No matter who you are, I’m willing to bet you struggle with what I call “three A’s.”
Just when you think you’ve got life figured out, or you got today’s check list done, sneaky Satan will up the ante by suggesting to you that perhaps you need to worry and be anxious, or that you should look to others for approval, or that the people you care most about have really abandoned you emotionally.
It’s easy to fall down that rabbit hole.
If you’ve experienced any trauma in your life related to people, you know that that feeling of being let down often lingers long past the injustice done to you.
It’s easy to internalize pain and shame.
If you find yourself in a rut, unable to pull out (I’ve been there), I welcome you to tackle each of these “three A’s” one at a time to bust down the lies, and invite in the freedom that only comes from an ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ.
Anxiety is no joke. It can easily creep in subtly and take root in your heart. Fear leads to worry and worry leads to anxiety and anxiety leads to nothing good at all. This syndrome reminds me of Yoda’s famous quote: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
One of my life verses (because I often have to fight back the monster of anxiety) is Philippians 4:5-6:
Do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (There’s a great Seeds Family Worship song that has set this to music, which makes it really easy to memorize.)
Sometimes, fighting the overwhelming feelings of anxiety can be a minute-by-minute exercise. Like breathing.
Step One: Breathe in. Do not be anxious.
Step Two: Breathe out. Exhale gratitude for something specific.
Step Three: Breathe in. Think of a specific request to bring to Jesus.
Step Four: Breathe out. Feel His peace surrounding you, enveloping you.
Can you tell I like yoga? These breathing techniques really help to quiet my heart and mind, and help me to refocus on God.
Approval is pretty important in our society. There’s getting approved by the bank for a loan, getting approved for time off at work, having your credit card approved when you go to the store.
But the approval I’m talking about in the context of personal struggle is in seeking approval from others for two thumbs up, or check marks and gold stars. Sometimes seeking approval starts super early in life, like wanting your parents to notice you made your bed or tied your own shoes.
Some kids do bad stuff, other kids do good stuff in order to get attention and seek approval from their parents. I fell into this trap in many ways. I’d look to my parents, or look to my Sunday school teacher, or look to my school teachers, my boss, then later, my husband, and even my kids for that ‘approval rating’ I so desperately wanted.
Even today, if I’m not mindful, when I don’t get the atta-boy, it feels like a kick in the gut. For some reason, it feels like I’ve done something wrong when people don’t notice the good work I’ve done.
This couldn’t be further from the truth, and it’s not how God sees things at all. As a matter of fact, we’ve already been approved by God, not in anything we ourselves have done, but in what he did for us through the person of Jesus Christ when he took on all our sins and died in our place, on that cross that should have been our own.
I was struggling big time with approval back in the spring. Basketball season had ended for my husband’s high school team, but he was still working so hard–engrossed in his master’s program–juggling extra teaching and athletic director responsibilities. I’d find myself acting like a puppy waiting to be petted and given a treat. I wanted to be noticed for a job well-done.
God stopped me in my tracks, before the self-deprecating feelings set in. “Seek me for approval,” he nudged me. “I am all you need.”
I did a word search on “approved” in the bible and came up with 2 Timothy 2:15 (NASB):
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”
Oh man, did this hit me in the gut, while simultaneously encouraging me. I wrote the verse on an index card and carried it around in my purse for weeks. I kept trying to memorize the whole verse, which should have been easy, but I had trouble getting past the first phrase, “Be diligent to present yourself (myself) approved to God.”
It’s the diligence that was hard. Every time I felt that critical, seeking spirit in me want to call someone to tell me I did a good job, I stopped. I presented myself to God in prayer right at that moment. I spent a number of weeks just presenting myself to God every time the bad feelings started up. I really couldn’t do anything else.
Then. slowly, it became clear that I needed to move on to the second part of the verse: be “approved to God as a workman.”
I was God’s very personal workman; he already approved me for the work he had for me. I got the job!
I got the job.
The job is harder than I thought it would be.
Not being uncertain, but resting in His promises often feels harder than it actually is.
Next, I needed to embrace not being ashamed – of my own doubt, of my own inadequacies . . . and handle my business.
When my first child was born, I was of course, overjoyed. However, the joy quickly faded into perplexed fear when he began screaming several hours after he was born and didn’t stop until he was nearly a year old. He wouldn’t go to anyone but me, he wouldn’t sleep in his own crib, he wanted to nurse every two hours for the first year of his life and wouldn’t stop crying if I didn’t.
I loved him more than anything, but it seemed to me that he had this strange built-in sense of abandonment that was unnatural. Eventually, he calmed down, starting going to Daddy, eventually went to others albeit not easily at all until he was about four. He knew what he needed to feel secure and he instinctively did what he needed to do to get it.
For us adults, we often have undetected fears lingering in our hearts which can lead to feeling abandoned at various times in our lives. As a mother, I have this innate fear that my children will one day leave the nest and never look back. That they won’t need me anymore, for anything.
This desire to feel wanted and needed can certainly get us into trouble. It causes us to say ‘yes’ to things we shouldn’t, to put ourselves in situations where we’re locked in and can’t get out (over-volunteerers, you know I’m talking to you). You can’t be abandoned if you have a ten-year contract. You can’t be abandoned if you helicopter parent and inhibit your children from individuating and crafting their own independent lives.
On the worship team for many years, one of my favorite songs to sing was “Trading my Sorrows.” The bridge (that my worship leader always asked me to sing out on) is just about word-for-word from 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NIV:
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
The word abandonment makes me think of an orphan or unwanted child. This verse reminds us that no matter how difficult things may get, God never abandons us, or our needs. He is faithful to meet us and help us.
We have been chosen and adopted by God to be a part of His family. We’ll never be truly abandoned if we continue to put our faith in His son, Jesus Christ.
As each of us wrestles with one of these three “A’s” at one time in our lives or another, let’s aim to:
…fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2 NASB
Are you with me?