My three-year-old emerged this morning, with a deep scowl and bedhead, and announced, “I’ve been thinking about yucky things and now those yucky things are in my body.”
He has a particular flair for the dramatic, but as usual, his articulation made me think.
It’s been a harsh few weeks in my head. My husband will, God-willing, match in a residency program in one month which will determine the next four years of our life and where we will live, and naively I thought I was totally handling it.
But I’ve been overwhelmed, and it feels like my heart has a pacemaker set to “hummingbird”, and I have been impatient, irritable, and panicked. I’ve been carrying all this around silently, lying when people ask me how I am.
Thankfully, one night my gracious husband sort of forced me to fess up to what was going on in my mind. Finally I actually verbalized all those anxious thoughts that I had allowed free, tyrannical reign in my head, and I realized they had delved deep within my heart and, in a way, they had taken up residence. I wasn’t even truly aware of all the things I was telling myself that led me down the proverbial rabbit-hole of anxiety. I had just convinced myself that I just felt “off” and it would pass, that I didn’t need to explore those feelings and deal with them, and that I certainly didn’t need to share them with anyone.
But those “yucky” things took root, and led to impatience and unkindness, and it didn’t just pass, it spread and affected how I treated everyone around me.
The tricky thing about anxiety is that it occupies our minds in the realm of possibilities: it’s not even something tangible we can grasp. As Kierkegaard says,
[Anxiety] is altogether different from fear and similar concepts that refer to something definite, whereas anxiety is freedom’s actuality as the possibility of possibility.
-Søren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety
I tend to keep my anxious thoughts to myself because they oftentimes seem of such little consequence, because they live in this state of “what if”. It isn’t that anything is happening that promotes a legitimate fear: anxiety rests in possibility and the panic that our minds play with (or more aptly torture us with) as a result of them. And so it seems silly to admit what has me panicking, because none of it is anything that is actually definite, it’s just possibilities. And often they exaggerate from legitimate possibilities to those that are the least likely. So, voicing those kind of fears feels especially vulnerable, to admit them leads to an exposure of weakness that I don’t think anyone actually wants to willingly admit.
It’s easier to answer “how are you?”, with an enthusiastic “great!”, than it is to cry on someone’s shoulder because thinking about the future produces some kind of primal fear that makes my heart race and my palms sweat.
Keeping anxious thoughts a secret allows me to cling to some kind of control, as though I can at least portray some kind of strength, even as I feel my resolve melting within.
And so, those yucky thoughts needle their way in, unnoticed at first, and then the reaction they produce feels impossible to share. Lack of control and weakness flood everything.
And I keep trying to convince myself all the true things that I know, and I keep telling my hummingbird heart to just slow down, and I keep repeating to myself “it will be ok”, and it just isn’t.
The truth of it is, I am not in control, and it may not actually end up being okay. All those things that are possibilities of possibility, those unknown fears, they may actually materialize and it may be terrible (but probably not). There is a whole lot of uncertainty in life, but thankfully there are a few things that are certain. I am weak, for one, and no amount of secret-keeping and pretending will actually disguise that.
The greatest and most important thing on earth has weakness at its foundation. And that foundation is wonderfully sure, since there is nothing surer than that the people will be weak.
-Blaise Pascal, Pensées
There aren’t a whole lot of sure things in life, but human weakness is one of them, particularly in myself. There is a certain guarantee that I will not be enough, that I cannot muster enough strength, nor courage to face whatever I’m thrown. I will crumble. That is certain. The peace I crave, that slowing of the heart, that deep breath, the relief, that doesn’t come from within me.
The stoics say: ‘Go back into yourselves. There you will find peace.’ And it is not true.
Others say: ‘Go out, look for happiness in some distraction.’ And that is not true. Illness is the result.
Happiness is neither outside us nor within us. It is in God, and both outside and within us.
-Blaise Pascal, Pensées
That peace I need, it comes from God alone. That strength I need, it’s from Christ and it’s actually perfected in my weaknesses.
No empty platitudes, nor teeth clenching will bring his peace into my heart. Only he does that, and I can only rest in it when I finally stop striving and admit how deep my weakness runs.
I’m thankful I have a husband who knows this truth, and also knows me well enough to see through my teeth-clenched lies. He knows my weaknesses well, and instead of offering me an empty “it will be okay,” he simply placed the truth in my hands. “God has this.”
The reality of this is so breathtaking it stunned me. The truth is, God is sovereign, he has our days numbered, he holds me in his deeply scarred hands, and he has this. This doesn’t provide a promise that it will be okay; I am still weak, but my future is secured in him. I don’t know what tomorrow brings, but he does, and he is good.
So, my secret is out. I’m not in control, and I am weak. And that is so beautiful, even as my hummingbird heart tries to betray me, because Jesus’ heart stopped beating for me, and he secured my future with him for eternity, and nothing, absolutely nothing can change that. I don’t have to try and grasp for control when everything feels like it is spiraling into a sort of madness; I just have to look to him, because while I’ve been trying to hold tight to him, fearing that my sweaty palms will make me lose him and I’ll fall into some sort of oblivion of panic, I realize, he’s been the one holding me all along.
So, I can give him my heart; cracked, broken, hummingbird-rhythm and all, and in return he will give me everything I need: himself.