Monday, September 1, 2014

Anxiety, "The Problem of Pain", and work

So, I had a day last week that was really hard. It was hard in a parenting sense. It was hard in an anxiety sense. It was just hard.

And I decided (God's grace!) to meet the anxiety with faith and with - here's the surprise - with work.

I'm learning, more and more, that the thing to do with anxiety is to meet it square. Not deny it, not run from it, not pretend it's not there. But just to say, "Oh, there you are. I see you. I accept you're there. And now I get to choose what to do."

And so often, the right thing to do in answer to anxiety is to go to work.*

Activity, even if it has nothing to do with the worry at hand, is amazing for dismissing anxiety.**

The value of work 
Stopping, praying, journaling, and then getting actively to work . . . it’s everything. It’s the difference between despair and joy.

And that’s not running away from the fear. It’s not hiding it or denying it. It’s saying, “Here it is. I see it. And” – not but. And – “I am going to do this.”

On that hard day though, all the same, I was so glad when my husband came home.  He sanes me. And if "sanes" is not a verb, it should be.  

Also, another thing that really helped me was some quotations I'd copied down from my reading. Rereading the words of wiser Christians is terribly grounding.

Lewis on pain
Speaking of quotations from wiser Christians, I also want to copy down, oh, all of the chapter entitled “Heaven” from Lewis’ “The Problem of Pain”. But I’m not sure that’s very practical.

First Lewis talks about the jeer “pie in the sky” and observes either there is pie in the sky or there isn’t . . . and that it’s safe to talk about heaven to the pure in heart, because there’s nothing in heaven any mercenary soul would want. Those who love God are the ones who want to see Him.

And then he talks about his idea of “joy”, and oh, it’s glorious. The thing I’ve been looking for all my life . . . and I realized that that, really just that, is the reason why, in the end, I write fiction. Because it is the time I come the closest to grasping – and to expressing – that thing it is that I see
always on the edge of breaking through” – that thing that “beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for . . . you have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it – tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest – if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself – you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for.’
Yes. That. It's what I mean when I talk about "domestic glory". It is the “home” theme that shows up in all my stories. It’s what I mean when I talk about the scent of the sea and roses against the white-and-blue sky. But . . . but it’s not quite any of them. It’s what draws me to romance, and yet also to science fiction and fantasy. It’s that boundless horizon married to the sweet comfort of a snug house. It’s . . . yes. It’s that thing.

And then Lewis points out that God put this difference in all of us – that He made us individuals on purpose, and that this secret, unique hunger in each of us is no mistake:
Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you.
And then he points out:
For it is not humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you – you, the individual reader, John Stubbs or Janet Smith. Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes shall behold Him and not another’s. All that you are, sins apart, is destined, if you will let God have His good way, to utter satisfaction.
And oh, that makes me want to let God have His good way with me! Be gone, oh sins.

And then Lewis goes on to his next point, and it really, really resonated with me after the way work seemed to be what saved me from despair, just a few days ago:
And if you will not go out of yourself to follow it, if you sit down to brood on the desire and attempt to cherish it, the desire itself will evade you. ‘The door into life generally opens behind us’ and ‘the only wisdom’ for one ‘haunted with the scent of unseen roses, is work.’ This secret fire goes out when you use the bellows: bank it down with what seems unlikely fuel of dogma and ethics, and then it will blaze.
I am reinspired by the idea to “do my work with gladness while it is day, that when night cometh, I may rejoice to give thee thanks”.

And it gives me an entirely different way to look at that hard day's difficulties. When my child's  meltdown, and the scary money costs of dental work tempt me to despair – and even less (or more) than that, to whine and pout and complain – instead, these words of Lewis show me that my troubles are actually not just difficulties or attacks.

They are part of the work God has given me to do.

How do I say this properly? Because I see it really clearly, and I want to get it down in words so that I don’t forget it in other times.

These trials, these worries, these events, these hardships . . . they’re just part of the work. They’re not threats. Because they are allowed by God, and he has allowed them to come in my way, which means that He means to help me deal with them. It’s not me cowering in a corner being hit. It’s me walking in the way my Lord has directed me to walk, ready to take care of what’s in front of me because those are the tasks he’s asked me to take care of.

Do you see? There’s such a difference there.

And, with that, I go to work.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

*Other times the right thing to do is to build a blanket fort and borrow in for the day. Just saying.
**Clinically significant anxiety is not necessarily why I'm talking about. For that, psychotherapy and medication may also be necessary and commendable and even life-giving. Really, truly.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Weekend Links: Prayer, Prophets, and more!

Some good reading (and watching) for your weekend:

"Praying For You":
. . . not having a specific prompt for others, only a designated time frame, encouraged me to listen to how God would have me pray. I felt the ease of not needing to figure it out. I also sensed subtle shifts in how I prayed for the same person over the course of days, even when I was praying for the same situation. Sometimes I later found out these shifts corresponded with different developments. Life is never static so it makes sense that God’s intervention would be dynamic.
"SDfAoWOP: a Prophet":
It's a good question always to stop and ask. Has God spoken? Is there something I should know before I do this foolish act? Most of us walk a narrow line between the world and the plans and purposes of God, knowing that if we stop and inquire too deeply we will not enjoy the plans and purposes of God. And so we extremely careful not to read all the words the prophets have already spoken, and if we read them, to not read them too closely.
"Mere Fidelity: Made for More, with Hannah Anderson": I really enjoyed this interview with Hannah Anderson about women, work, and being made in the image of God.

And finally, this clever (and painful) video:

Sunday, August 24, 2014

St. Francis de Sales, on loss

photo credit: Betsy Barber
This is a hard one, but I think he's right:
Well then, my child, if God takes everything from us, He will never take Himself from us, so long as we do not will it.
-St. Francis de Sales, from Thy Will Be Done: Letters to Persons in the World
Because, in the end, having the Lord? That is what matters.

