Spiritual Truth 7: Expect to be renewed, as you accept your limitations and wait on God.
In the waking dream that I wrote about in my last essay, I saw a huge wall of water that looked as if it were going to break at any moment and wash me away. I could see all my anxieties spread out on a blanket on the ground in front me. I wanted to fold the blanket around them, as I usually do, to lift them up into God’s hands. But I couldn’t. It was too heavy! When I looked more closely, I realized that there was a huge boulder in the middle of the blanket. How was I going to lift that up?
At first, I didn’t know what to do. Then, for some reason, I began to slowly approach the big rock. I cautiously put my hand on it, and much to my surprise, it began to shrink. It turns out that it was actually an earth-filled piece of ice, which began to melt with my touch. The smaller it became, I the lighter I felt.
Afterward, I realized what the dream meant. When our anxieties feel too heavy to lift to God, we may need to face our worries head on first. Instead of just reacting to them, denying them, running away from them, or simply being a prisoner to them, we can gather our courage and approach them directly. As we name (“touch”) them, we are likely to learn something about them and ourselves that will set us free from their power. They may turn out to not be as big or threatening as we thought, or we may gain insight as to how to handle them better. Or else, we may simply let them go.
The combination, then, of consciously addressing the nature of our worries and trusting God to act is freeing and renewing.
Spiritual Truth 7: Expect to be renewed, as you accept your limitations and wait on God. (Heb. 2:15; Isaiah 40:28-31; Eph. 3:20-21)
In one of the most often-quoted chapters of the Bible, Isaiah 40 offers words of comfort to the people of Israel, who were languishing in captivity in Babylon. They could do nothing to change their circumstances. They were stressed, afraid, and felt a huge weight of guilt. They were suffering the consequences of their sin and poor choices. So, Isaiah writes these now famous words:
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.Isa. 40:28-31, NRSV
There is so much hope and encouragement in these words. You and I get weary and exhausted. Yahweh (the LORD) never tires and his strength is inexhaustible. As we hit the wall or sag under the weight of our worries, we must look beyond ourselves to the Creator of the universe. The everlasting God is the one who can lift our heavy burdens and renew our spirits.
We must “wait for the LORD (Yahweh)” by admitting our limitations and human frailty and by putting our hope in what only God can do. And when we do, we will often feel lighter. We will find that we can open up our hearts and minds to the Spirit again. We will become refreshed and more energized. We will be better able to fulfill our purpose in life, to know, love, and serve God. In Isaiah’s imagery, we will “mount up with wings like eagles.” We will “run and not be weary.”
Let anxiety be your teacher
Anxiety is a normal part of human experience that often feels stressful and burdensome. However, if we let anxiety be our teacher, it can reveal something about our situation and our fears that could be helpful.
For example, when we feel anxious, it often means that something important is at stake. We, or someone or something we care deeply about, are threatened. If we stay in the anxious thoughts and feelings, we’ll be miserable. But if we let our anxiety guide us to a deeper understanding of our own values and needs, we may gain new insight into what’s going on and if, what, and when we can do something about it.
Practically, I have found it very helpful to divide my anxieties into one of three categories. First, I have to face and name them. Then, I need to first decide for each one, is there something I can do about this concern? Depending on my answer, I put it into one of three categories: Act, Wait, or Let Go.
Category 1: Act.
If there seems to be something I can do, the worry goes in Category One: Act. For example, when COVID-19 started spreading everywhere in the USA, I worried about whether or not my family and I were going to get sick or even die. I immediately realized that, while I could not control the spread of the virus, we could try to protect ourselves. As soon as we took action to do what was within our power to do (e.g., to wear masks, wash our hands regularly, socially distance ourselves from others, avoid crowded places, etc.), our anxiety levels started going down. The danger didn’t go away, but our anxiety lessened because we were doing something to help ourselves.
Category 2: Wait.
