First in the series: What to do with your fresh anxieties every morning
A day in the life of BLV pastor Kyle Hanawalt, in which he realizes that God (brilliantly) wants to give him peace before giving him guidance. How? Through conversational prayer.
In preparing for this series, What to do with your fresh anxieties every morning, I came across a few studies.
- According to a recent study done by the APA (American Psychological Association)
- Seventy-two percent of adults report feeling high levels of stress regularly and 22 percent say that they experience extreme stress (a rating of 8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale about their stress during the past month).
- And 77% Of American report regularly feeling physical symptoms of anxiety. Headaches, tense muscles, etc.
- And a World Mental Health Study looking at 28 countries, from the Ukraine, to Nigeria, to Lebanon. found that America was the most anxious country in the world and it wasn’t particularly close.
So here is my groundbreaking and incredibly fresh in insight: Seems like people be anxious, like a lot of the time.
I know I do, which is why we decided to do a three week series on this.
- As you maybe have come to expect, we will be looking to the Bible for some insight and aide in how to think about anxiety.
- We are also going to do some experimenting in this series.
- I have come to discover our temperament, personality, how we were raised, and any other countless things that makes us who we are. All of these things affect how anxiety uniquely works in our life.
- So, we decided to introduce a bit of an autobiographical feature to this series, showing you the things we actually do to try and deal with our anxiety in our life.
- So, Myself, Nader, and Vince each week with the assist of some Selfies, will be showing you a day in our struggle with anxiety.
- And our hope is, since Nader, Vince, and I are very different people with very different temperaments, That over these three weeks that everyone in here can find something practical and concrete that may work for their life.
In looking to the Bible in preparation for this, I couldn’t help but to notice that this, anxiety, seems to be a kind of a big deal.
- Anxiety and words associated with it like “Fear” “afraid” “Worry” appear over 500 times in the Bible.
- And I think some of the passages addressing anxiety seem to be particularly memorable and insightful, the kinds of passages one is likely to have printed on a piece of plywood and hang up on their wall, or get tattooed in greek or hebrew on their tricep,
- as in Psalm 139: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.”
- Or Philippians 4: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
- Or you have Jesus’ lengthy meditation on anxiety in Matthew 6 which starts off with wisdom like: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.”
- And then we have all sorts of remedies proposed, from Paul’s “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks at all times, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thes. 5:16-18)
- to Peter’s “Cast all your anxiety on (Jesus) because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7)
- to Jesus’ “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Seems like quite a big emphasis.
- What if it’s because worry/anxiety/fear/overwhelmed-ness is the punchline of the brokenness of humankind-- If you remember our series from the beginning of year, that eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil equates to taking all of the troubles of our lives onto our own shoulders?
- And what if what is jesus is offering us, eating from the tree of life, is to cast our anxieties onto Jesus and receive joy and hope in return instead of burden and pressure and stress.
I wonder if anxiety is such a big deal in the bible because it is high stakes for us.
- Maybe unaddressed anxiety is the biggest cause of us making choices that don’t serve us
- Maybe many of the unhealthy choices we make or behaviors we get stuck in that are destructive to ourselves or to others are just coping mechanisms as we flail about drowning in unaddressed anxiety
- I’m anxious so I take my frustration out on my spouse
- or I'm anxious so I find a sexual outlet I’m not going to be happy with later on.
Here's a big example: I've been involved in leading small groups, and helping pastor and counsel other men for over a decade now, and I've talked with dozens and dozens of men about how they are unhappy with their use of porn
Here's what I have learned, yes porn is sexual, I mean it is sexual by nature. But for most men it is far more about stress, anxiety. It's about control in a world that so often feels out of their control. A way to try to meet their own needs when it feels like we have so many needs going unmet.
