Most people know that I struggled with an anxiety disorder for the majority of my life. Thankfully, and through Christ alone, I have overcome that horrible 10-year period. The funny thing is that as I leave that part of me in the past, many of my friends and loved ones are experiencing it in the present. Through my struggles, I came across a little nugget of truth that has helped me tremendously. I guess this post is my way of passing that truth on to someone else who needs it.
The first two years of being a Resident Assistant at my university (Southern Methodist University) I held a specialized position entitled the “Academic Resident Assistant,” which is a fancy way of saying that I was the nerdy one. Essentially, I had an extra day of training on academic resources and study skills, and I had to host academic programs throughout the year. Fun stuff, right? I got an extra stipend every semester so it was totally worth it.
One year during training, we were learning about test anxiety and ways to combat it. One suggestion was to write an inspirational mantra or calming statement on a note card and keep it in your pocket on test day. The idea was to take it out right before an exam to help you mentally prepare. The Trainer said that this method worked well for several of her past students, but it changed the life of one in particular – her son. Now a lawyer, her son still keeps that note card in his pocket and reads it right before he goes into court for every trial. This is what it said:
It can’t eat me.
Go ahead and laugh. That was my first reaction. It can’t eat me? It’s such a simple phrase, almost idiotically so. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the truth behind its simplicity. After eliminating situations involving bears or other large carnivorous animals (in which anxiety becomes legitimate fear), no matter what you are facing, no matter how anxious you feel, no matter how much you want to throw up or run away or cry till your eyes hurt or hide in the back of your closet, whatever you are facing cannot and will not eat you. And, in a weird way, that notion is comforting.
I took that nugget to heart and I refer to it almost every day. And slowly, but surely, I’ve come to believe it. And you can, too.
“I can [endure] all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13
I returned last night from a week-long mission trip in Haiti. It was a remarkable experience that I don’t think I could truly put into words. I didn’t realize how much I was affected by my time there until this morning when I went to the gym, trying to get back into my daily routine. Everything was back to normal, I woke up at the same time, ate the same breakfast, and made it to the gym as always, iPod in hand, ready with the same Workout Playlist I had listened to every morning. But, as I ran on the treadmill, I was completely caught off-guard and overwhelmed with a sense of injustice and disgust. The ten flat-screen TV screens ahead of me relayed shallow stories of pop culture, materialistic advertisements, and the ever-present issue of politics. As I watched a clip from one of Lady Gaga’s music videos I couldn’t help but think that while she reeks of ostentatious “glamour” there are hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children in Haiti (and other parts of the world for that matter) who couldn’t even dream up the images filling the screen. I looked around the room at those working off a few extra pounds or merely trying to stay in shape. The people of Haiti don’t have the luxury of needing to workout, let alone would they have the energy to do so. They are more concerned with gaining a few pounds than losing it. These observations may seem a bit blown out of proportion, but not if you really think about it.
There are so many things in our lives, possessions and obsessions, that are not only unnecessary, but flat-out luxury items. Most of what we do, what we own, and what we even think, is a luxury item. However, not all luxury items are wasteful or sopping with self-indulgence. I have come to realize that my love of writing is a luxury in its own right. The fact that I even get to pursue it, even as a hobby, is something that others may never have the means to enjoy. I’m not saying that passion is something to feel sorry about. What really grieves me is that the people who have the luxury of passion often take it for granted. So much is wasted because we perceive what we have as ordinary. We look in the mirror and think, “I’m average”, when we have unlimited resources within us that need only be tapped, resources that can be utilized to make the world a better place, or at least a little more bearable. I interacted with scores of children in Haiti and each and everyone of them holds the potential for something great. I touched future authors and artists. I held hands with the businessmen and ballet dancers of tomorrow, the politicians and patriarchs that could start a movement. Most will never be able to realize their potential because they don’t have the luxury of reaching it.
There has to be a way to extend their reach.