we used to say grandma had "trouble with her nerves." as a child, i don't think i really understood exactly what that meant, except that we needed to sometimes use quieter voices in her house. except that we couldn't throw the basketball or the volleyball or the softball or especially not our sister against the siding when grandma was knitting on her porch or cooking in her kitchen. except that on snowy holidays when all of us wild cousins gathered together we were better off playing way down in the basement or way up in the attic. there was only so much chaos grandma could handle. i guess i understood a little bit about that -- i at least understood how to lower my voice or take the game outdoors. but truly for me, having nerves always seemed to have more to do with having guts-- like, did i have the guts to go ding dong ditch our neighbor? did i have the guts to say hi in the hallway to that boy i liked? did i have the guts to call out that mean girl at the lunch table?
now that i'm older, i am no longer tempted to ding dong ditch the neighbors --at least not of late, but i do understand a bit more about "trouble with the nerves." it really wasn't about grandma being brave or losing her nerve. it had more to do with anxiety and worry. grandma probably suffered from some significant anxiety issues, but in our house we didn't exactly call it that. perhaps you also had a euphemism or two which your family used or uses. uncle billy has “a little problem” or aunt susie had “a slight issue." cousin tommy didn’t get fired, but he “lost his job.” really? he lost it? words are a wonderful thing and how we choose to use them is even more wonderful (or terrible). at the very least, it’s quite fascinating.
but this piece isn’t about words, it’s about anxiety. not “trouble with the nerves,” but plain, old, hard-to-put-my-finger-on-it worry. you see, anyone who knows me, knows i am not a particularly anxious person. even with five children i don’t worry all that much. in fact, i think my oldest girl wishes sometimes her mother worried a little bit more. she’s my worrier and she she even worries that her mother doesn’t worry enough. did you follow that? the truth is, God has given us all unique wiring. and that’s what makes it fun (and sometimes hard). i remember once being at a park with my girlfriend and our two toddlers. connor and his little buddy were climbing on the (very sturdy, well designed, heavily padded, child friendly) playground. as connor clamored quickly to the top, i, the proud mother, was watching him and thinking, “oh my, look at him go! what a big boy he is!” at this moment, however, i noticed my girlfriend sitting next to me beginning to twitch. finally, unable to bear it one minute more, she exclaimed, “doesn’t that make you nervous? aren’t you afraid he might fall?” we were watching the exact same scene and yet had two very different reactions. some of that had to do with the fact that she was watching her first born and i was watching my fourth...but regardless, we were two different women when it came to climbing toddlers.
and i don’t mean to be in the least bit flippant. of course there are times when we need to stand beneath our child or even remove our child from the inappropriate climbing thing. sarah elizabeth was a bit of a climber. as soon as she could walk she figured out how to climb up onto the counter using the drawer pulls as steps. her little feet fit perfectly onto the brass knobs of our kitchen drawers and she would scale up like an outdoorsman on a rock wall. i have had to pull this girl off of plenty of dangerously high places. still do, in fact.
there’s that kind of worry. but then there’s that even more elusive kind of anxiety. that thing which kind of hovers over the soul and eats away at the ease. that’s the real monster. yes, we need to be cautious at times. yes, we may even have good cause to worry on occasion, but that troublesome anxiety which steals the peace is the awful, hard thing. and, unfortunately, we have it in our home right now.
grandma may have had trouble with her nerves, but i have a cute, nine year old boy who also suffers from that ambiguous grip of irrational panic. for connor it is not about lowering our voices or refraining from chaos, but my little guy, the very one who clamored up to the top of that play set as a toddler, has recently been hit with some of that awful, unexplained, anxiety. and it has been a whole lot worse watching him climb through this, then it was watching him climb up the high stairs of a playground. i’d like to blame it on the move, but i can’t. the signs were there before we moved to minnesota. connor has gone through a time this year where, for absolutely no reason at all, he feels a little panicky about leaving home and leaving me. he feels an anxiousness which he can’t quite identify. this isn’t a child who has any reason to worry. we’ve left and lost a few of the other children, but never this one. we’d understand it if it was his older brother, tyler, who was struggling with this issue. many years ago, in the chaos of christmas eve and out of town company, tyler (a 1st grader at the time) was left behind at our church. it took a call from the church security for us to realize he was even missing - not a stellar parenting moment, i assure you. i was already home basting the turkey when i answered the phone. there are times when it seems clearly we have too many children and too much confusion in our home -- this was, without a doubt, one of them.