And for the men I've known who don't want this as a part of their life anymore, those who experienced the most long term success were those who figured out how to deal with their underlying anxiety in a way they were happier with, so that they no longer needed to go to the coping mechanism of porn
- Or another example: I'm anxious so I overeat
- Or blame someone else for my problems
- Or blame a group of people for my problems
What if the antidotes suggested by Paul, Peter, and Jesus in the Bible are the prescription for human health and connection to Jesus for all people at all times on all days.
- And, taking these antidotes never gets to be old hat-- because fresh anxieties every new morning always make this pertinent.
- And what if these prescriptions, the practices that Vince, Nader and I will be suggesting also turn out to be our central avenue of spiritual growth.
- hear, O BLV'er: your central avenue to spiritual growth could be how you deal with your daily anxieties
As we continue to learn from Jesus--as we do our best to take his prescription of rejoicing always, praying constantly, giving thanks at all times, giving our troubles to him to carry--it’s promised that suddenly our minds and hearts will clear and we can make hopeful choices of trust rather than constantly reacting to our stresses, which involves no true choice at all.
And so I would like to invite you guys on a journey with me. A journey into a day in my life, and how I personally experience God in the midst of the fresh anxieties I wake up with every morning.
When I wake up in the morning and I shower and brush my teeth,
- I feel all the pressing issues of my life hit me
- all the tasks I need to complete, all the projects I need to get started, all the emails I need to respond to, all the conversations I need to have, the conflicts that aren’t finished yet
- I even experience the big picture issues come into my head. Am I ever going to buy a house, how long can we stay in this apartment with a child?
And it is then that I engage in something that I call conversational prayer. This would be my experience of what Paul suggests in 1 Thess. 5, to pray without ceasing.
- I once read a book called “Practicing the presence of God” by brother Lawrence, who said that he tried to live out this “pray without ceasing” thing by having a non-stop running dialogue in his head with God.
- And this has been the single most helpful thing “spiritual practice-wise” I have ever come across.
- So, I, as brother lawrence suggests, just have a running dialogue with God in my head all day. I just talk with him about whatever I have going on or whatever I am thinking.
So, as I am brushing my teeth, and all this anxiety falls on me, I just begin talking to God about it.
- Like, “Holy crap God, I really don’t want to have to respond to all the emails I have to today, especially that one Vince sent me last night, I just don’t agree with him, and I feel super anxious about telling him that.”
- “Uggg, I also am feeling stressed about Will waking up, I know he is going to wake up any moment, and I am not sure I have the energy to entertain him, He always has so much energy in the morning.”
- And then my coping mechanisms come into play, “What if I just blew today off, did nothing, Or what if I just didn’t tell Vince what I actually thought, It would be so much easier to just agree with him. I kinda just want to watch you tube clips right now. Hmm, what if I just got a breakfast sandwich, mcgriddles always make me feel better, yeah.
- I don’t try to hide anything from God. I bring everything to the table, even my desire to use a coping mechanism
- And then I just pay attention any thoughts that might come into my head that I may attribute to God
Now if God were to respond to me, we might think that his suggestion would be along the lines of a frustrated parent, “don't do that coping mechanism, be good and responsible, you get your butt out there and do this day right”
But my experience is very often quite different
- What I often experience and what I experienced that morning, was a lingering thought a suggestion that I attributed to God, which was to put all my anxieties on hold for a moment, and enjoy a cup of coffee
- No joke… coffee
You may have expected that if God were to respond to my anxiety it would be most helpful to give me a game plan to deal with anxiety, guidance in how to deal with my issues,
- However, I had strong sense that he was instead leading me to enjoy my coffee.
- If you think about it, This is crazy brilliant by God.
- Because game planning?… a “to do list” about how to fix my anxious state?… isn’t that just going to make me feel more stressed and pressure!?
- God is smart.
- Instead he is dialing down pressure, taking the burden off of me,
I think this is because God knows that the biggest threats to me are not the pressing matters of the day but my anxiety about those pressing matters.
