How to Break Up with Your Anxious Life
Years ago, when my now-teenagers were just tiny people, I asked my husband what he thought my life motto was. You know, like you do. Jeff, in a moment of witty brilliance said, “Meeting needs, and taking names.
This made me want to weep with joy. I felt seen and known. As a mother of an infant and toddler at the time, I spent my days and nights meeting needs: for food, shelter, comfort, dry diapers, lost “lovies,” and comfortable socks. And as they had become mobile and vocal, taking names was also required: setting boundaries (with my kids; neighbor’s kids; my kids’ grandparents), saying no, and generally being a badass. I know this is a Christian blog, but that is my favorite word. I am a badass for Jesus. I am a badass mom. I have a keychain with the word printed on it. There’s just no Christian equivalent for that word. “Taking names” means making a list of who you are going to defeat, and then doing it. Like a badass.
I loved that my husband saw me as this, a kind of Lover/Warrior who was both comforting our daughters, and also conquering the challenges of life and occasionally the wills of our two children.
Looking back now, I want to weep with empathy for my former self. I had my first child at the age of 26. Tasked with meeting needs and taking names as a young mommy, I’m amazed I did as well by my daughters as I did. I was often working out of a dry well. I didn’t know how to receive comfort for what I learned later was chronic clinical anxiety. I was working for the approval of my parents and in-laws, my husband and friends. I was “hustling for worthiness” as Brene Brown beautifully says, working myself to death as a journalist and later a church leader. I spent time with a lot of people that didn’t make me feel safe. And I almost never could sit still.
I did what I hope to teach you to stop doing: In my distress, I reached out to God for comfort with one hand, but continued to build a lifestyle riddled with anxiety with the other.
In this long-form series, based on a Bible study I taught at Mariners Church in Irvine, CA throughout the pandemic, I am going to teach you how to break up with your anxious life and receive the comfort of God.
Let's start with this comforting truth: You are allowed to make choices about your life.
2 Corinthians 1:35- says this:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
A few key things from this passage:
1. One of God’s names is the Father of compassion and God of all comfort. Like all good parents, God wants to interact with us: to feel with us, and ease our distress through connection with him. Humans come into this world without the ability to comfort themselves or regulate their nervous systems. Flailing and squalling, a baby immediately looks for his mother’s eyes, where he will find compassion and connection. While the baby will eventually learn to self soothe, he will never outgrow his need for safe connection with God and others. As adults, we continue to experience distress in our bodies, and we have to learn to regulate it.
2. The word “comfort” in this passage comes from the Greek word parakaleo, which means, “calling to one’s aid, encouragement, comfort.” God aids us in trouble and soothes our pain. He also encourages us, by strengthening and empowering us so we can encourage others.
3. God doesn't just empathize with our trouble. He also gives us the power and freedom make choices to reduce it. The word trouble, here in the NIV, comes from the Greek thlipsei, means “pressure, a narrow place that hems someone in…especially internal pressure that causes someone to feel confined, (restricted, without options)." When we are afflicted, sometimes we don’t have to stay afflicted; God provides a way out. When we can’t change our circumstances, God provides choices in the way we view and cope with them.
These beautiful truths are reflected in the Serenity Prayer: “God, grand me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” I’ve been working the Twelve Steps in community for eight years, and a primary difference I see between the Christian men and women who have “worked a program” and those that haven’t is this: Those who haven’t often say of their afflicting circumstances, “I don’t have a choice.”
Those who have done recovery work almost never say that. They have learned that in order to stay sober, they must make choices to reduce stress and anxiety in their lives. Taking care of themselves in this way has not made them more selfish, but rather, they are of great service to their fellows. The sober alcoholics in my life are some of the most spiritual, wise, mature and peaceful people I know as a result.
So, in this series, I’m offering you the chance to exert your free choice and break up with your anxious life in two ways:
One: Recognize your soul’s needs, and choose to get your needs met, boldly and Biblically. To combat distress and receive comfort, you need to know your God-given name, your purpose and your value. You also need to rest, recreate, live in the present, and live in reality (truth). Living in truth is is not just knowing Biblical truths (a loving God created the universe and made a plan for its restoration, for example); but also to name the truth of your own life, feelings, circumstances and relationships, to look at truth unflinchingly and face it.
Two: Take names and set boundaries. You get to choose whose approval you need to win. You get to choose what media you will let influence you. You get to choose what traditions (family, religious, cultural) you follow. You get to choose what advice you will take, even if you get that advice in church. And you get to choose with whom you will be in intimate relationships.
Friends, I’m getting wound up writing this! Because these truths can change our lives. They've changed mine, and my family's. When we have allowed the Father of Compassion to comfort us, then and only then, can we help others as the Lover/Warriors we were meant to be. I hope you’ll come along for this ride.