In week 2 of our sermon series "Mark my word", our Senior Minister, Didi Bacon, issued a challenge to us to "Prepare our Hearts" by "looking inside". This was a challenge to be Christ-like in our prayer lives as seen in the Gospels:
Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. - Luke 5:15-16
After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone. - Matthew 14:23
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. - Mark 1:35
Be Quiet - Be Open - Be Attentive
Now... I need to pause right here for some disclaimers. I have a degree in visual communication design... I am not a licensed psychologist or any other sort of educated or well-informed medical professional. I took a single counseling class while working on my unfinished master's degree, so much of the following is 100% speculative and purely opinion based. Read at your own risk.
Before I rant, The below video influenced much of my thoughts. You should definitely check it out. If you have questions about brain chemistry and mental health's role in our expanding post-millennial social-scape, this is a great introduction to those topics.
If you need a more brief and humorous introduction, I've got your back:
Panic & Anxiety... What's the Freaking Deal!
The more time I spend on social media, the more I see the growing struggle of my friends against the presence of anxiety.
As Simon Sinek deduced in the first video above, we have a component of our brain chemistry called Cortisol. The main job of cortisol is to places our physical body in a physical posture to react to "Fight or Flight" impulses. When something threatens us, whether it be an external or internal force, we are designed to fight fire with fire - we meet stress head-on with a double-fisted dose of stress...
look familiar 90's kids...
Our rage monster is designed to come out to unlock our "super-powers". This is all great when we were fighting for our survival at every turn in the wilderness, but we choose this whole "civilized" social construct thingy that throws the proverbial wet blanket on everything...
Combined with adrenalin, cortisol gives us that temporary boost to either meet our stress head on and conquer it or run like hell and forever avoid the issue. But we really can't do either of those two things today, can we? If you start throwing punches in the air (or worse yet, someone else) you will quickly find yourself either in a padded room or behind bars. If we literally take off and run away from conflict, we are going to deal with similar outcomes, maybe not as severe, but shin splints can be a real downer.
Instead, we settle for passive-aggression. We fight in our heads. We run in our heads. We vent, we medicate, we indulge in other impulsive decisions to try and just get rid of this knot of stress in the back of our necks that have been tap-dancing on our brain stem for eternity.
As Simon points out, as well as the Wikipedia section, cortisol is very easy to get rid of. Do something physical. Go for a run, dance, laugh... DO SOMETHING! Cortisol is metabolized efficiently with a healthy dose of physical activity, which makes sense because that is exactly what it prepares us for. If you have ever been in a fist fight, wrestling match, foot race, or really any sort of physically competitive event, you know what it is like to "leave it all on the field". That place of internal fulfillment where you know you "got it all out of your system". You can walk away feeling positive without the need to keep running through the mental brick wall.
Life doesn't give us very many opportunities to "get it all out of your system". When you are depressed or riddled with anxiety, it's not like you are scrambling for your gym bag with overwhelming excitement to be seen in spandex. We are much more likely to go lay in our bed, move as little as possible, binge-watch a TV show that's sole purpose is to constantly keep us hooked into a web of character and plot development using additional anxiety triggers. That sounds like a cocktail designed for absolute failure.
So what do we do?
When we can't fight, and we can't run, what do we do? If we choose to sit on that mental fence, we will just continue to be bombarded by that cortisol that ain't going nowhere until we act on its impulsive triggers.
The "radical middle" is very different than the "passive middle". The radical middle surrenders that fight to a force that can fight. The radical middle surrenders the race to a force that can run. You choose to step to the side and train your impulses to stop reacting to every environmental stimulant, pause, take a breath, look deep down inside of your soul, identify God's provision and his presence within you, breathe, look up, get a clear vision for who you are, where you belong, and what you are called to do, and then go do it. You must choose to respond and not fall prey to the need to react.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. - Colossians 3:1-17
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:6-7
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. ... And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. - Ephesians 6:13 & 18
If you've read this far and are now feeling "Jesus-Juked" like "Come on bro, you got me going with some solid and relatable material and then you went and 'spiritualized' everything with blanket scriptures that are designed to just have me put everything in faith's hands..." trust me, I hear you.
Like I said, I'm not a professional, and it would begin to enter dangerous ground for me to begin handing out instructions for how to handle your anxiety. But I can tell you what has helped me. By learning that every battle that I'm presented with doesn't need to be my battle, I have been able to witness countless relationships being saved that I would have inevitably burnt to the ground. It's slightly easier to shrug off the stress and find the positive growth opportunity from my stressful environments. But most importantly, by seeking, and reaching out for more information, I have a deeper understanding of who I am, and so I find myself just a little bit less likely to force myself on someone else and demand that they understand me and validate my unstable ego.
If you are in a mental war, and you are not prepared, and you don't have proper armor on, you are going to be a constant mess. If this is how you feel, please reach out to someone that can stand in your blind spots and help you take the next step to find rest in a place of safety - but you can't stay there, it's a place to get equipped and get prepared, the fight won't disappear, you have to meet it head-on, but at least you can be prepared and outlast it, go the distance, Rocky!
The prayer attributed to Saint Francis feels like the perfect recipe for those who find themselves gripped with anxiety, and so, I will leave you with my favorite rendition:
"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
"O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."