Anxiety Falling

It seems that the older I get the more I have to worry about. With age comes this creeping anxiety. I read recently that women in their 60’s are the most likely to be hospitalised because of anxiety. Oh dear!

Anxiety is the expression of fear and worry. Anxiety, fear and worry are the triplets no one wants to bring home for dinner. The more I share about this, the more I hear people say, “Me too.”

I’ve gotten various amounts of advice in this area. Everything from “breath deeply” (which I personally find to be a placebo that sounds nice only on bumper stickers) to prayer, from exercise to gratitude.

All these things can be helpful I suppose. I definitely feel more at peace and able to cope after I’ve gone for a run. Something nags at me though. I can’t help but think they are all a pair of crutches for a limping soldier. Not really a solution, just something to help you hop-along.

Tim Keller once said something that pierced me:
“Anxiety is the result of a collapsing false god.”

I thought back to the scriptures and the Israelites often struggled with fear themselves. God’s response? Stop trusting in idols and turn to me. Fear and idolatry are almost always mentioned together.

The Israelites trusted in things like:
– Their own strength
– Created things (literal idols of wood and stone)
– Other people
– Their own wisdom on how to handle things
– Their reputation
The list goes on…

God’s response? “Trusting in things that can’t truly save is a very fearful place to be indeed.”

The solution? Him.anxiety

What?! Yep, no fancy solutions. No deep breathing. No prayer (as an idol in and of itself).

Just Jesus. Immanuel, God with us.

The temptation is to call this naive thinking. Advice meant for a bumper sticker.

Listen to these words of God.

In Isaiah God says, “Fear not, for I am with you” and “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you

In the Psalms, David famously says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

The antidote to fear is the presence of Jesus.

No stats on how rarely planes crash will bring down fear. Reputation, no matter how highly people think of me, will not decrease anxiety. Constant reassurance of my child’s safety will not erase my worry.

None of those things will help if my comfort is found in an idol.

Only the reality of the presence of Jesus brings peace. He is the one of most value, the thing of most worth, the object worth my highest affection.

Anything else that I trust for protection, safety and reassurance will only bring more fear, worry and anxiety.

This has been my prayer lately, “I will not fear, for you are with me… may you truly be my greatest treasure.”

What do you desire and trust most apart from “God With Us”? In what false ways do you try to “manage and control” the resulting anxiety, fear and worry?

What Africa Taught Me About Friendship

Living cross-culturally is awesome. Most people move to a new culture because of the excitement and fascination with other other cultures.

But, I suspect you would get a similar and surprising answer if you interviewed 100 expatriates and asked, “What have you learned the most about other cultures?” The answer would be along the lines of, “Frankly, I’ve learned the most deeply about my own culture.”

I remember being in a conversation with three people from three different African nations. Two of them were “orientating” the third person to “Westerners”. They got really enthusiastic as they explained the way we Westerners work.

“First of all!” the one said, “When they ask, ‘How are you doing?’, they don’t actually want to know ‘How you are doing.’”

“What! Then why do they ask?” he replied.

“They are just saying ‘Hello’, if you actually tell them how you are doing they will get a funny look on their face.” (I imagine it is a mix of a blank stare and aggravation… just a guess)

The three of them all burst in to hysterical laughter and I couldn’t help but join in. The newbie now knew to just say, “I’m fine” and elaborate no further, when a Westerner asks.

“Then what DO they want to know?” the third enquired.

“Oh, oh, oh! Ask them ‘What do you do?’ That is a very common and polite way to greet a Westerner that you have never met before”.

As I listened I was getting schooled… in my own culture and in all of life.

I asked all three of them what a common greeting would be after saying “Hello” in each of their countries.  All three said the same thing…. “Where have you come from?”

I thought about this for a long time after that day passed.

Two ways of relating:
“Hello. What do you do for a living?”
“Hello. Where have you come from?”

Isn’t this the essence of building true relationships? Knowing what a person “does” is great information. But, does it really reveal who I am? Does it reveal me? Perhaps a little.

Knowing where I have come from. Retracing my journey. Talking about my stories and hearing yours. Those are the things that truly build friendship.

I see the same with God. Really, how do I deeply know God in a way that is beyond the surface? I know Him because He has told me His story. From Genesis right through to the end… all the joys, the pain, the unfaithfulness of his people. The moments of His dramatic rescue of a dramatically inept people. It’s all laid out on those pages.

What does God do? He does Grace. How do I know it, truly and deeply? Because I’ve heard and lived His story. I know it. I’ve seen it.

This is what I know about my “Western” culture:
First we tell what we do.
Second, we tell what we are like.
Third, we tell our stories.

Telling our stories is at the bottom of our relational list. The reality is that we rarely reach that third place. We stop short.

“I’m Lindsey, I work at a University and I like South Africa”.  I feel so empty just thinking if all my relationships stopped there. If people truly knew me and understood me, they would know my story.

This year, I want to tell my story more… to show people who I really am. This year, I want to truly hear people’s stories. It will take time. It will take people I trust.

Our stories are valuable because we are people of value.

When is the last time you told your story? When is the last time you sat down and truly listened to another person’s story?

Question, listen, repeat.

It is interesting to think about and ask others, “what makes a good friend?” All sorts of qualities come out which encourage me to be a better friend to those around me. One thing that often comes up is this, “Good friends ask  great questions and really listen”.

Wouldn’t you agree? We have these people in our lives that ask questions which go beyond the surface. Questions that help us think about God, others and ourselves in deeper ways.  No matter how healthy we are… sometimes we just need someone to ask us some good questions to draw out our thoughts.

I’ve been thinking about some questions that I could ask people in my various relationships: marriage, children and friends. Questions that go beyond the standard, “How are you doing?”  I thought I would share them with you. Take time to sit down with your spouse, child or friend.

Obviously, going through list might feel like an interrogation more than a good conversation. Grab a cup of coffee and find natural ways to dig in and really enquire into the heart of those around you. Choose to go deeper by being “that friend” that asks good questions!

5 Questions to ask on a night out with your spouse or friend:
1. What part of life are you enjoying the most right now? What makes it so enjoyable?
2. What part of life are you enjoying the least? Why?
3. Who would you consider your closest friends right now?
4. Right now, what do you need more of: personal or social time?
5.  If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be? What’s preventing that?

5 Questions to ask on your marriage anniversary:
1. What have we done well this year?
2. What have we not done well this year?
3. What are 1-3 things I could do this year to show you love?
4. Is there any area we need outside help with? (in the form of advice, wisdom, prayer, counsel, etc)
5. What could we do to improve our friendship in the year ahead?

6 Questions to ask your spouse/friend on their birthday:
1. In what areas have you felt the most successful this year?
2 In what areas have you felt the most disappointed or discouraged?
3. What have been your highlight events or moments this past year?
4. What are your biggest struggles right now?
5. What are your hopes for the year ahead?
6. What could I do for you to make this next year a great one?

6 Questions to ask your child to learn more about them (ages 3-10):
1. What is your most precious possession right now?
2. When friends are nice, what do they do for you?
3. What makes you the most sad or frustrated?
4. If you could plan a perfect day, what would it look like?
5. What is one thing you wish Mommy and Daddy did differently?
6. What is one thing Mommy and Daddy do well?