Those in the helping professions often speak about certain times of the year affecting human emotions, citing the darker days in winter, for instance, as times when more people experience depression. My own experience is that late summer and early fall are times when many people suffer from increased anxiety. Anyone whose work or family life revolves around academic schedules certainly finds this time of year stressful. I’ve even had people tell me that this season reverts them to their own childhood when they had to leave a comfortable home and enter the world of school and challenge. For people in the business world, it is a time to consider wrapping up one year and building for another. It is when the Church asks us to commit funds for the coming year; examining our financial lives is usually difficult. This time of year which is so very exciting with all its new beginnings is also a time which increases pressure on many of us. And then occasionally there is a hurricane or two thrown in on top of the regular factors.
Just recently, after observing a brief period of silence with a study group, I asked those present if they had spent some of their quiet time worrying about things in their life. I was not the only person in the room who had done that. Silence in my own life is a respite and oasis, one I try to practice on a daily basis, but that silence more often than not begins with anxiety about what I face. If I will stay silent long enough, those worries fade away and are overridden by a sense of peace, but the anxieties will creep back in later on. In July, as I took some time off, I found I slept better and was generally more relaxed. I thought I had solved a great mystery but, alas, the day I was to come back to work I woke up at 2:30 all worried again. It seems in my own life that when I don’t have something big to worry about I will worry about something small. Maybe the rest of the world isn’t as nervous and highly strung as I am, but I do hear about anxiety from a large number of people.
So what does that mean and what do we do about it? Anxiety, I am convinced, is a good thing gone wrong. The good core of it is what motivates us to meet the challenges in our lives, the energy which allows us to be productive and avoid some dangers. If I was always peaceful and patient and contemplative, not a whole lot would ever get done around St. John’s; the same is true in your life. Yet, all too quickly, that good energy gets turned around and our motivation turns into anxiety about what might not turn out the way we want or need it to. Part of the way we prepare internally for things in life is to imagine the worst case scenario but then we’re left in a state where it’s almost like the worst thing has actually already happened.
My own prayer life goes back and forth between anxiety and peace. Perhaps yours does as well. The anxiety reminds me I have forgotten God’s abiding presence; the peace reminds me not even my fears can keep God away. The incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus do not cause the powers of the world to be unfelt. They put hope alongside the anxiety and pain we might experience. And they let me know that, while the very worst thing has actually already occurred, God is still present, still abiding, still able to make himself known to me and others.
Typically as I get anxious about the worst case scenario in my daily living, I come to see that, even if the thing I most feared actually happened, I would still be cared for and sustained. Then I can relax enough to cope with what I face and turn over to God what I cannot handle myself. Anxiety is my forgetting God’s grace, but it is also evidence that I am about to be reminded of that grace once again. We haven’t found a way to make anxiety go away altogether. Perhaps accepting it as part of the process through which we know the grace of God is a better strategy.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.