Or, rather, belonging to the Lord. That might be putting it better, I think. Would I have an good thing, if I had to have it without him? No. (God helping me. Because I would need his help, oh yes, I would.)

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Weekend Links: Austen, Autism, and more!

Some good reading for your weekend:

"Simple Girl: The Improbable Solace of 'Mansfield Park'":
Usually, though, the most arresting scenes in Austen are revelatory, when, for instance, the elegant Mr. Elliot is shown to be cold and self-interested, or Mr. Darcy is exposed as the mysterious savior of the Bennet family. Mansfield Park is weirder. Its best moments are not thunderclaps of discovered malfeasance or heroism, but subtle thickenings in the dynamics of the story, small shifts which are easy to overlook, but in fact are such carefully layered moments as to be eerie, even sublime. One doesn’t often turn to Austen for a chill up the spine, but in Mansfield Park, her Georgian clarity is commingled with dread. In a number of these key moments, particularly those in the three scenes I think of as “the theatricals,” something repellent, even demonic, distends the novel’s porcelain skin.
"Children with Autism Have Extra Synapses in Brain":
Children and adolescents with autism have a surplus of synapses in the brain, and this excess is due to a slowdown in a normal brain “pruning” process during development, according to a study by neuroscientists at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). Because synapses are the points where neurons connect and communicate with each other, the excessive synapses may have profound effects on how the brain functions.
"I love you, California!":
I like living in a place that is bigger than me. Obviously most places other than a broom closet fit that qualification, but California is so much bigger than me: I will never master it. I will never visit everywhere I want to go. I will never know it by heart or discover all its secrets. It will always be wild and mysterious and grand, and somehow just out of my reach.

"Royals Round-Up, August 22, 2014: I have an unreasonable love for the Fug Girls' regular round-up of royals. Especially when they do Prince George's dialogue. Like so: "Give me that butterfly now, Daddy, please, it's time for me TO EAT IT. THANK YOU."

Hope you have a lovely weekend!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Book Notes: "Chalice", by Robin McKinley

"Chalice", by Robin McKinley is another one of those books I read on vacation. And on vacation, I really enjoyed it.

It's one of the spacier of McKinley's books.

The "spacey" label is hard to explain if you haven't read any McKinley before, but the best I can explain it is that McKinley is really good at writing books that make you feel as if you were dreaming. You know that vague-yet-specific, image-full-yet-clarity-less feeling you get when you're dreaming?  McKinley's books can be like that.

And this one really is.

Yet not in a bad way. I floated along quite happily reading this. I liked the land, I liked the bees, I liked the heroine, I emphasized with her frustratoin.  The resolution worked - though I'm not sure any other writer could have made it make sense.

If you want an atmospheric read that makes you think of sunshine and honey and herbs, this is your book. Very enjoyable, but sort of hard to explain afterwards.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Yarnalong: "The Ministry of Motherhood" and "Favorite Scarf Ever"

Ginny over at Small Things says: ~ Two of my favorite things are knitting and reading, and the evidence of this often shows up in my photographs. I love seeing what other people are knitting and reading as well. So, what are you knitting or crocheting right now? What are you reading? Take a photo and share it either on your blog or on Flickr. Leave a link below to share your photo with the rest of us! ~

So here is what I'm knitting and reading right now:

The book: The book is "The Ministry of Motherhood", by Sally Clarkson. This is the first time I've read a book by Sally Clarkson, and I'm really glad I picked it up!

The knitting: The knitting is a free pattern, called "Favorite Scarf Ever", and I'm knitting it in the Candombe colorway of Malabrigo's sock yarn. My husband bought me this particular yarn on an anniversary trip a few years ago, and it took me awhile to figure out what I wanted to make from it. But this pattern is simple, and shows the variegated colors nicely. I'm looking forward to wearing it this fall!

For more posts about books & knitting, head on over to the yarnalong link-up over at Small Things.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Weekend Links!

Some good reading for your weekend, from around the Web:

"Aspergian Christianity":
. . . I soon came to see it as a gift that those with Aspergers or others on the autistic spectrum have to offer to the church and the world: the gift of truth-telling. Instead of being offended by the forthrightness or clarity of speech from those who have Aspergers, we can welcome it as a reminder of the way we use our words, and the power that they have. When choose beating around the bush, or gently trying to imply what feels like a blatant truth, we can learn from those who speak the truth plainly. We must always choose gentleness when communicating that truth, but we ought to pursue speaking the truth.
"Things I Love about the Things I Love" (this one has great pictures and GIFs):
The way it always feels miraculous when you look down at the finished product and think "this used to just be string." 

"Why You Do What You Do" - I'm still in the middle of listening to this podcast interview with Carolyn McCulley, so I can't endorse it whole-heartedly (yet, anyway), but I'm really appreciating her distinction between the idea of "women in the workplace" and "women being productive". Lots of good thoughts here.

"I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What It Did to Me": frightening stuff.

"It’s Just Better with Community":
God never meant for us to live our lives by ourselves. God lives in perfect community with Himself, and we as His image bearers are also to live in community with one another. When Christ ascended to the Father, He commissioned a community—the Church—to embody His message to the world. We need to live life with others. 

And finally, after hearing the sad news of Robin Williams' death, I found these two articles particularly helpful:
-"What Does the Church Say About Suicide?": I'm not Catholic, so I don't agree with every nuance here, but it's a really good place to start thinking about these issues.
-"the depressed Christian: why the dark night is no measure of your soul":
I wanted their souls to be better, stronger, more determined. I had no idea at all what their brains were going through. But now I know. And I am humbled beyond words.

I hope you have a lovely weekend.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell