Tag Archives: Anxiety

The Improbable Actually Happens

[The Assyrians] shouted it with a loud voice in the language of Judah to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to frighten and terrify them, in order that they might take the city.
2 Chronicles 32:18 (NRSVCE)

It’s such an improbable moment. Bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded, and your team trailing by three runs. The grand slam to win the game. It actually happened on Sunday night when a Chicago Cub rookie named David Bote actually pulled off the improbable home run that every kid dreams about on the sandlot.

Sometimes the improbable happens. Jesus, who pulled off all sorts of improbable feats, reminded His followers that with God nothing is impossible, no matter how improbable.

Today’s chapter records one of the most improbable events in history. The Chronicler provides a condensed description of the events, which were more thoroughly told by the scribes who wrote the book of 2 Kings and by the prophet Isaiah.

The Assyrians of the ancient world were really bad dudes. They had taken warfare to a whole new level and made themselves fabulously powerful and wealthy by raiding, plundering, and decimating other nations. They were the first to use siege engines and had a corp of engineers who found all sorts of ingenious ways of breaching the walls of the cities they attacked.

The weapon the Assyrians used most effectively, however, was fear. They were heinously brutal in their treatment of conquered. They impaled people on spikes, skinned people alive, dismembered people, and burned others alive. The Assyrians discovered that the more brutal they were, the more fear they spread into the next cities on their campaign and the more fearful people were, the easier it was to defeat them.

In today’s chapter the Chronicler records another tactic the Assyrians used. They had a master manipulator who would stand outside the city walls and talk smack to the people inside in their own language, psychologically wearing them down with fear and intimidation. The Assyrian envoy loudly mocks King Hezekiah, mocks the Judeans, and mocks God.

Hezekiah stands firm. He reminds his people, “Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him; for there is one greater with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.”

The defeat of the Assyrians is an improbability bordering on impossibility. Jerusalem didn’t have the defenses to withstand a siege. The Assyrians were on a roll. They were better equipped, more experienced at war, and had everything in their favor. It’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs, and King Hezekiah is down to his last strike.

And then the improbable happened. The entire Assyrian army encamped around Jerusalem dies overnight. Historians to this day argue about what happened to the Assyrian army, but the improbable actually happened. Jerusalem was spared by the most improbable of events.

This morning I’m thinking about discouragement and fear. It’s so easy to get down and discouraged. I find myself bombarded in news media and social media with messages telling me to be afraid of everything. Everything is so bleak. There is so much to worry about. Things are so terrible, so awful,  and so hopeless. Ugh.

Today I’m encouraged by a grand slam and a historical event.

The improbable happens.

A Different Kind of Diet

“Hamath and Arpad are dismayed,
    for they have heard bad news.
They are disheartened,
    troubled like the restless sea.”
Jeremiah 49:23 (NIV)

I’ve been dieting of late, but it has nothing to do with food. I’ve been on a news diet. A while back Wendy and I recognized that the 24/7/365 cable and internet news cycle is as good for our hearts, minds, and souls as a steady diet of Twinkies would be for our bodies.

We have more instant access to global news and information than any one has experienced in recorded history. News outlets exist to get as many consumers listening/reading/clicking as possible so they can charge more money for advertising dollars and make money for their owners. How do you get more people to pay attention to your news? Sensationalize. Hype. Create buzz. Turn mole hills into mountains. Pander to your base. Fudge. Spin. Repeat.

While it is important for me to be aware of what’s going on in our world, I’ve concluded that I don’t need to stream non-stop news feeds into my brain from every device I own. This is why I liken it to dieting. I learned a long time ago that my body needed far less food than I (and my appetites) thought it did. Portion control changed my physical health for the better. I realize that portion control of news and information will, likewise, change my mental and psychological health for the better.

In today’s chapter, the prophet Jeremiah continues his series of prophetic messages to the neighboring nations of his day.

Ancient empires learned early on that one of the keys to quickly conquering other peoples was purely psychological. The greater your reputation for mayhem and destruction, the more fear you could strike in the hearts of your foes before you arrived, the easier they would be to defeat. In fact, they might just surrender rather than fight.

Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning Damscus was simply this: They were going to be a pushover because they allowed fear to seize them and paralyze them.

Time and time again Jesus told his followers “Don’t be afraid,” and yet I observe that the culture around me seems more and more driven by fear, worry, panic, and frenzy. I’ve observed that my news feed and its “If it bleeds it leads” mentality seems to want to keep me hooked like a drug on fear and worry that will, in turn, keep me coming back to find out what will happen next.

