Typically, I’m a pretty positive– upbeat — and self-confident person. I’m told I’m overly optimistic by my friends. But the past few weeks have brought about unfamiliar emotions. Negativity, melancholy, and anxiety.
And since these are unfamiliar emotions I haven’t quite known how to respond. In situations where I’m typically chipper I’ve been quiet. In moments I typically shrug off bad news and instantly turn it into a positive I’ve been silent. I’ve been asked for ideas on things and just not had solutions where I normally have been so dependable.
It’s not that I don’t have stuff to say its that I think its time to be quiet and listen– I don’t want the wrong words to come out because of my emotional state so I just bit my tongue.
It all goes back to the spreadsheet.
The spreadsheet brought out fear I’d never had before. And, like all fear, it’s illogical and stupid.
As a small business owner my income and expenses are all captured on a master spreadsheet. This gives me a month-by-month look at my business, where my money is coming from and where it is going. (Very similar to a personal budget.) Heading into the summer my balance sheet was very strong for the rest of 2012… this summer we had some record breaking months and some projects coming this fall which could double, even triple what we made in the same months of 2011.
Then over the last few weeks I’ve had to revise some of some numbers down. At the same time I had to make these revisions we ran into a normal business cycle where I pay a lot of money out while I’m waiting for a lot of income to come in. (I call this cash poor, invoice rich.) When larger businesses hit these business cycles they take out short-term loans. But we’re small enough where we just float through these times with our savings.
But it was those normal revisions and that normal business cycle which brought out all of that funky emotional junk.
Factually speaking, the numbers aren’t even that bad. We will still make more than we need. We are totally fine. But the act of making those changes and seeing all that cash go out planted a seed of doubt in me which grew into fear. “What if the cash doesn’t come back?” “What if it gets worse?” “Why don’t I have ____ in savings for when this happens?” “Why don’t I have a line of credit at the bank in case to cover this better?” On and on and on.
This is what I know about fear: Fear will make you dumb. Fear whispers lies in your ears. Fear makes you say no to things you should say yes to and visa versa.
And all of that was true of me in August. Our last camping trip came at a perfect time. Just when I was thinking, “What am I going to do?” We went and looked at the stars and took hikes and laughed and giggled until bed time.
Those 4 days gave me the perspective I so desperately needed: We are totally fine.
Sitting by the fire helped calm my nerves. It helped lower my anxiety. It reminded me that everything would be OK.
The Upside of Fear
Sitting in church the other day I think it all started to wash over me. Not all fear is bad. I’m afraid of what a spreadsheet says might happen in 3-4 months? Really? How could I be so stupid? Talk about a lack of perspective in light of all that I know about Our God! Talk about allowing emotions to rule over facts! Talk about putting your faith and trust in something really, really small!
Here’s my observation:The only good kind of fear is the kind which leads you to taking positive action.
Years ago I memorized Philippians 4 as part of my devotional time. For me, I find Bible memory a great way to focus my sometimes unfocusable mind. And I find that I live out Scripture better when it is embedded in my head as opposed to plucked from a book.
You can memorize a large chunk of Scripture and then it just kind of sits there, on ice, waiting to be used again. So I was a bit surprised to wake up with this stuck on repeat this morning:
Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow,help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Thanks for Their Gifts
I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
It’s always shocked me that a man could write these words while in prison.Rejoice? You’re chained to a wall, dude! Peace of God? Are you freaking kidding me! Think about praiseworthy stuff? I’d be thinking about busting out! Your joy and crown? Are you blind! You can’t even see daylight from where you are.
And yet, that’s what Paul wrote as he closed out his letter to the church in Philippi.
The last couple of days have been filled with anxiety for me. It’s unexplainable and irrational. Factually, I have nothing to be anxious about! I don’t know if its tied to my re-entry or what, but it’s been driving me nuts. On Thursday, as I rode my bike home I just kept having this feeling that I was about to get hit by a car. Then as I sat on the trolley a silly thought came into my mind about a woman seated near me. She was wearing a big, heavy jacket and my imagination got the best of me. I couldn’t shake the idea that maybe she was a suicide bomber and I kind of panicked. The whole way home my heart and mind were racing. I was laughing at myself the whole time. But I just had a hard time shaking it, too.
Philippians 4 helped calm me down and brought me back to a rational state in that moment.
That little episode of stray anxiety reminded me that we live in an anxious society. Our nation is filled with people who are 99.9% secure but still filled with fear. We have access to everything at nearly any moment and yet we only think about how we can get more. We almost never suffer. We almost never go hungry. We almost never want for anything we actually need. So we become anxious for more security, less chance of suffering, more food, and more stuff.
Literally, we (myself included) are sick because we have too much. And we are still anxious for more.
Perhaps I am not alone in needing the truths of Philippians 4 to bring me back to reality in moments of silly panic?
Over the past several days I’ve started to put words to what I’ve been observing: The tribe of youth ministry is anxious.
2009 has been a ridiculously hard year. Last October when Tony Campolo spoke in Sacramento he said something like… “Church, as we know it today, will collapse with the economy. And we will shake ourselves off and ask, ‘what do we do now?”
A year later we have to step back and acknowledge that in many ways Tony was right.
A down economy has forced tens of thousands of churches to re-evaluate how they spend money. Not a bad thing, but has caused stress at all levels of church staffing.
A shifting culture, and the owning of the reality that traditional youth ministry programs are fading in their effectiveness… more stress for youth workers.
Time to think, causes that stress to bubble to the surface.
The length of time things have been stressful (for some, 2-3 years now) causes this stress to manifest itself.
And the manifestation of what we are all feeling is this anxious elephant in the room at the National Youth Workers Convention. It’s the tears shed as we go to worship. It’s the hunger in conversation. It’s the sleep in the hallways. It’s the lack of eye contact. It’s the nervous laughter.
We are an anxious tribe. We fidget. We wring our hands. We bang our heads against the wall. We wonder what to do with ourselves. We wonder what the future of youth ministry is. We hypothesize. We position ourselves. We take our stress out on others. We blame ourselves. We blame our leaders. We blame our calling. We blame God.
For me… recognizing this tribal anxiety and the disorder that goes with it is 90% of the battle. All of those symptoms in our tribe, I don’t know what to do with them. But anxiety, I know what to do with that.