about Solomon.
You see, sparrows eat seeds, mainly, and that is also what comes out of them, if they don’t digest them all the way. The sparrows take the seeds of a tree and drop the seeds off in other places and among other plants; their purpose is to spread seeds, and create new growth. They are fed so that they can continue with the purpose God has intended for them.
The flowers are blessed by being so beautifully dressed that bees and insects will come and rub their bodies among the pollen as they eat, and, as the little bees travel, they spread the pollen to other flowers, inseminating them. They continue to spread the life of the plant, all because there was purpose to the lilies’ dress. They are beautiful so they can continue to grow and spread among the world.
But Solomon wasn’t dressed as beautifully as those flowers. King Solomon had no need to be; he didn’t need to be blessed in his clothing to be a good king. He asked God for wisdom to lead God’s people and so he was blessed with that gift. We are blessed when we follow Him, and where His purpose lies in us, like the birds, like the flowers, and like Solomon.
I think there is so poignant a reason in Matthew 6, as to why verse 33 follows these allegories, which reads, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” He doesn’t say to what degree, He doesn’t say we’ll have steak or wear True Religion jeans, but He does say, as we can see from the example of Solomon, that our needs will be met.
Recently, Sadie K went to see John Mark McMillan play. She came home to tell me about the show and how it moved her. I sat today listening to ‘How He Loves Us,’ and as I thought of the story behind the song, one verse lunged out at me, grasping my thoughts: “If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking…” It hit me in the chest.
I think John Mark McMillan is right; my oceans are not anxieties, my oceans are grace. My anxiety is my kick against the current that He is sweeping me away with; it is my lack of trust that He knows what is best for me. My screams are not met with a torrid undertow, but with even more abundant grace, and I believe the struggle which I will have to face for the rest of my life will be trying to understand that. But, even when I am stubborn, and run from Him, even when I kick against the current I know He will answer it with even more Grace, because He loves me. “Oh, how He loves us all”