Updated: Aug 23
How to Break Up with Your Anxious Life
1 John 4:19 says, “We love because God first loved us.”
We are made to love as much as we are made to be loved. It’s easy for that profound truth to recede quickly to the back of our minds. Our inner response to the command, “Love,” can be something like “Yeah, yeah, I got it. Let’s talk about theology. Let’s talk about holiness.”
Last week we talked about the name we all share: Beloved. In this series on living a less anxious life, I want to slow us down focus on this other name God have given you: Lover.
Taking the name Lover has been a great source of comfort for me, and also, a weapon against the anxiety that I am never enough, never doing enough. I have been rooted and established in love (Ephesians 3:17) and I receive the name Lover by grace, through faith, not through my works, not by “going pro” or being perfect. Christ has restored me to my original purpose: love and be loved.
The world has a million ways to name and quantify us, with titles that are hard to win, and easily lost.
What is your profession?
How many people work under you?
How much money do you make?
How many followers do you have?
How many likes did you get?
What is your GPA?
What were your test scores?
What are your kids’ GPA and test scores?
How many clients do you have?
How many books have you written?
How many children do you have?
How long have you been married?
Anxiety can fill my heart as I read that list. I assume that other people in other professions struggle with this too, but I can tell you definitively that writers and speakers ALL struggle with quantifying our value. In publishing, it’s all about platform: Prove the value of what you are saying by showing how many people are already listening to you, and then maybe we’ll look at your manuscript. And I get it; book making is a business, and it’s hard to sell a book by someone no one has heard of.
The only thing that truly sustains me as a writer and teacher is to be in it for love.
My friend Ira recently sent me a beautiful metaphor he wrote, with this disclaimer: “As a boy I enjoyed writing. Eventually the grammar legalist teachers beat that out of me. But my head still sings.” Ira’s writing spoke to me. It was all about the God the Father’s love. Those who read it felt loved. Ira, by emailing it to our care and recovery leadership team, lived into his name. I’m glad his head sings.
You, my beloveds, were made with a head and heart that sings, and you are meant to love others out of that soul music. This deep purpose of your life cannot be quantified or graded; you can’t be promoted or demoted; and the breadth of your reach is not important. It’s not the point. So maybe I like the name Amateur after all, one who is “in it for love.”
Christ himself said he would leave the ninety-nine sheep in the pen to go after the one lost. And you are meant to love the one before you – whether that one is a neighbor, your child, your spouse, a friend, a client, or the person before you in the coffee line. When the only true measure of your life is love, you have peace.
I would like to state for the record that I suck at holding this perspective consistently. Though I have obeyed God many times to walk away from money, power and position, I still pine for them. Because the enemy of my soul whispers things like, “You are a loser. You aren’t hustling hard enough. You should be further along by this time in your life.” That enemy, that liar, that roaming lion, is constantly trying to convince me that I’m just a lone antelope with a limp, and my only hope is to run fast and try harder. The only thing that helps is remembering my names from God: Beloved, Bridgebuilder, Lover. I stop running, stand my ground, and remember that the Enemy is the one who gets eaten in the end. (It also helps to text a friend and say, “I feel like a loser again.” Then they can remind me of my names.)
Henri Nouwen, who left a position of power and influence to spend the last 10 years of his life caring for the intellectually disabled, wrote this in his book In the Name of Jesus:
Knowing the heart of Jesus and loving him are the same thing. The knowledge of Jesus’ heart is a knowledge of the heart. And when we live in the world with that knowledge, we cannot do other than bring healing, reconciliation, new life and hope wherever we go. The desire to be relevant and successful will gradually disappear, and our only desire will be to say with our whole being to our brothers and sisters of the human race, ‘You are loved. There is no reason to be afraid.’”
Though there are many reasons to be physically afraid on this earth, Nouwen is speaking of soul distress I wrote about last week: the fear that we don’t matter and aren’t loved, that life is about success and relevance. Big fat lies, all! When I reject them, I find comfort.
My eldest daughter is a perfectionist and an idealist, and God help her because that is a tough combination to live out in a broken world. At sixteen, she was afraid that she would not be able to have a meaningful life if she didn’t excel in school. She did excel in school, and I’m glad that her diligence paid off in the form of out-of-state tuition scholarship. But as her Amateur mother, I am also heart-glad when occasionally she phones it in on test, or doesn’t quite get the grade she’s hoping for, so that she has the opportunity to know how she is loved and valued when she’s not at the top of her class, the top of her game.
My job as her mom is to tell her, “You are an Amateur, a Lover. Your life is defined by love. What you may one day get paid for is not who you are. No matter what you major in, no matter where you go to school, no matter what you do for work, or if you quit work to raise a family, or if you never get married, or if you get married and don’t have children: Lover is who you are. Seek love. Do what makes your head sing. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these other things will be added to you. Allelujah. Amen.”
That’s my message to you today, too, dearests. Be Beloved. Be Lover. Be comforted. Live into your name.