It seems to be a difficult season of life for many of my friends, and I'm writing this post with each of you in mind. I know all too well what it feels like to have the rug pulled out from under your feet...and the panicky, breathless, nausea-inducing, blinding fear and sadness and anger that goes along with a major detour in a well-ordered life. I also know when my life seems precarious, it can be difficult to function. I'm living in my head too much. Not only is there the thing that has upset me in the first place, but more than that, my own imagination is often the cause of much of my anxiety.
I've shared before that I can be a world-class worrier. I can jump into worst-case-scenario-mode in less time than it takes to reheat my cup of coffee. This is especially true when it is something involving my husband or children. I cannot tell you how often this happens to me. I'm slowly getting better, but it is a very conscious effort to not go down that path. You know, the path where everyone dies, or is estranged, or has something else equally horrible happen. The path where the horrible thing keeps happening and that's your future and there will never be anything good about life ever, ever again. That path.
Excuse me while I pause a moment and take a couple of deep breaths.
But when life has thrown us a curve ball and that curve ball has hit us firmly in the head, that's about the only place it feels comfortable to live. Because, really, how could life ever be good again, once this thing has happened? We continually play out in the vast panoramic, technicolor screen in our minds, all the ways that this will end badly. Over and over and over. We play out how we could have averted the crisis. Then, after having had a nice little wallow in the mud pit of regret, we go back to the epic of disaster we are creating in our mind. Back and forth, over and over, until we are so emotionally wrought we don't know which way is up.
The trouble is, when I do this, I find I am as much upset over the events of my imagined future, as upset as if they were actually happening, as I am about reality. And you know what? While there have been some yucky things in my life that I have experienced, not once has one of my imagined scenarios actually ever played out. All that wasted worry and anxiety and fear over something that was never going to happen.
So how do I stop (or make a valiant effort to stop) the crazy upset and worry? Well, this is a work in progress. I still have a long way to go, but here's my short list of living through a present and very real crisis. 1. Pray, pray, pray. The second I find myself going to those imaginary futures in my head, I have to consciously make an effort to pray. Are these prayers eloquent? Ha! More often than not they go something like this, "Help, Jesus, help! Oh, make it OK, Please, please, please, make it OK! Help, Jesus, help!" 2. Remind myself, as often as is necessary, which would be, oh, about every five seconds, that just because I have imagined that future, doesn't mean that it is going to happen. In fact, it is extremely unlikely it will happen at all. I am not the creator of the universe and just because I've imagined it doesn't mean it will happen. 3. Share your worries with someone. There have been many times I've shared my worried imaginings with J., and even as I'm saying them out loud, I begin to realize that they are pretty far removed from reality. 4. I try to follow Elisabeth Elliot's very wise advice and, "Do the next thing."
This doesn't seem all that earth-shattering at first glance, but it really is brilliant. By focusing on just the next thing, we stay in the present... none of that imagined future-thing going on. By focusing on just the next thing, we take life in a small enough bit that it is manageable, even if that next thing is shower or eat breakfast or go to the bathroom. Or breathe. You take life in very small chunks and get through each of them one at time. Slowly, slowly, they add up and you discover you've made it through a day. And each day begins to add up and you realize you've made it through a week. The more time that passes from the day life exploded, the easier it gets to breathe. The farther you go into the future, the more you realize that the horrible imagined future isn't happening.
Yes, whatever caused the initial plunge over the cliff may be truly horrible. I don't want to make light of that. But it will be navigated, perhaps not without heartache and pain. Keep praying. Keep breathing. Keep just doing the next thing.