Monday, October 1, 2018

Anxiety and a Rule of Life

In my second post about writing a Rule of Life, I talked about discerning the need for a Rule, and in my third, I talked about keeping track of what I was already doing. At the end of that third post, I implied that my next post was going to be about the prayer retreat where I wrote the first draft of my Rule.

But I’m going to take a one-post diversion away from that sequence, because there’s something else I want to talk about first.

I want to talk about how having a Rule of Life has helped me with my anxiety. *

One of the best things having a Rule of Life has done for me is that it has let me make big decisions from a place of rest and peace—and that has helped me make good decisions on the smaller stuff, even when I’m in a place of worry and exhaustion.

By taking the time to pray through my schedule and my responsibilities, I was able to decide what my days and my weeks should look like. What was most important? What did I want to do, for sure, every day? What came after that? When was the right time of day for each activity? And, what was my plan for days that weren’t normal—days when things went wrong? What was I going to do when someone got sick or a friend or family member needed me?

I thought through all of that, and I prayed through all of that, on my retreat. I made those decisions in a place of peace.

And it has made all the difference on the days when I've felt crowded and anxious and in the dark.

What was the key? Trusting the decisions I made in peace. On days when I'm anxious, I can tell myself, “I know you think the world is ending. I know you think this is a disaster. I know you think nothing can ever be right again. But we’re not listening to you right now”— (yes, I know, apparently when I talk to myself I either think I’m plural or I’m using the royal we) —“right now, we are going to do what we already decided we’re going to do. We’re not changing the plan because you feel awful. We’re just going to do the next right thing.”

And—this is the brilliant part—I knew what the next right thing was!!! I’d already prayed about it. I’d already held my thoughts and desires before the Lord, I’d meditated on His word, I’d prayed and listened and thought it all through.

I let my peaceful self make the decisions. And that kept my anxious self from having to bear that burden.

You know that old truism that you only have so much will-power during a given day? A Rule of Life means you only have one decision to make: Am I going to follow my Rule or not?

Life-changing, guys. It’s been life-changing.

Does that mean I never make tweaks or small adjustments? Of course not! I am still a mom, and not a monk. I can look at a given situation and say, “Yeah, the wise thing to do now is toss the plan and just sit and listen to this kid.” 

But, honestly, even that kind of thing is something I thought about while making my Rule. My duty is first to God, and then to my husband and kids. Then other duties follow. So if my family is in need, that’s the kind of thing that takes priority. (You do have to have some kind of flexibility. I said that I’m a mom and not a monk—but even monks are monks and not robots.)

Still, even with the un-eveness of daily life, having a structure to my days has been life-changing, and it’s been especially life-changing on the days when I’m feeling anxious. I tend to make bad decisions when I’m anxious. I make decisions that make my world smaller and scarier and harder.

So, having a Rule that has already made a good deal of my daily decisions for me? Has kept my bad days from making my whole life bad. Because if I have a terrible day in which I still know what my duty is and I still do it, that means that when I start my next day—which might be a good one!—I don’t have any awful messes to clean up. I haven’t fallen horribly behind.

And instead of feeling angry at my yesterday’s-self, I feel grateful to her. She had a hard time, and she kept going anyway, because she wasn’t confused about what the right thing to do was.

A Rule is a guide-line. Even if you’re blind-folded, you can keep your hand on it and keep walking in the right direction. You might walk more slowly, but at least you won’t be walking in circles.

And when you’re able to take the blindfold off, you’ll know where you are.

I am so grateful for my Rule of Life.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

* Important note: Clinical anxiety is something that deserves clinical treatment. I have sought help from my doctor and from a psychologist in the past, when my anxiety actually was that acute, and I’m glad that I did. I’d encourage you to do the same, if yours is serious. I’m not talking about serious, diagnosable anxiety in this post. Having a Rule is a tool that you might use in that case—as I do myself!—but I would not look to a Rule as a cure or as sufficient if you’re in the middle of, say, panic attacks. Please seek professional help if you need it—it’s there for that reason, and it’s a great blessing—much along the lines of the availability of insulin for diabetics and eye surgery for cataracts!

(Also, it should go without saying, but: I am not a medical professional and nothing in here is medical advice.)

No comments: