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Purpose in Anxiety?

I stared in silence at the panorama, utterly captivated by the beauty of Interlaken. My eyes slowly traced the massive white peaks of Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau contrasting against the azure sky. Blinking tears, I spied a red cogwheel train trekking up a nearby ridge. Curiosity nudged me toward the cliff and from my lofty perch I glimpsed a scene so pleasing it almost made me blush: cottony wisps of fog gently kissing the bashful waters of Lake Thun.

Yes, I have a slight fascination with fog. Even as a child I’d wake up—early, like most farm kids do—and dash over to the window to see if the fleecy stuff had appeared. Decades later while visiting San Francisco, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the drama unfolding at the Golden Gate Bridge. At one moment a drift of mist was sliding underneath the landmark and by the next, swirling tendrils had climbed its towers. Within an hour the entire bridge was cloaked in white velvet. Chronic anxiety is like that sea fog rolling into the Bay. Actually, it’s more like the sea fog that forms further out over the ocean deep. Let me explain.

You’re sailing along through the day, enjoying azure skies and the serenity of the glassy seas (i.e. the barista got your order right, traffic isn’t that intense, work’s going pretty well).  Then, anxiety slinks in without welcome, blanketing your mind with opaque mist. Your thoughts and emotions become unreliable instruments. Presumptions drift in from the darkness of nowhere and intensify everything. Memories hang like thick droplets in the air, taunting you with past rejections and disappointments. You pause, desperate to cut through the hectoring haze, but it’s no use. Navigation becomes impossible; you’re paralyzed. In a matter of moments, your mind has disintegrated—from itself and from others. You float there on the open sea, anchored by a profound sense of powerlessness.

Presumably well-meaning people offer solutions like Don’t be so sensitive! Try _____ (insert wellness practice here). Stop drinking caffeine. Pray harder! Have more faith! Don’t be so negative! Though each solution contains some merit, can they actually eliminate anxiety? No. We live in a fallen sphere filled with distress, sins, and disorder. Awareness of that naturally triggers anxiety, even the chronic variety. And, in the same way I cannot stop the fog from forming, I cannot stop anxiety from coming. However, I can let God repurpose it.

God repurposed a Persian King Cyrus as Israel’s deliverer, a donkey as his own mouthpiece, Saul’s zeal for the Law as zeal for Christ, and Peter’s denial as devotion (Isa 44-45; Num 22; Gal 1; 1 Pe 5). He repurposed hell-bound, self-absorbed sinners as Kingdom-cultivating, self-sacrificing saints (2 Cor 5). He repurposed sin and death as grace and eternal life through the person and work of Jesus Christ (Rom 5). He renews a mind ravaged by chronic anxiety and repurposes it as one controlled by the Spirit (Rom 12.2). The result?

Time spent agonizing and antagonizing becomes prayer. The intolerance for uncertainty becomes assurance of God’s goodness and power. The intolerance for discomfort becomes willingness to sacrifice and die daily. Hyper-vigilance to the vandalized state of things in this fallen sphere becomes hope in the return of the Shaloming One and his restoration of shalom. This repurposing continues throughout our sanctification journey and in direct correlation to our participation with the mind—the attitude or viewpoint—of Christ (1 Cor 2, Php 2). We’ll talk more about that moving forward. For now, let’s meditate on God’s ability to repurpose anything—to make all things new (Rev 21.5).

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Descendants from the thriving Incan civilization still farm the Andes Mountains today. Unlike their prosperous ancestors, these farmers are among the poorest of all Peruvians. Corrupt government, treacherous terrain, and erratic rainfall continually thwart agricultural efforts. Remarkably, help comes in a curious form: fog. Engineers designed fog catchers from ordinary materials like raffia, PVC pipe, and wood. Farmers place the catchers atop the mountains where fog usually occurs. As it settles in, the tiny drops of water get caught in the raffia-mesh, dripping down the pipes and collecting in the attached tanks. The water is then used for essential tasks like washing clothes, bathing, and irrigating crops.

Engineers can re-purpose pesky fog into life-giving water, and our God can re-purpose debilitating anxiety into life and peace in Christ. It’s a process, a painstaking and gradual process of learning to trust and rely on him. Let’s take a moment and ask for help in doing that.

Many of you have personal experience with this re-purposing of anxiety. Would you encourage us by sharing that story here?

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Amy Leigh Bamberg

Amy Leigh is an Alabama native, but never drinks sweet tea or cheers for the Crimson Tide. Ever. She grew up working on her family’s cattle and catfish farm, shucking corn, slinging cow patties, and singing in the church choir. But, she longed for more. She attended Auburn University and studied horticulture and worked for several years in the commercial and residential sectors of the green industry. Then she joined the staff of a local church, equipping thousands of volunteers, developing systems and structures, and pastoring every step of the way. She attended Dallas Theological Seminary where the focus of her coursework was theology of the body, theology of beauty, and the role of women in ministry. Amy Leigh works as a free-lance landscape designer, consultant, author, and teacher. And she still longs for more, which is why her articles address topics such as faith, culture, creation, the church, and relationships.

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