Why is this so hard?

I’ve been thinking more about my happiness project recently and two things stand out as really getting in the way of my experience of joy in the face of grief. The first is letting go of things, and the second is fear. I will talk more about the letting go aspect in a different post; today I want to explore how fear and anxiety are holding me back from really feeling peace.

I doubt I am alone here. In a recent sermon at church, our pastor shared that this year, more people will visit the doctor for anxiety issues than they will for the common cold, and that 40 million people (40 million) will experience some sort of impairment in their lives this year because of an anxiety condition. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have any kind of anxiety disorder or even that I struggle with anxiety in general — I’ve never had a panic attack, and in general I tend to be pretty laid-back — but in the last two years anxiety has become a much bigger part of my life than I really would prefer.

One other thing our pastor shared on Sunday is that the command do not fear is repeated in the Bible fifty times. Fifty times. One reason it’s repeated so much is probably because do not fear is so hard! A few weeks ago I talked about how I had started assuming terrible things were coming my way — not the way I want to live, but I found I didn’t know how to stop. And that’s a tiring way to live — constant hypervigilance, constantly holding my breath, constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I don’t know how to really love the life that I have, because I am so afraid it’s going to be torn away from me.

Having faith in the face of this kind of fear is so hard, and the only thing I can think to do to combat it is to just keep praying. Praying that I would trust God even when I secretly doubt His trustworthiness. Praying that what joy I do have now will stay with me, praying that I can someday stop that automatic panic when I realize Will’s been asleep or quiet longer than I expected. Praying that one day I will be able to stop assuming that a tornado is about to come through my life to tear away all the goodness in it.

This is, more than anything else, probably the hardest part of my happiness project and the biggest impact my grief has had on my life. It feels a lot of the time like nothing is safe anymore.

“Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.”
Isaiah 35:4, emphasis mine

I want the vengeance and the retribution to be taken out on cancer, on loss, on death, on fear and anxiety in general. I keep remembering Revelation 21:4:

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

I will be waiting a while for that vengeance. The thing is, I need courage and joy in the face of those terrible things. In spite of those terrible things. Waiting around for the joy to come after grief is a part of my past, neatly tucked away like my high school memories, won’t work. And that is what makes this so hard: that courage, that trust, and ultimately that joy is a choice. I have to choose to not freak out and think that Will and Steve are both going to be killed in some random freak accident, or that my sisters are going to be struck down by some debilitating disease, and that I will be left helpless and alone and in agony. I have to choose courage, I have to choose joy. It’s a day-by-day process learning how to do that — I have to go through the fear to get to the other side of it. I have to trust, even when I don’t want to, even when I think I can’t.

For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.
Isaiah 41:13, emphasis mine again

I have to say, when I set out to make 2012 the year of jubilee, and devoted myself to the practice of happiness, I kind of anticipated more of the little stuff and a bit less of this major stuff. But it’s important. I think I will just have to keep repeating Isaiah 41:13 to myself for a long, long time.