So, I’m on a news diet. I’m choosing to control my intake. I can already feel myself losing the weight of fear and worry.

“What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”                                   – Jesus (Mt 6:31-34 MSG)

The Aftermath of Life’s Unexpected Transitions

Ishmael son of Nethaniah and the ten men who were with him got up and struck down Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, with the sword, killing the one whom the king of Babylon had appointed as governor over the land.
Jeremiah 41:2 (NIV)

A year or two ago our daughter shared with us the news that the company she works for had been sold. The news caught Madison and her fellow employees by surprise. In her initial shock, she naturally wondered what this would mean for her, her employment, and ultimately her career.

In my own career I’ve had the experience of working with multiple companies who have been acquired. So, I talked Madison through what she would likely experience. “Nothing is going to change” is usually the initial mantra, followed by transitional leadership in the executive and upper management ranks. I’ve also noticed that the first year after an acquisition there is usually a natural exodus of employees looking for, and finding, other employment before they can be laid off or experience the changes they fear are coming. Cultural changes are often the first things to be noticed on the front-lines. Significant changes in structure and operations often start, if they start, about 12-18 months after the sale.

I talked through my observations with Madison and discussed her options. It was another one of those forks in life’s road that I wrote about on Friday, when one asks “Should I stay or should I go?”

In today’s chapter of Jeremiah, we read about a very different kind of transition. The chapter continues to tell of the aftermath of Babylon’s hostile takeover of the nation of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem. Just as there is a pattern I’ve observed in what happens after a business acquisition, there was also a similar pattern to how ancient empires handled the aftermath of their successful siege victories. The King of Babylon and his army take the best and brightest captive back to Babylon to celebrate victory He leaves behind a governor and small military contingent to manage the mostly old, poor, and destitute citizens who are left in the area.

In all of the destruction, chaos, and transition there remains among those Judean citizens left a heady mixture of fear, anxiety, rage, and opportunism. A distant member of the royal line of Judah takes out a vendetta against the new governor appointed by the Babylonians. He arranges dinner with the new Governor, and then assassinates the Governor and his guard, taking the rest of the household captive.

An army officer and his men form a posse and chase after the assassin and his men. They rescue the captives, but the assassin and most of his crew escape. Realizing that they could easily be held accountable by the King of Babylon for allowing the governor’s assassination, the army officer and his men make plans to flee to Egypt. Talk about a whole lot of chaos.

This morning I’m thinking about transitions that I’ve experienced along my life journey that were out of my control. Transitions in family circumstances, unexpected tragedies and death, transitions in church leadership, transitions of companies for whom I worked, and transitions in organizations with whom I was involved. Transitions are a natural part of life. When they come suddenly and unexpectedly they create a certain disorientation among those effected. With the disorientation there can be all sorts of chaos and crazy-making. It’s that disorientation and subsequent chaos Jeremiah chronicles in today’s chapter.

Personally, I’ve learned that managing these times of unexpected transition requires drawing on faith and spiritual resources I’ve built up along my journey. First, I draw upon my faith that I can trust God amidst my present circumstances. God has led me thus far, and there’s no reason to stop trusting that God will continue to lead me because of an unexpected curve in the road. Second, I have confidence in what I’ve been promised. God is not going to leave me or forsake me. I can cast all my anxieties and fears on God and trust God’s plan for my life journey. Third, I have good companions who will walk with me, listen to me, encourage me, and remind me of what I know to be true even when I’m tempted to forget.

I can’t always control life’s transitions, but I can develop the spiritual and relational reserves necessary to handle the transitions when they come.

Transitions, Trees, and Promises

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”
Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NIV)

It seems as if Wendy and I have been in a season of perpetual transition for years now. Transitions in life as teenagers come and go, make their own way (and sometimes return for a time). Transitions in family. Transitions in life stages.  Transitions of houses. Transitions in roles and work. Perhaps I am slow to accept that stability is simply an illusion when Life is a constant flow and we are each steadily progressing on our respective life journeys. Yet, the desire for life to slow down and find some equilibrium doesn’t seem to fade within me.

In today’s chapter God speaks to Jeremiah and riffs on a word picture that had previously been channeled through the lyrics of the Psalm writer (Psalm 1):

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

In Jeremiah’s case, I can’t help but think about all of the prophetic messages he’s thus far delivered in his prophetic poetry:

  • pack your bags
  • life as you know it will end
  • all you have known will be destroyed
  • enslavement
  • exile in a foreign land.

Talk about life transitions. It’s rather encouraging to consider my own tame life transitions in light of what Jeremiah and his tribe were staring down.