- Because it is the anxiety that's going to lead me towards bad choices. It's the anxiety that's going to cripple me and prevent me from done getting any of the things that I hope to get done. Anxiety that will lead me towards unhealthy coping mechanisms.
you see, in the context of conversational prayer I feel the constant backing of something bigger than me.
- I feel reassurance and encouragement.
- It may not look the same for everyone, but for me it most frequently looks like being prompted to chill and enjoy something small in the moment, be more present. Like enjoying my coffee.
I think in the moment anxiety hits us, what we need first is not guidance but peace... guidance is still valuable it just comes later... if we don't have peace first though guidance is more stress
- That's what conversational prayer does for me
- I have a running dialogue going through my head of the various things weighing on me, and then I pay attention to anything in my head, any thoughts, any ideas that seem to be encouraging me towards peace.
- And here, it looked like enjoying my coffee until my son wakes up
- and When he did, I didn’t feel exhausted, I feel present and excited to enjoy a little time with him before I had to leave
So after that, I get in the Car, and guess what. All the anxieties of the day come rushing back in.
- I am not 20 minutes removed from this wonderful peaceful experience, but yet here I am anxious again about my work day. All the things I have to get done. This is a big reason I like conversational prayer, because I need ongoing help, it’s not like that experience in the morning just fixed me for the day.
- So, I begin chatting with God again, “I feel stressed about the work I have to get done, I really don’t want to do it. Hmmm, I kinda want to do that breakfast sandwich afterall. I know I already ate, but good friend Mr. Sausage Mcgriddle doesn’t have to know that.”
- And I have a thought linger in my head that seems to be leading towards peace, that I should do a deep breathing exercise.
- Which I do, and it helps me feel less anxious. I then flip on sport radio and for the rest of the ride I enjoy listening to how good the Cubs are going to be this year
And then I arrive at the coffee shop and get kind of lost in work and meetings with Vince.
- I do bring up that one email and he receives it graciously and it seems so strange that I ever felt so anxious about it
- And we work there until about lunch time.
- (Photo) This selfie is totally unnecessary but, I couldn’t help but notice that I had the exact same face in both photos, and they just seemed to blend in together
- But, over lunch I just keep chatting in my head, “So thankful that meeting with Vince went so well, I really appreciate working with him. That was a super productive morning.”
- And I just feel this lingering notion that I should tell him, Tell Vince how much I appreciate him. And it feels like that same leading to peace and connection kind of thought I have come to expect from God, so, I tell Vince and it leads to a nice moment of connection between us.
I then get home to work from home from the rest of the Day.
- And after about a half an hour I am just so tired of working And chatting in my head I say,
- “oh god, I don't want to finish this.”
- And I have another reassuring peaceful thought that I have come to attribute to God, and it says “Calm down. Take a deep breath. You have done this before, you're ok.”
- So, I take a deep breath, feel some new energy and confidence and keep on working.
I get to 5 olcock, and even though I set my own hours, I kinda set 5 as the end of my work day, and have not gotten everything done that I had hoped, and Michelle was still at a play-group with Will, and I say, talking in my head.
- “Maybe I should just keep working until Michelle gets home. That would be the most productive thing to do with my time.”
- But then that peaceful leading voice in my head pops up, and says nope. Why don’t you let it lie for the day, it will still be here tomorrow. Why don’t you just play a few minutes of Video games to unwind before Michelle and Will get home.
- And so I Asked God, “Would you help me put aside all the anxiety about this work until tomorrow.” And I felt like I was able to. So I played video games for a bit, and it was awesome. Relaxing and fun
However, after little while I begin to feel super anxious again. You see, I have been coming to understand more and more this last year, that one of my major deficits is that I don’t cleanly ask people for what I want or need from them, I rather manage them and manipulate situations to get my needs met without having to ask for it. And I begin to remember an interaction that I had a couple days ago where I had once again managed someone’s emotions, rather than cleanly express what I was wanting.
- So, I begin to chat in my head, “Why the heck to I always do that, I feel so frustrated, I know it doesn’t serve me.”
