Some Ramblings on Anxiety
One of the things I’ve given up in my life these past several months is anxiety. I don't mean chronic anxiety (like a diagnosis), but every day anxiety (like worry). Peter writes, “Cast all your anxiety upon him for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). I can tell you, it hasn’t been that easy giving up anxiety. After all, I’ve worried most of my life. For a few years in the recent past I lived in a constant state of anxiety—not my own anxiety, but other people’s anxiety. Worry became part of my personality. I went to bed worried, and I woke up worried. I totally lost my sense of humor. But no longer. I laugh all the time now... even when inappropriate. And, it’s not that I don’t have things to legitimately worry about... I do. Things like managing a brand new, rapidly growing church, raising $3 million plus for a new facility, bringing up three kids in an increasingly busy world, people problems, etc. It’s just that I just don’t find myself worrying like I used to. It’s hard to explain why... it has been a work of God... but here’s what’s been working for me: 1. I honor the Sabbath and keep it holy. Sounds basic, but I ALWAYS take a day off EVERY week, no matter what. And, I encourage my staff to do the same. There’s something liberating about disconnecting from my leadership role at the church at least one day a week. After all, in God’s eyes I’m not a pastor. In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s not at all impressed by my position. In God’s eyes, I’m just a deeply loved child of God. I enjoy getting together with God apart from my role--even if it means facing my own demons.
2. I pray. Prayer is a tricky thing. To be honest, there are many days I just don’t feel like praying. But I’m leaning to pray whether I feel like it or not. So, most days, after I drop my kids off at school, I pull my car off to the side of the road for 30 to 40 minutes, and I pray. I pray in the car because I can’t pray at home… too many work and family distractions. I keep a pen and paper in my car, and every day, almost like clockwork, God shows up. It’s beautiful and it’s a whole lot easier to give up worry, when you’re hearing from the one who controls the future. Anxiety is just the fear that God won't be in the future.
3. I surround myself with positive, Christ-centered people. As a pastor, I used to spend more time with problem people than positive people. It was literally exhausting and incredibly unfulfilling for me and the problem people. I don’t do that anymore. For one, Northgate is filled with some really positive people. But also, I try to surround myself primarily with people who are excited about what God is doing at Northgate, not people who are negative about it. I've found I can rarely help a negative person become positive. Also, I get to spend 5 hours every Wednesday with my staff. I’ve worked at a number of places, and I can tell you, I have never worked with such positive, can-do, God honoring people in my life. I thank God every day for the unity and shared vision on our staff.
4. I hang out with my family. People who enjoy their jobs don’t always do a good job at home. Let me tell you the truth: It’s lots more fun to hang out with people who put you up on a pedestal (or even respect you) than it is with your family who doesn't always drink the Steve kool aid. But for me, my family is complete happiness. I’m more in love with my wife than ever before, and that’s saying a lot. I’ve always been smitten with her. I just like to be around her and breathe the same air as her. My kids are sources of happiness too. My son understands me, my daughter likes to talk to me and make me laugh, and our baby lights up my day with his smiles and giggles. Also, my parents (who I talk to several times a week) are a real source of encouragement. While there are some very anxious moments in my family life, for me, my home is primarily a sanctuary—a place of peace. I can’t stand being away from them. (I’m going to Ethiopia in March for 5 ½ days. People think I'm crazy. But, for me, spending any more time away from my family seems crazy.)
5. I only do what God wants me to do. At Northgate, I have the unique pleasure of working in my sweet spot. Unlike many pastors, my days and nights aren’t filled with endless committee meetings, putting fires out, and solving unimportant problems. God has given me the opportunity to pray, read the Bible, read books, listen to online messages, meet with people hungry for God, and focus on the vision of the church. It’s easy not to be anxious when you get to do what God wants you do. I’m grateful that I get to serve God at Northgate in such a unique way.
So, that’s what is working for me these days. Will I get anxious again? Probably. I'm pretty sure of it. I’m human. But, I don’t think I’ll ever live very long again in the land of anxiety. Cast all your anxiety upon him for he cares for you.