but back to my nine year old. so, where does that come from? how does a nine year old all of a sudden begin to worry about being left or forgotten or whatever? what does a blue-eyed, happy go lucky little guy have to worry about? there’s nothing we can identify as the root of this problem. could it somehow stem from my cancer diagnosis? maybe. has his older brother wrestled him one time too many? perhaps. i don’t know. truly we don’t know. he can’t explain it and we can’t quite understand it. but it is what it is. of course starting a new school and having to make all new friends has escalated this issue. regardless, it has been hard watching him deal with this ugly thing which seems to be the very antithesis of childhood.
the good news is, though it was a hard first couple weeks of school, connor is doing much better lately. we have been working through it and dealing with it bit by bit. when we were in the thick of the battle i taped a verse in his homework folder and encouraged him to read it whenever he felt panicky. “cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” (1 peter 5:7). as many of you know, connor loves to fish. what a cool image this verse gave us as we talked about literally casting our cares on Jesus, just like he casts his fishing reel far into the lake water. what a cool connecting point for my little guy. i don’t think me taping a verse into his folder fixed everything, but it was a beginning. and this anxiety and worry has been a place where we’ve had to come together this month and pray hard, pray specifically, pray beseechingly to our God for His mercy. if you are a mother who has a child under attack, you know the kind of praying i am talking about. no mother, worrier or non-worrier, wants to see her child riddled with anything awful.
my girls have also gone through times of anxiety, so this is nothing brand new for our family. more and more, i am aware that anxiety is everywhere. it doesn’t discriminate. it is not just for the fragile grandmas or hovering mothers of this world. anxiety can attack strong men and small boys alike. i know young college girls fighting the grip of this panic and popular high schoolers who battle daily for peace. i know stay at home moms who seem so together, but who feel the crush of constant concern. it is what it is. i am certain satan loves to use his wicked methods to create doubt and stir up unease. God’s word tells us to be vigilant against his attacks. “finally, my brothers, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” ~ ephesians 6:10-11 if that doesn't say battle, i am not sure what does.
it’s a war. don’t think for one minute it isn’t. when i was diagnosed with cancer last year, anxiety became a new part of my life. especially in those first few months, i was riddled with a sense of uncertainty. perhaps you could say i had reason to worry, but truly God gave me a new type of compassion for those who struggle. i may never have understood grandma’s bad nerves as a child, but i didn’t have to go very far down the path as cancer patient to recognize this new level of attack on my spirit. maybe that’s why i am writing today -- to offer a tiny bit of encouragement if you, too, have found yourself in this terrible place of panic...or worry...or fear. it seems to me, satan is fighting harder than ever to needle us into places of doubt and anxiousness. if he is successful in attacking our minds, there is the chance that he can paralyze us in our actions. what does satan want more, than paralyzed and fearful people? he’d love to see christians frozen in their fear. but that’s not how God works.
i woke this morning with the thought to share connor’s small story and these big bible verses with y’all. to encourage you to be strong and courageous. to encourage you to call on the powerful name of Jesus. satan is no match for the power of His blood. tape a bible verse in your folder, cast your cares deep in the water, call out His name and know that He conquers all things. in all things victorious, He is Lord. even in the ambiguous areas of our deepest fears. maybe a bad case of the nerves does have something to do with being brave after all.
be brave in Him.
"i prayed to the Lord, and he answered me, freeing me from all my fears." ~ pslam 34: 4
"because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. he shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him. with long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation." ~ psalm 91:14-16
"for God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." ~ 2 timothy 1:7