The house is silent. Bedtime prayers were said hours ago and now it’s our turn to rest. We’ve rolled toward the middle and I’m listening to his breathing as we wait for sleep in the dark of another spring night.
But then it starts. My untamed, prone-to-wander mind catches a wild tail and my head perks up above the covers.
“What do we do if there’s a fire?” I ask in the general direction toward his face, which I barely see by the light of the night.
“Um,” he doesn’t move. “Get out?”
“But what about Madeleine?”
“We’ll get her too.”
“What if the fire is downstairs and we can’t go downstairs?” I’m imagining the scenario playing out already. My heart pounds in my ears. One of my worst fears bouncing around my brain like a live painting.
“We’ll go out a window… onto the roof,” he sighs. He’s gracious, and patient (and really hoping I stop soon.)
“Can we talk about this tomorrow?”
I consider his attempt to placate me. Can this wait until tomorrow?
We recently read C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce and I haven’t stopped thinking about the man who carried around his pet sin in the form of a lizard and was ruled by it.
“Shall I kill it?” asks the Heavenly being, and the man balks. He doesn’t know how to live without this creature. He identifies with it. And while it controls him and lies to him, he does not see why it’s necessary to kill it. He even suggests silencing it with a gradual process to which the angel responds is of “no use at all.”
“Shall I kill it?”
I penned these words and hung them above my desk where I’d have to look at them every morning when I sat to work, every afternoon when I sipped my tea and every evening when I’m closing down the desk.
How long will I keep anxiety on a leash pretending I’m not on the end of his?
I used to think that I had a lot of stress in my life. But it happened that even after one stressful season was over, I felt within me a hungry gnaw. It wanted something to chew on. It was then I realized the greatest struggle I have is not “out there,” but in here. Maybe it’s not that I keep encountering situations that give me anxiety; maybe I have a penchant for anxiety and the more I feed it, the bigger it gets. In some ways, I’m reminded of the old Cherokee legend — the wolf I feed is the one that wins the fight. Except within me are not two wolves. Anxiety is the ravenous wolf, and the wolf needs to die. So more accurately, I’m chasing the blood-hungry fox that is trying to ruin the vineyard (Song of Solomon 2:15).
Someone once told me that fear is stored in your kidneys. While I don’t know anything about Greek medicine or the study of emotions and hormones, I do know last summer I was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease. A disease that is slowly making its home on my kidneys. And much like fear, it lives and gains all life from its host until the host can no longer support it and gives up completely. Fear has been a close shadow since I can remember and I’m tired of it living off of whatever life I give it.
I know that disease and fear do the same thing — tell you a lot of things that may or may not be true, and convince you that you it’s all ending now.
When life serves up a buffet of food for anxiety to feast upon, it almost seems inevitable that my only option is to pick a utensil and digest as much of it as I can.
But fear is liar.
“Shall I kill it?” the Spirit asks me while I run anxiety’s tiring course.
I read about the Greek legend of Damocles who sat under a sword dangling by a hair precariously over his head, and it rendered him incapable of enjoying the banquet that was set before him. He was paralyzed by fear of the unknown. I understand this. The very tangible fear that at any point, this could all fall apart. Comfort, home, love, children, family, safety — it all feels so fragile in my hands and I lay awake at night, fearing the sword that could drop at any moment.
I pull up Philippians 4:8 on my phone and lean it against the canister while I’m making bread. While the dough is mixed, I hum a tune to the passage. Music sticks it to my memory and I’m singing the words as my daughter spins in the kitchen.
“Teach me, mom!”
Just last night, she was awake in bed in tears — “bad thoughts” she calls them. But they keep her awake. They whisper lies. She’s scared of the unknown and at the bottom of it all, I know the feeling. She is facing a wild-tail, blood-thirsty fox, a hungry wolf, a dangling sword and she doesn’t know how to come up for air.
While I want to give her practical tools to conquer anxiety, I also want to show her that she can’t beat it without truth. And the truth is the Gospel.
We’re in the kitchen and I’m singing, “Finally brothers — whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable — if there is anything excellent, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
“Whatever is true,” I tell her. That’s the first. That’s key. Because what’s true will usually derail 90% of the thoughts that paralyze me in the dark. The truth of Christ’s redemption. The truth of God’s promises. The truth of eternity. The truth of the Scriptures. The truth that sets us free.
“I can’t stop worrying about it,” I say to my husband.
“Sleep,” he says. “Let me worry about it for awhile. And if you can’t let me do it, then let God take care of it.”
I’m humming my makeshift kitchen tune and remembering that this is true: The wolf was slaughtered when the cross was raised. The sword doesn’t dangle over my head; it was plunged into my Savior’s side. The fox runs wild, and as sleep comes, I call to the Holy Spirit and say “Kill it.”