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Category: Anxiety

Battling demons and finding God on the ash heap

2017 finally comes to a close, and I am ringing in the new year firmly ensconced upon a pile of ashes.

This is definitely not the place others flock to when welcoming in a new year. Dusty, bleak, a place of exile and uncertainty. You don’t count down the final seconds of 2017 on the ash heap; instead, you wrestle with endless questions about how you got there with a God who seems more interested in the annual ball drop in Times Square. You wait, trying to understand the rationale of another who is infinitely above your pay-grade.

Kind of like Job after the Accuser chopped him off at the ankles. As part of what looks like a mysterious cosmic bet, Job loses his children, his livestock, his wealth, and eventually his health over a short period of time. He retreats to the mound of ashes where he sits quietly with friends, saying nothing for a week. Then the characters engage in a misguided debate about the cause of suffering and its relation to sin before God himself finally enters the discussion with one of the most beautiful and frustrating responses to humanity’s suffering in the entire Bible. read more

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Nine years later, the pain remains, but God is still good

Today marks one of the two worse days of my life. Nine years ago this morning, in a span of one hour, my postgraduate dreams and career in academia evaporated and my life cartwheeled into a world that was–and somewhat remains–unclear, unknown, and undefined.

This was the day I sat across from my doctoral examiners and was told in no uncertain terms how much they hated my dissertation. I remember vividly the final walk of humiliation–barely able to breathe–down the path and out of the university, the phone call home telling my wife it didn’t go well, and the day I left England for the last time only to return to word weeks later that a contract for a job I loved would not be renewed. read more

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Why we need Advent now more than ever

5598559126_90f2e2024c_bAdvent—beginning with the first of four Sundays before Christmas—is usually my favorite time of year. I start anticipating it around June 21, when the days start getting shorter. I love the lights and colors, the smells of Christmas trees and warm fresh-baked cookies, the sounds of bells and carols, and the sight of Rudolph and Charlie Brown running across my television screen. But there’s a deeper reason for my love of Christmas.

For years, I have wrestled with my broken life, and Advent is a season to remember how God stepped into humanity’s story—my story—and lived among us for the sole purpose of saving us. Have you ever suddenly realized that you find more excitement in the days leading up to Christmas than the actual day itself? That is Advent. The “secular” Christmas season of anticipating Santa Claus is merely a shadow-like reflection of what Advent is. Advent is waiting, knowing Jesus will come. So for me, Advent is a reflection and celebration of the magnitude of Jesus’s birth, and what it means in the mess that is my life. read more

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Will we ever find utopia in a broken world?

IMG_1201I just returned from a week in Helena, Montana.

It was utopic: silent mornings, sitting alone on a wide deck overlooking Hauser Lake; loud middays, talking and laughing with family under the big Montana sky; and brilliant evenings, watching the horizon erupt in a blaze of colors as the sun dropped below the western mountains.

The scenery was fresh and spacious. The air was tranquil and clean. And most important, I was out of the city.

The whole time I was there, I fought back dread of the day when I would have to return to the city where I live – Portland, Oregon.

But  before that day came, something worse happened. Shortly after the Fourth of July, the country exploded with violence, protests, and domestic terrorism. Two videos went viral, showing police officers shooting African-American men in St. Paul and Baton Rouge; then five officers were gunned down in Dallas. The nation cracked in two, and the schism spread wide. I knew—absolutely knew—the next several days would be filled with raging debates and groundless conclusions made from hundreds or thousands of miles away, based on a few seconds of unclear video. read more

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Why I am already giving up on 2016

20130704-defeat-chess1When things are beyond our control, we tend to “give up” in one of two ways. The first way, which does little good, is to appear to give up by saying, “I’m done” – and throwing up our hands in disgust. The second way, which I recommend, is to truly give up.

Let me explain.

In 2015, I tried the first way.

I immersed myself in the news, trying to get my mind around the emerging crises of city riots, global terrorism, leadership vacuums, and the uneasy feeling that we may be headed toward another world war.

I couldn’t discuss these issues on social media, because the response there is always character assassination from angry people with pat answers which they (wrongly) believe will solve everything. So I internalized my concerns and frustrations. But that choice led to worry and despair. Many nights I couldn’t sleep because my mind raced with headlines, talking heads, and complete nonsense I had heard during the day. read more

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Asleep in the boat, part 2: The “reverse ABCs” of anxiety

[This post is continued from “Asleep in the boat, part 1: When God is the cause of anxiety.”]

As I studied the story of Jesus sleeping peacefully in a storm-tossed boat (Mark 4:35-41), I realized how much I want to experience that same peace.
Landscape%20-%20Painting%20-%20Seascape%20-%20Storm%20over%20Black%20SeaI don’t know exactly how to develop it, but I do know I’m sick of being worried and anxious. I want to kick the worry habit, but wanting and doing are two different things. And even scriptures urging us not to worry (Matthew 6:25-27, Philippians 4:6-7), which should soothe me, can increase anxiety because they create a new problem: a load of guilt for being unable to obey them.

Maybe you too have experienced this cycle. I mean, there are plenty of things to worry about, many of them far beyond our control. And for true anxiety addicts like me, even when life is good we’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. read more

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Asleep in the boat, part 1: When God is the cause of anxiety

What if God, who comforts my anxiety, is also the cause of it? I don’t want to feel broadsided by him again…

As I sat down to write about anxiety, almost immediately I began to experience it. I couldn’t think how to approach the subject, so I started worrying. My struggle led to mental paralysis, which led to more anxiety. The harder I struggled, the darker things looked. I froze (“Come on, brain!”). I spiraled (“This blog is going down the crapper”). I globalized (“The universe sucks!”).

Finally I saw the irony – I was anxious about writing on anxiety! – and I had to laugh.

Good thing I hadn’t planned to write on serial killing.

stormy-oceanThe problem of anxiety reminds me of a story in Mark 4. Jesus, sleeping soundly in a boat almost overwhelmed by high waves (Mark 4:37-38a) is accused of indifference by his terrified disciples: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (v. 38b). But Jesus simply quiets the storm and asks: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 39-40) read more

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