It’s interesting to find in today’s chapter that amidst all of God’s prophetic rants of punishment and justice for His people, He also provides promise. Along life’s journey I’ve found that the times of greatest fear, despair and anxiety have been when I have forgotten God’s promises during a time of intense life transition.

Life flows like a mighty river. It doesn’t stop. It ebbs at times and rages with floodwaters at others. I can’t control the flow of Life any more than I can control the weather. I can, however, control where I place my faith and confidence. Come drought or flood God’s promise is that if I place my faith and confidence in Him then my roots will go deep; I will find stability in turbulent waters and refreshment when Life’s flow dries up in a season of drought.

This morning in the quiet I’m thinking about all of the places that people, myself included, seek to find stability and security in the intense transitions created by the flow of Life. For me, sleepless nights always accompany such times. I find my anxieties and fears lessened, however, when I follow the advice of the Psalmist:

My eyes stay open through the watches of the night,
    that I may meditate on your promises.

Amidst transition, don’t forget God’s promises. Meditate on them.

From Generation to Generation

The Lord said to Moses, “These are the names of the men who are to assign the land for you as an inheritance….”
Numbers 34:16-17a (NIV)

I called my parents yesterday afternoon as I journeyed home from some afternoon meetings. My dad was at his weekly poker game with the boys but mother picked up the phone. This was a pleasant surprise. As mom’s Alzheimer’s progresses she is less and less apt to pick up the phone if my dad is not around. We enjoyed a pleasant conversation and a few laughs together, though I knew with near certainty that within a few minutes she would forget that I had called and all that had been said between us. Mom’s journey with Alzheimer’s continually reminds me to fully enjoy the moment. I am equally reminded that the opportunity for even these passing moments will soon be gone.

Yesterday I wrote about the new stage of life into which Wendy and I are about to embark. We are being ushered into this new stage, in part, by the impending arrival of our grandson (get ready for grandpa’s photo barrage next week!).

One generation fading. Another generation arriving.

We are almost at the end of our chapter-a-day journey through the book of Numbers. In this morning’s chapter God provides Moses with a list of tribal leaders who will assist in the division and establishing of tribal boundaries in the Promised Land. If you remember, the very first chapter of Numbers had a list of tribal leaders who were to help Moses with a census of the tribes. The names in today’s list are different. They are different because an entire generation has passed between chapters 1 and 34. A new generation of leaders has taken over.

Welcome to life’s realities. One generation passes, another generation emerges. Life goes on.

Along my personal journey I’ve interacted with many, many people. In my personal life I’ve had the privilege of blessing babies, officiating weddings, baptizing people, and presiding over funerals. In my professional vocation I’ve had the opportunity of working with businesses, owners, leaders, and employees as they transition through organizational changes, leadership changes, and ownership changes. It’s fascinating to walk with people through life’s transitions.

I have experienced that the fear and anxiety I talked about in yesterday’s post (you can read it here) is common to all of us. It’s intrinsically human to have fears and anxieties when transition occurs. Fear is what God created within us as a survival instinct.

I observe, however, that we respond differently to that fear and anxiety churning within us by:

  • resisting transition
  • denying change
  • shrugging off the changes and going with the flow
  • leveraging the transition for personal advantage
  • embracing the transition, even assisting it

I’d like to think that my experiences have led me to a better understanding of how to manage my own fears and anxieties. I can’t stop change and transitions any more than I can give my mom her memory back. Acknowledging my fears, naming them, and sharing them with a capable confidant is my first step in managing change and transition well. That helps me embrace the changes and frees my spirit to be able to find the good things within it.

One generation passes. Another generation arrives. Life moves on.

Yes.

The End of the Line

In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria.
2 Kings 17:6 (NIV)

In this life, some things end. That’s the simple truth of the matter. Along this life journey I’ve come to the realization that we human beings like to feel a sense of the eternal amidst the temporal. We like things to remain fairly stable. We are lulled into a state of accepting that what has been always will be…

  • I will always live here…
  • I will always have this job…
  • We will always be together…
  • We will always be friends…
  • My parents will always stay together…
  • My children will outlive me…

And then suddenly, things end. Relationships end, jobs go away, homes are destroyed, people move away, churches split, companies are acquired, and so on, and so on, and so on.

World rocked. Equilibrium off. Heart breaking. Mind spinning.

Life changing.

In today’s chapter, we get to the end of the line for the northern Kingdom of Israel. For 190 years they had existed through a roller coaster succession of monarchs. Hoshea would be the final king. The Assyrian empire lays siege to Israel’s capital city, Samaria. It is destroyed, plundered, and the Israelites taken back to Assyria as slaves. Using the ancient playbook of conquest, the Assyrians move a melting pot of other immigrants peoples into the neighborhood to ensure that the Israelites left behind don’t unite in rebellion against the Empire. It is the end of the Kingdom of Israel.

