Would you go into this bathroom? Imagine being where the photographer is positioned in this physical space - how are you feeling? "Icky" is probably a really good description, right?
What does anxiety feel like to you? Is it butterflies in the stomach? A pain in your chest? A sensation that something terrible is coming? For me its jitters in my body and this sense of hyper-vigilance that creates a rather intense desire to run. Its a really unpleasant feeling - a feeling that, if I had a choice, I would do anything to get rid of. When a situation triggers it, my instinct is to do anything - everything - to be free of it's grip.
The Bible is full of examples of the Israelite's similarly applying many different strategies to avoid that "icky" feeling: when facing Pharaoh after leaving Egypt (Exodus 14); when hearing accounts of the Canaanites in Israel (Numbers 13-14); when having to consider defeating Jericho and fighting Goliath to name a few (1 Samuel 17). In each of these situations, their instinct was to panic and then avoid whatever was making them anxious. Which unfortunately for them, did not solve the problem. Does it ever?
On the other hand...
...Jesus demonstrated an alternative strategy to handling anxiety when he chose to follow God's will and be crucified on the cross rather than turning away. I don't know if you have ever truly thought about what Jesus physically did for us, but in going to the cross he faced significant physical, emotional and spiritual pain - pain that I honestly cannot imagine. Considering this, I don't blame him for being so scared and anxious that he sweated blood (Luke 22:44). Yet, though he faced all this "ickyness", he allowed his feeling state to be part of the picture, and further surrendered his whole self with faith in God's good will.
"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” [Luke 22:42]
And so can we
Firstly, it is important to recognize that these feelings are unpleasant and that we don't want to be in the position of feeling them. It's good to seek God and ask for the situation to resolve or the feelings to go away, but often we have to travel through the situation and manage our emotions before things will resolve.
Secondly, imagine these feelings are like a custom hand blown glass ornament that we need to hold and move. When we pretend the emotions don't exist it is similar to us pretending we don't have the blown glass ornament in our hands. Unfortunately, what generally happens if this is the case is that we hit our hands on something, break the glass and cut our hand open - i.e. in pretending the feelings don't exist we unfortunately have them build up and get worse. Alternatively, we can be so afraid we are going to break that we hold onto our feelings really tight and focus entirely on them, thereby missing the world around us. A healthy and hopeful approach to our emotional state is to imagine gently hold the glass (of emotions); recognize that our feelings are there and are what they are, allowing space for these feelings whilst still continuing to move towards our goal. That is, we can still feel icky and unpleasant emotions but continue to explore and engage with the outside world.
Through turning to God, practicing strategies like breathing exercises that settle our hyper-vigilant bodies, and practice taking perspective on our lives and situations (stepping back and naming our feelings, our current situation, and the high likelihood that our emotional state and life circumstances will change and that our lives will continue to develop according to God's good plan), we can move with and through our more intense "icky" feelings.
How about it?
Are you ready to face the uncertainty? Are you ready to walk through the discomfort, the chaos and the emotions? Know that you are not alone when you feel this way - Jesus is walking right beside you. He knows what it is like to feel like this - and he can help you handle it. Together! Isn't that the greatest reason for hope?