If the worry is something that I can’t do anything about now, because I’m waiting on information or someone else’s actions, then it goes into Category 2: Wait. For example, will I be able to conduct my scheduled workshops in Myanmar and Vietnam this fall? Will I be able to teach again at Myanmar Institute of Theology (MIT) second semester? When will it be safe enough for me to travel internationally?
I can’t know the answer to these questions now. I have to wait to see what the Myanmar government decides, whether the virus can be contained, and what kind of safeguards can be put in place. For now, instead of worrying about what I think the authorities should do or about what I’m going to be able to do, I need to tell myself, the time is coming when I will know the answers. Until then, I need to wait. I need to turn my attention to what I can do something about (Category 1) and to wait to see what God is going to do.
Category 3: Let go.
Finally, many times, the thing I am anxious about is completely out of my control, and there is nothing I can do. For example, I’m wondering, are my students and colleagues in Myanmar and my other global partners going to be O.K? Will there be an economic depression? Will the world ever fully recover from the pandemic? These kinds of issues are ongoing. They will probably remain as a threat indefinitely. Waiting for answers could go on forever. So, I tell myself, I will cross that bridge when I get to it. Until then, if there’s nothing I can do, I’m going to let it go. It’s O.K. I don’t need to hang on to a worry that I can’t do anything about.
How heavy is your load these days?
If you can gather your worries together and put them in God’s hands, do it! But if the weight seems too much, or your circumstances too overwhelming, try this: Muster your courage and move toward your anxieties. Name (touch) each one, and ask it, “What do you want me to know about you? What can you tell me that might help me to cope better?”
Is there something, anything, you could do to help alleviate your worries? If so, it is time to Act. Do what is within your power to help yourself. If, on the hand, there’s nothing for you to do now, then, tell yourself to Wait. Wait for the time when action is possible again and focus your attention on better things in the meantime. Finally, if the worry is completely outside of your control or the dangers are ongoing, then Let go.
The more you face your own human limitations and accept that you are only responsible for what is within your power to do, the freer you will become. You will stop trying to carry burdens that are not meant for you to carry. You will rest more peacefully in the Father’s immense love. You will spend your days living fully, being creative, and sharing Christ’s love and light with all those you most care about.
In your own strength, you are going to reach your limits. That’s why you get weary and exhausted. So, stop trying to lift what is too heavy for you, and stop worrying about things that may never happen. Put your burden into God’s hands and wait for him to act in his way and timing. Stop worrying so much about what you cannot control or do, and let the Holy Spirit renew your heart, soul, and mind. The old cliché, “let go and let God,” is actually quite biblical…and helpful. It’s also the way to greater peace and joy.
Now to him who by the power at work within us
is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,
to him be glory in the church
and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.Eph. 3:20-21
Next week: In the conclusion to this essay series, I will be sharing my personal story of how I learned to trust God again after personal tragedy.
Help us spread the good word! To reach more people who need biblical and practical words of encouragement in the midst of the COVID-19, global crisis, we are translating these essays into 10 different languages spoken in various parts of Myanmar, India, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). If you have been touched or encouraged by one or more of these essays, please help spread the word by sharing it with others, and by supporting our efforts to reach more people by making a donation to Faith, Hope, and Love Global Ministries, today.
CONTEXT: I CREATED THIS ESSAY SERIES IN RESPONSE TO THE COVID-19 GLOBAL CRISIS. EACH ESSAY EXPANDS ON THE PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS OFFERED IN THE SPIRIT-LED LEADER: NINE LEADERSHIP PRACTICES AND SOUL PRINCIPLES (HERNDON, VA: ALBAN INSTITUTE, 2005), PAGES 184-90.
- All photos, copyright ©Jill Geoffrion, www.jillgeoffrion.com. Used with permission. Photo of multi-ton, dolmen was taken in the Eure-et- Loire valley, France.
Copyright © 2020 Timothy C. Geoffrion, Wayzata, Minnesota. All rights reserved to the author, but readers may freely download, print, forward, or distribute to others, providing that this copyright notice is included.