Sabbath: Accepting Joy & Anxiety

I set my alarm this morning and woke up even before it went off. I made myself coffee, took it to the living room where I have my light box set up, flicked on the pure white light of my light box, and then opened my Bible to Psalms, to settle in to read as the dawn broke outside and chased the night away.

This has been my morning routine: Reading Psalms, or sometimes from the Gospels, sometimes from the letters of Paul, to give me strength to face my anxiety. The strong promises of Psalms ("Therefore I will not fear/Though the earth should give way"), I find, chase away my fears as surely as the light chases away the darkness at dawn. Now, if only I could hold onto that all day long!

This morning I read from Psalm 91: "For he will command his angels concerning you/to guard you in all your ways/On their hands they will lift you up,/so that you will not dash your foot against a stone."

That psalm begins, "You who live in the shelter of the Most High,/who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,/will say to the LORD, 'My refuge and my fortress,/my God, to whom I trust.'"

I am working my way through a couple of interesting books right now. One, the "Anxiety and Phobia Workbook: Sixth Edition" is a rather obvious choice. The second is not so obvious: Brene Brown's "The Gifts of Imperfection." Brown is a social science researcher, a Ph.D. who studies concepts like resilience and self-compassion and shame-resistance. It makes for interesting reading.

Both of these books, including the "Anxiety and Phobia Workbook," put together by a psychologist, recommend developing one's spiritual life as a way of coping with fear and anxiety, or even perfectionism and an inauthentic lifestyle.

Here's Brene Brown talking about resilience: 

"According to the people I interviewed, the very foundation of the 'protective factors'--the things that made them bouncy--was their spirituality. By spirituality, I'm not talking about religion or theology, but I am talking about a shared and deeply held belief. Based on the interviewed, here's how I define spirituality: Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives."

Brown says three significant patterns emerged in her interviews as being essential to resilience:

"1. Cultivating hope
2. Practicing critical awareness
3. Letting go of numbing and taking the edge of vulnerability, discomfort and pain."

That last one is key for me. For many years, I was numb. I didn't allow myself to feel emotional pain because the pain was so overwhelming when I did enter into it. Instead, I practiced numbing behaviors: food, the computer, and, especially, self injury.

But what was revealed to me was that as I numbed the negative emotions, I also numbed the positive: joy, happiness, even contentment. As I spiraled deeper into my addictions, the only thing I could feel was anxiety and depression. So I made a choice: I chose the darkness and the light simultaneously. I chose to feel both the good and the bad. I broke the dependence on self-injury and food.

Joy is a sharp emotion. It stings sometimes. We must be able to lean into it, to absorb it, to feel it fully. Anxiety, too, is sharp. The way to deal with it is to lean into it, to let it wash over you and away. Anxiety peaks and then it falls. But confronting it is terrifying. And yet I know I must be alive to my anxiety, must walk through it and not turn to numbing behaviors.

Perhaps we can look at the challenges we face in life as lessons: After all, life is a classroom. There is an afterlife for which we are preparing. Up until death, it is an opportunity to learn lessons, to get the lesson right. We practice. And we practice, and practice, and practice.

My current lesson that I am mastering is to face anxiety without numbing. I am meant to be brave. Also, to be compassionate towards myself and others, to be flexible, to be independent. This is plenty to work on. It won't all come in day.

In the meantime, in my journal, I ask myself, "Have I been abstinent today?" When you count this as abstinent from all numbing behaviors--not just self-injury, alcohol or drugs, but also food, the computer, the smartphone and checking Facebook compulsively, it becomes quite challenging.

Have I been abstinent today? Am I learning to accept the sting of joy and anxiety, of pain and heartache, fully and completely? With God's help, I am. 


  1. Just discovered your work. I struggle mightily with some of the same challenges and am endeavoring to turn once again to Scripture for help. Life is difficult -- but not impossible.


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