Talking about anxiety . . .
Do fears take up a lot of space in your life? Perhaps you think of your own aging or the welfare of your kids or the state of your health or the troubles in the world or whether or not you will have enough money this month to live on or if you will lose your job or if your car will break down or the refrigerator will quit on you or if your pension will cover living expenses once you retire. For some of us, anxiety is a very close and loyal "friend," always nearby, whispering stuff in our heads that adds to our fears and rarely allows us to relax or enjoy life. I am an anxious person so all of this rings true for me. I look at people who seem to live life with joyous abandon and I wish I could be like them. But that isn't how I am wired. And, by the way, doesn't everyone worry about something at least some of the time?
Writer and theologian Ronald Rolheiser says that beyond our worry about our physical world and physical needs, "we nurse a much deeper fear. We’re fearful about our very substance. We’re fearful that, in the end, we are really only, as the author of Ecclesiastes puts it, vanity, vapor, something insubstantial blown away in the wind." And so we anxiously seek to "leave some indelible mark on this planet. Guarantee [our] own immortality. Make sure [we] can’t be forgotten."
Is this my essential struggle? Sure, as I get older, I worry about a diminished life. As aging, vocation and future things converge, will I become irrelevant and no longer useful, perhaps even a nuisance? I rarely thought about these things before I was 60 but now at 61, I dwell on them frequently.
Whether or not we know the root cause for our anxiety, it's only love that casts out fear, says Rolheiser. "To give up on anxiety and on our need to create substance and immortality for ourselves we need to know unconditional love. Unconditional love, whether it comes from God or from another person, gives us substance and immortality." St. John the apostle says: "God is love and all who live in love live in God and God lives in them" and, "such love has no fear because perfect love expels all fear." It's possible, isn't it, that God's unconditional love and the love of friends would surely serve as anchors for the soul and diminish our fears, giving us the message that we are not worthless drifters in an often hostile world?
Love then, it seems, is essential in dealing with my anxiety but is there a cure for anxiety? I don't think we can get rid of it entirely because as humans we are wired to feel and care deeply which means we will always worry about something or someone. But I don't believe we have to live anxiously. So here are two things I will focus on. First, I will remember that the God who created and designed me loves me deeply and accepts me as I am and second, I will notice and treasure those around me who also accept me and show me in quiet consistent ways that I matter to them, that they actually love me and want me to be a part of their lives. This "deeper surrender to love" may well be the answer and relief I am looking for. I sure hope so. Certainly it's better than fretting about what is and what might be. Henri Nouwen says it well: "Nothing can be predicted. Yet all is already held safe in the divine embrace that holds me too." Oh yes - thanks be to God!