Sunday, 7 January 2018

The Antidotes to Anxiety

So you know how I've talked about my struggles with anxiety in the past? Apparently, they don’t totally go away, much as I wish they would. Everything seems peaceful and happy and normal (ish), and then suddenly the monster rears its ugly head again.

A small problem – someone mad at me about something, a plan that goes awry, an unpleasant task that I’m avoiding, news about Trump, or hearing about reasonable people who are suspicious of Pope Francis – suddenly begins to feel like a huge problem, a symptom of a larger disease, a doomsday scenario, with everything crashing and burning and pointing to the truth that there is no hope and things are never going to change.

But yesterday at Mass as I struggled with a racing heart and a sense of impending doom, I realized something. This battle, this drama that I am aware of, and is freaking me out, is not happening ‘out there’. It’s happening right here, in my heart and in my mind. It is a battle for my peace.

I am being lied to.

I have been reading an excellent book called ‘Divine Renovation: Bringing your parish from maintenance to mission’ by Fr. James Mallon, and he draws an insightful analogy from The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

‘In J. R. R. Tolkein’s great work, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, we see... Denethor, the high Steward of the ancient Kingdom of Gondor. He is a steward, not the King. The line of kings had ended centuries before to leave the Kingdom under the management of a steward, but Gondor was maintained by an almost supernatural hope that the King would return to reclaim his throne once again, a hope that Denethor has lost… 

Denethor made mistakes that led to his utter loss of hope. First of all, he had forgotten that he was but a steward, not a king, and not the King. In truth, he had forgotten about the King who was promised to return. We in the Church are also but stewards awaiting the return of the King. We are managers whose very role is defined by the fact that the King is coming back to claim what is his own… 

The second mistake is that Denethor has a distorted and edited view of reality… he had been using one of the lost Palantir stones… that let him see what was happening all over Middle Earth. The problem was that the evil Lord Sauron controlled what he saw… Through his edited version of reality, Denethor was manipulated into his loss of hope. We, too, can easily fall prey to viewing what is always an edited reality as being the whole story.’ 

When I hear a voice that says, “This is all hopeless. These people are never going to change. The Church, your country, the world, those people… they are all doomed. They are sinful, angry, closed and wilfully blind. And it’s your fault. There must have been something you could have done. Or something you should have done differently. But it’s too late now. Everything is sad and bad and scary and you have to deal with this scary world alone,” I can be very sure whose voice that is.

The voice of God is never accusing, never despairing, never angry. The voice of God is filled with hope. There will be a challenge, but never condemnation in His words. Those who speak words of cold accusation and condemnation do not speak for Him, but for His Enemy.

Anxiety, negativity and hopelessness spring from believing the lying, insidious voice of Satan. So what’s the solution?

1. Acknowledge the lie: It was such a sense of relief when I held up what I was feeling to the light, and found that it was NOT true. It was all in my head- the magnitude of the problem, the dark despair of the problem. But as long as I clung to the lie, it had power over me.

2. Speak the truth aloud: Say it- “Everything is going to be okay.” “I am loved.” “I am not alone.” It’s not just a platitude. Everything really IS going to be okay. All suffering on this earth is temporary. Social stigma, the failure of our life's work, loss, betrayal, disappointment, persecution, loneliness seem like the worst things in the world, but they're not. They eventually end. Death will come to us all, but suffering and death do not have the final word. The King will return. God is till God. One day He WILL judge the living and the dead, and only what was done in love and for love will remain. No scary outcome can take away that truth.

3. Live a surrendered life: If it is true that I am a steward, NOT the king, or the saviour of this world which for some reason I sometimes think I have to be, and that there IS a true King and Saviour, then I need to let go of that control I cling to so tightly. I don’t need to wait for a big crisis to surrender, but to give to him the little obstacles, problems and fears as they come. Someone has a problem I can’t solve? Instead of letting it escalate in my mind, I need to bring it to Him, ask Him if there is anything I need to do. If there is, I need to do it, and then let it go. If there isn’t, I need to let it go, and trust that He can save the world, and that particular person and their situation. I've seen Him work miracles when I give it to Him, working things out in ways I could never have done myself.

Living anxiously is not a normal or healthy way to live. Fighting for peace is one of the most important battles I will ever fight. It’s a battle for truth, for freedom to see the world and its people the way they are- broken, but not irredeemable. I have to choose to keep fighting. But I trust that it’s a battle that can be won, because I have the Prince of peace who is fighting with me and for me. ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?’

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