- And then I have another peace leading thought stick in my head. Maybe I should call a friend and have them pray for me.
- So, I do. I have built in the expectation in about 5-6 relationships that we can call each other up at pretty much any moment and have them pray for me. OR Vis Versa
- I call a friend tell him about how I’m feeling, and he prays for me.
- And I feel like less of a failure, I feel reassured that I matter, that I am valuable even with this deficit. And I feel new energy to keep working on this area of my life.
- You see, sometimes my experience of conversational prayer is that I am - in the moment - lead towards peace, but sometime I feel prompted to reach out. To do something that will help bring me peace.
So, Michelle get’s home, we have dinner, we put WIll to bed, Watch a little TV, and Go to bed Ourselves.
There you go, a day in my life.
As you can see, conversational prayer is pretty big for me.
- I don’t try to evaluate what’s worthwhile to bring up in prayer, I just bring everything, I chat about anything going on. From video games to my life long struggles.
- And I think the reason this works for me is because I am looking for that voice that brings peace, reassurance.
- The reason I look for that kind of voice is that I have a bedrock belief, based on my experience that God, as the passages I read early suggest, That God is good, he is peace, and nobody wants good and peace for me more than God
- And so when I engage in conversational prayer, I pay attention to any thoughts that seem to be lingering in my head that are leading me towards peace, leading me towards connection, leading me towards the understanding that I matter and am valuable.
- I see that as God’s character, so I attribute thoughts consistent with that to him.
And for a long time this was challenging,
- because much of my experience tells me that authorities lay burdens on me.
- That anxiety is my problem, I just have to get my act together, and do better.
I honestly think that Pastors and spiritual leaders like me need to take some ownership and ask for some forgiveness,
- because we too often reinforce an image of God that he is just like the leaders we are used to,
- that only heap more burden, more expectation, and more weight on our shoulders.
- To often we have communicated that God’s message for us is all guidance and not enough about peace.
- Don’t get me wrong, It is great to be guided, I do think God is in the business of guiding us,
- but I wonder if it actually serves us better to first pray for peace, and then guidance.
- Because, if it is just for guidance that we pray for, it’s far too easy for that to become just another source of anxiety.
- I encounter people all the time feeling a large amount of anxiety about whether they are hearing God right about what they should do with their life.
- I can honestly say that I haven’t felt that for years, and it’s not because I am a Pastor, it is because I, through conversational prayer, I am looking for and experiencing peace first, and guidance second.
- Trusting that not only will my experience of life be better, which God absolutely wants for me.
- But when I feel peace, I am able to best hear, receive and understand God’s guidance.
- When I am not worried about missing his guidance, I suddenly see how he is guiding me in all sorts of unexpected way.
- I think that is important, when we just go straight for guidance… what I should do?
- we tend to only look for it in the very expected places and ways, which can be full of pressure and more anxiety.
- So, to quote a Pastor who has been greatly influential on my life, if I am open and receptive to what God has for me, I am not going to miss it. So go enjoy a cup of coffee.
If regular prayer feels like it would be a new thing in your life (or something that maybe was a part of your life a long time ago but isn't now), can i just suggest: starting with your anxiety can be a great first step to developing a rich prayer life
(because anxiety seems to be a powerful muffler of God’s voice)
To end, if you are human and thus have anxiety.
I just want to say, slipping into my pentecostal preacher voice.
There’s hope for you today! Jesus cares for you, he wants you to cast your burdens onto his shoulder, not get better at carrying them yourself. He wants to walk with you in a life where you can learn to rejoice and give thanks right in the middle of all your very-pressing problems. He wants you to hear his voice leading you towards peace. He want to free you to make choices out of a place of confidence and rest rather than reaction to anxieties being pressed upon you
If you would stand with me.
Bring Anxiety to mind, chat with God about whatever is in you head, big or small. Pray for God’s voice of peace