Friday, May 23, 2014

Having lupus, Part 8: Taming fear and anxiety

Maybe... to be fearful in this universe is an insult to God.
-Dallas Willard

This is one of the harder things for me to admit.  I have always wanted people to see me as strong, as bold.  But really, I am very timid.  And for years of big talk, I lived my life in fear.

I spent countless hours worrying and fretting.  Those hours are lost now with nothing gained.

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? (Luke 12:25, NIV)  Not me.  I tried.

I feared failure.  I feared losing blessings in my life.  I feared illness.  I have very poor vision that has continued to slowly deteriorate, and I have spent years gripped by the fear of future blindness.

Some nights I was so consumed with fear and anxiety -- over truly petty things -- I couldn't sleep.  It held me back.  I let it chain me down.  I let it have too much control of my life.

Then I was diagnosed with lupus.  The risk of a lot of things I feared increased.

You would think that my anxiety would go into overdrive.  But it didn't.  I reached a point where there was just too much to worry about.  I literally didn't have time to fret about it all.  And truly, this disease, it seems, has made time so precious to me.

This disease is unpredictable.  I don't know when I'll have a good day or a bad one.  I sure don't want to waste good days in fear.  And to take the time to worry about everything that could happen to me because of lupus would take all my time.

So, if I hoped to function -- and to live my life as fully as possible -- I had to learn how to overcome my fears.  This is still a work in progress.  This was not a post I had originally planned for Lupus Awareness Month.  I have included it for two reasons: (1) I noticed that fears were rising up in me these last few weeks and I have had to work to manage them.  (2) I see others who are gripped by the same fear and anxiety that used to consume me.  I hope for everyone the freedom I have found.  And if sharing my experience can help, then it is worth it.

I used to think that worrying about something might actually help in some way.  That if I could anticipate the bad things, I would be better prepared for them if they happened.  I had to make it to a place where I saw very clearly that Jesus is right: I do not gain anything -- not one thing -- through worry or fear.

Now, when I feel those old anxieties start to well up inside of me, I take a deep breath and I pray.  I pray often for the Lord to keep me calm and centered in His will and in His presence and His provision for me.  And when fear begins to creep in, I stop and pray specifically for that.  I tell the Lord bluntly what I am worried about, as trivial as it may be, and I ask Him to take care of it for me.

And with the relief of knowing the King of the world is on it, I then talk myself through my worries.  If it is a health concern, I remind myself I am doing everything I can to stay healthy and that I cannot prevent certain things from happening.  I just must wait and if an ailment hits me, then I will deal with it.  In the meantime, I will enjoy the measure of health I have been given.  Sickness, if it comes, doesn't equal failure.  And the Lord will see me through whatever is ahead just as He has seen me through to today.

Sometimes, I worry that I have messed something up in my life.  Maybe Johnie and I are having a disagreement or misunderstanding.  My hours can fill up with worry that I have damaged our relationship or deeply hurt him.  In those instances, I pray that the Lord will work out what I intended to do, not what may have actually happened -- or that He will repair any damage I did.

I also have a file saved on my phone, Encouragement, and I open it up and read over the messages I have written there until I feel calm.  (A few of the messages include: If I messed up, it will be fixed.  If I messed up, it doesn't mean I always will.  If I messed up, it doesn't define me as a person...)

Through prayer and intentional focus on specific truths in my life, I am thankful to live much more calmly and peacefully than I ever have before, even amid some of the most raging storms I have faced.

I understand that fear is a multi-headed beast.  And we all fight our own unique anxieties in our own specific ways.  I don't write this as a twelve-step method to overcoming fear completely.  I haven't even done that myself, and what may work for me may not work for you.

But as someone who lived life gripped by fear, I think I may understand a bit about what it is like to live life anxiously.  It is not the best way.  And whether it is through prayer, meditation on God's truths, or other coping mechanisms, I do believe that Jesus offers this freedom for all of us.  If you haven't yet, my hope is that you find yours soon.

Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
-Josiah 1:9 (ESV)

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This post is part of a series on how lupus has affected me.

Click on the links below to read more:

Part 1: Introduction, The horrific mystery disease

Part 2: The bad times

Part 3: How lupus made me a better wife

Part 4: A practice of patience

Part 5: More on the pit

Part 6: Exhaustion

Part 7: Saying no

My diagnosis

My herbalist and the treatment option I am choosing right now

My recent lifestyle changes

To learn more about lupus, you may visit the Lupus Foundation of America.