As I read and mull over this morning’s chapter, I’m reminded of our chapter-a-day journeys through the prophets who warned that this was coming. For those who had ears to hear, the warning signs were there. Amidst the chaos, grief and questions that arise when things end, we can often look back with 20-20 hindsight and see that the signs were all there. In our desire for the eternal amidst the temporal we simply choose to ignore them.

I’m also mulling over the lessons that I’ve learned both in my journey through God’s Message and my journey through life. Things must end for us to experience new beginnings. In order for there to be resurrection, something must die. God even wove this truth into His artistic expression of creation. The seasons teach us that the new life and recurring promises of spring don’t happen with out the long death of winter. In summer Iowa has such lush green landscape with deep blue skies that it almost creates a new color all its own. But eventually we reach the end of the line. Lush green corn turns to ugly brown stalks, and the blue skies give way to the dull gray snow clouds of winter. And then it happens again, and again, and again. Old things pass away, then new things come.

For the people of Israel, this chapter of life is ended. But the story isn’t over. The prophets predicted this, as well. A new chapter has begun. Perhaps unexpected. Perhaps unwanted. Perhaps scary and unnerving. Yet that’s why we love great stories. They take us to unexpected places and new experiences we hadn’t dreamed or imagined. But we don’t get there without journeying through the end of the previous chapter(s).

Mentors, Mantles, and the Mayhem of Transition

[Elisha] picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

When the company of prophets who were at Jericho saw him at a distance, they declared, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” They came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.
2 Kings 2:13-15 (NRSV)

Transitions are never easy. Along life’s journey I am constantly finding comfort in the status quo. What “has been” seems safe and secure in the “now.” Change skews the equilibrium. Anxiety bubbles to the surface. What “will be” suddenly seems uncertain because the “now” is no longer what “has been.” Anxiety quickly morphs into fear. I try to maintain the outward appearance of stability despite the fact my spirit is reeling like a drunken sailor. Fear subtly begins to leak out of my sub-conscious into the open in all sorts of unexpected (and often unhealthy) ways as my spirit searches for ways to cope with uncertainty.

In my work I often find myself on-site with clients amidst the whirlwinds of change. Corporate acquisitions, changes in leadership, changes in technology, changes in team, and changes in jobs are all realities that my clients struggle with in their workplace. There are even companies I know for whom the destabilizing effects of change become the status quo. I get to witness the internal and external effects of the ceaseless churn on individuals in my coaching sessions and conversations.

There are many layers of meaning in the events described in today’s chapter. I could write a weeks worth of blog posts (or more) peeling back and exploring every one of them. The main theme of today’s chapter, however, is transition. It is an event that our culture regularly references without realizing the source. When the great prophet Elijah is whisked up to heaven in a fiery tornado,  his “mantle” falls to the ground. Mantle refers to a loose cloak worn over clothes. His protégé prophet, Elisha, “takes up the mantle” of leadership from his mentor, Elijah. Elisha picks up his mentor’s discarded mantle and immediately uses the mantle to perform the same miracle Elijah had just performed with it before his dramatic exit. The act confirms to the team of prophets witnessing all of this that there has suddenly been a huge transition in the executive ranks of the prophetic organization. The corporation of prophets suddenly finds themselves with a new CEO.

What’s fascinating is that the first act among the corporation of prophets is sub-conscious anxiety oozing out into well-cloaked organizational action:

“Let’s appoint a committee to go look for Elijah. We saw him whisked up in a whirlwind, but no one saw him land. We need to verify that he is really gone.” (Because finding Elijah and returning to the comfortable status quo would feel much better than the anxiety I’m feeling about Elisha running things!)

Elisha warns that the actions are a waste of time and resources, but the search committee is adamant to the point exasperating the new leader. Fear does funny things to people.

This morning I’m thinking about transitions. I’ve been through many of them professionally and personally on this life journey. I’ve come to recognize the familiar, internal pangs of anxiety and fear that accompany these abrupt changes of course. They don’t necessarily get easier, but I’d like to hope that I’ve matured in how I respond to them inside and out. I’ve come to understand that what “has been” never completely passes away. It simply becomes the foundation on what “will be” is going to be built. I simply have to hold the tension of “now” with faith in what I believe to be true no matter what was, what is, or what is to come: I can trust that God’s got this.

‘Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’
Isaiah 41:10

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6

featured image: detail from the St. John’s Bible