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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San said...

I really needed to read this today, thank you for sharing.


Jessica Snell said...

San, I'm so glad it helped. Thanks for letting me know, too. :)