Breathing deep

img_0262I have, in my lifetime, experienced both panic attacks and anxiety attacks.  I’m not talking about nerves, the rumbly stomach before stepping on stage or into the pulpit, but the real thing: an impending sense of doom that is completely out of control.  A fear of nothing and everything.  A heart pounding so hard I think it might explode.  A sense that I might die.  It is excruciating.

The first happened while I was in seminary during a guided meditation, which you would think would be a pretty safe place to be. Not that day. Another happened a few months later while driving over the Golden Gate Bridge, something I’d done dozens of times before. Bridges have been hard ever since.  The attacks are a rare occurrence nowadays, partly because of age and partly because of work I’ve done to manage them.

I find myself using those anxiety-managing techniques again these days.  I don’t experience that impending sense of doom from nowhere, but I do experience a high level of worry about many things.  I worry about funding for programs for people on the margins.  I worry about war.  I worry about economic collapse.  I worry about people never speaking to each other again.  I worry about the state of the world.

As a person of faith, I am well aware of the many, many things Jesus said about not worrying and right now I find them – and him – annoying.  I also know that constant worry is not good for me or the people around me.  I’m keeping an eye on my eating and my sleeping.  I’ve started coloring postcards, an activity I find relaxing.  I cut myself off after one too many articles from the New York Times, Washington Post, or the Atlantic.

I pray that God will lift my sagging spirit.  I pray more regularly.  I practice deep breathing.  I read daily things from Father Richard Rohr (you can sign up for them here – today’s was particularly helpful.)  I turn off the tv and computer. I look for the good, and hold fast to it.

raftEvery night before we go to sleep, my husband, our daughter, our dog, and I all sit on our bed reading (except the dog).  I tell them it feels like we’re on a life raft, this big bed of ours, all together, safe, for the time being amidst the chaotic currents of the day’s events.  They laugh at me, in the good way.  Still, they are my life raft. And that helps me to worry a little less.

Until the next day comes.

Advertisements

Handing over what is not mine, or, Learning to let go

I was up worrying the other night.  It happens.  Worry is a spiritual gift I received from my mother, and I have worked hard to perfect that which was passed on to me.  I also work not to pass it on to my daughter, but I worry that I am failing in that.

Anyway, I was worrying the other night when what I really wanted to be doing was falling asleep.  It was the end of a long day, the house was quiet, all other living creatures under our roof were asleep, and there I was, worrying.  Someone once defined worry as “misuse of the imagination.”  Yes, it is.  Finally my desire to sleep won over my need to worry, and I decided to hand it all over to Jesus.

Now I really don’t consider myself that kind of Jesus person.  I usually don’t hand it over to the Lord, nor do I think that he walks with me or talks with me in the “In the Garden” sort of way.  My prayers tend to be to God, not to Jesus.  I mean, I’m good with him, but I do like to keep my distance.  But that night I decided I really needed to hand it all over to him.  So I pictured what I was handing over, and it was a spherical-shaped thing, a tangle of worries that might best be represented by barbed wire, lima beans, the insoles of my daughter’s summer Keens, and all those random electronic cables you stick in a drawer because you have no idea what they’re for.  Roll all that up into a ball, and those were the worries I wanted to hand over to Jesus.  Lucky him.

So I did.  In my mind’s eye I pictured handing him this messy, sharp bundle, and I pictured him taking it.  And then a funny thing happened.  As soon as he took it, it turned into a beach ball- one of those big plastic, colors-in-pennant-shapes beach balls.  It was like he was taking all my worries so very lightly, like he was saying, “Hey, I know there’s stuff that’s getting you down but I think we should go play on the beach.”

What the hell, Jesus?

Okay, not really.

But somehow, it worked.  He took my ball of lima beans and barbed wire and turned it into a beach ball and I fell asleep.  Not only that, but that night I dreamed I was about to marry George Clooney.  (I did confess that to my husband the next day and assured him that George Clooney was no match for him.)

The next day I had coffee with a friend who is a 12-stepper.  I am remarkably proud of her, and often inspired by the rigorous and truthful way she looks at her own living.  We talked about whatever step it is where you let go and let God, and she talked about the deep meaning the serenity prayer has for her.  While I listened, I was having my own internal conversation about letting go and the whole Jesus-turned-my-worry-into-a-beach-ball thing.  Here’s where I ended up.

Sometimes, in order to sleep, in order to get the rest our bodies, minds, and souls need, we have to let it go.  (Apologies for cueing that particular song.)  It’s not always ours to keep, the things we worry about.  But sometimes, after that rest, we take some of it back.  Some of it is mine to carry, or to deal with, or to wrestle with.  But maybe when I take it back, there are fewer lima beans and more grains of sand.

a-beach-ball-ron-dahlquist