A few weeks ago I read a prayer letter from a friend who serves with a major mission agency and knew I wanted to share her thoughts with you. I asked and received her okay to do so, with slight changes to conceal my friends’ and their mission’s identity since they work in sensitive areas of the world. Her topic is of universal interest and application. I trust her words of wisdom and insight will encourage and challenge you as much as they did me. My thanks to my friend for allowing me to re-post her letter below.
I get anxious. When I anticipate giving a talk or carrying out a big responsibility, when I am in transition between job roles, when I am concerned for a friend in need … my mind wrestles with possibilities and ‘what if’s. I can easily tire my husband by emoting about these anxieties, even when he understands that I am an external processor. It doesn’t do any good to just suppress this, or pretend that I don’t feel these things—anxiety likes to make its home in my mind.
As I look at the Psalms, I notice that King David also got anxious. He had plenty of reasons to: with huge responsibilities, enemies chasing him down, trying to kill him, undermining him, taunting him—and with his own doubts and fears chiming in as well.
Re-examining the Psalms gives me hope, as I notice the recurrent theme of David turning his heart to God in the midst of his anxiety.
David asks God: “Where are You in these shadows around me? Show me the truth about these persuasive negative thoughts. Un-divide my heart (which is pulled in many directions by fear, discouragement, anxiety) so I may trust more fully in Your love and power.” David allows God to re-frame situations; to re-interpret what is going on when things look dire. David uses his anxiety as a signal that it is time to seek God and listen to His voice.
I’ve discovered freedom and transformation recently as I confront anxious feelings, and ask God to show me what they are made out of. He helps me name specific thoughts that are triggering the anxiety. Then I ask God to expose the lies and speak truth to my heart. No darkness stays dark when I give God permission to show where He is. Then I set my will to agree with Him about what is true in that situation.
For example, recently I was in a foreign country on a missionary coaching visit to our teams there, unexpectedly needing to carry out the coaching on my own. This is because my husband had not been allowed to board the plane due to his passport photo being damaged by an encounter with the washing machine.
My stress level was high due to this last-minute change in plans: Anticipating all the taxi journeys I’d need to negotiate with minimal knowledge of the local language and my unreliable internal compass, needing capacity to listen with discernment to each missionary family’s current situation … basically needing to function as my husband might have without his gifts! These thoughts hounded me: “I’m all alone in this, I can’t be him!” Emotions triggered by these thoughts wore me out before I could even begin the week.
In quiet moments, I journaled and asked God to name the thoughts, and then to speak His truth to them. Deep in my heart He spoke calmly and clearly (things any observer might think are obvious!). After naming the thoughts, He reminded me of His Presence being with me to give me rest, of all the friends who would help if I just asked (thus, “alone” was not a true description at all), and that of course He had brought me there to minister to people through who I am (so, I didn’t need to be my husband).
Although every taxi journey that week did involve being lost for half the time (inexperienced drivers, obscure addresses, as well as drivers taking advantage), I eventually reached my destinations and had rich times with each team member. I facilitated a large group meeting … in my style.
Although I found it necessary to confront anxieties frequently, joy and love met me each day.
In recent years several dreams have reinforced this lesson: how differently one situation can be interpreted depending on the emotions-and-thoughts lens through which it is viewed.
In one dream I was driving passengers down a country road, in a hurry to be somewhere. Anxiety was all around us; the heat and stillness was ominous. It seemed that enemies were nearby or some natural disaster had just occurred. Up ahead a car had pulled off the road, with people bending over it. My anxiety increased – they, like us, seemed also to be fleeing, or they possibly might hurt us. In fear we took the next right turn, moving on.
But what was the threat? I awoke with intense anxiety, unable to pinpoint why.
So, I closed my eyes to revisit the dream, asking God to shine His light and show His truth. The sequence of events replayed with all the same details. Only this time I recognized that it was a summer afternoon, sunny with no wind. We were just driving through the countryside to take a walk somewhere beautiful.
The other car was just others also out to enjoy the countryside. Everything was surrounded by calmness and the freedom of a day off.
The only difference between the two dreams was the lens through which I viewed things: whether I was sensing threat and danger, or assuming that all was peaceful. The truth is I can look for God and let Him reveal where He is, even in situations that are fraught with imminent danger (as the Psalmist could). God’s Presence is ready to greet me (and you!) in every dark corner, transforming every shadow into a place of insight (“Here I am,” He says). Every twinge of anxiety can lead to growth in trust.
King David said, ‘Teach me your way, LORD, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” (Psalm 86:11)
John said, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)
Shadows will always be present in and around us. So let’s look for Him in the shadows. Allow Jesus to spread His light to people though you today.