anxiety finds relief

For the past month or so I have been thinking a lot about anxiety, why we have it, what to do with it, etc.  I wouldn't normally say I am an anxious person, and have had to help friends through anxiety and worry issues but would say that I don't tend to be a worrier.  Well, as it turns out life different stages of life tend to bring out different struggles, and I'm realizing I too need help in the area of anxiety.  And as I thought more about it, I don't think anyone is immune from wrestling with worry, fear, unrest, or uneasiness in some area of life.  I've heard moms talk about the daily fears they have about the safety of their children, wives living in constant worry that something might happened to their husbands, students having consistent bad dreams about failing a class or missing an exam, etc.  Many of my closest friends and I have had so many conversations about what to do when we become obsessed with what people think of us.  I would label all this under the banner of anxiety.  Technically, anxiety is defined as being vexed or troubled.  For some people this troubling is constant and intense and drives them to seek medical help, but for most of the population its just that sick feeling we get every once in awhile (or sometimes lots at a time) about something that happened or may happen in the future.  In writing this I really do believe everyone has or will battle with anxiety.  It's the beating yourself up after you messed up feeling that you can't escape, or the fear of what someone might think of you when you do this or that.  I have experience more anxiety with trying to please people the past few months than ever before, and it has been directly related to my learning curve with photography.  Even deciding to join my worlds together with personal and photography blogging (which I posted about here: is partly because photography has been one of the main vehicles God is using to really grow me up personally, and I think sharing that could be a huge benefit for me and others going through the same thing.  So anxiety seems to strike pretty consistently after I take pictures for someone, as I'm editing them and mailing them off.  God has been pleased to make photography his gym for getting me to excercise some faith and learn more about what it means to be a child of God.  I wish I could better condense this whole experience for me, but I'm still processing a lot of it.

So here is what it looks like: I am about to photograph someone who is paying me money for a specific end product, i.e. fantabulous pictures of their family, their event, their wedding, their children.  As much as I love the camera, I love people (for the most part:), and love the interaction, I hate the pressure I feel of knowing that I must deliver something I can't promise.  I mean, I might take some photos that turn out great, but many times people don't like to smile at the same time, or there isn't enough light to make a great image, or what if I forget to get a picture at a wedding that was really important to a grandparent?  What does it mean to be an imperfect human who is being paid to deliver mostly perfect images?  This gives me unrest and uneasiness (i.e. anxiety) pretty often in the area of photography.

I looked up more on anxiety as I was thinking about all this, and saw that medically speaking, anxiety is often grouped into categories such as "social anxiety," "choice anxiety," existential anxiety," or even (gasp) "performance anxiety."  That is my particular battleground.  Performance anxiety is the fear of failing at a task and being negatively evaluated by others.  This plays out a lot for students but is equally difficult to battle in the workplace, or the home in whatever role you fill.  It also connects to the "people pleasing" or "fear of men" labels, i.e. when you are way to preoccupied with what people think of you and fear their opinions.  I feel like I'm becoming a little bit of an expert on these battles:)

So inevitably I have made some mistakes with photography, including missing important shots and not getting the right exposure for portraits.  The learning curve has been more like a learning rollercoaster, and I wasn't really prepared mentally to know what to do with these new fears and unrest I feel when I make a mistake.  I am being way honest here, but I know that most people experience this in a new context they find themselves in (new job, new mom, etc.)  The pit in my stomach mostly relates to people paying me for something I fear is not up to par...


God has been REALLY good to me in this learning rollercoaster.  One morning I woke up after photographing a wedding and was in a cold sweat, realizing I missed a critical shot that I should have taken.  I couldn't do anything about it (somethings just can't be photoshopped:).  It happened to be a Sunday, which meant a day of rest and worship but my heart felt busy and preoccupied with my mistakes.  I knew the drill: pray, read the scriptures, and find hope.  One thing I kept coming to during the day was that God loved me, forgives me of my wrongdoing, and that we are definitely cool.  But what about other people? What comfort is there for me when I mess up, not in "sin" but weakness more than anything, and people might not forgive?  That is what bothered me most.  I couldn't connect my good standing with God because of his mercy and grace in Jesus with how that impacts my relationship with other people.  I struggled with a huge disconnect between my peace with God and my unrest with people.

I had dinner that night with my dear friends John & Caroline Norris.  We talked a lot about this, and what God has to offer people with these battles that seemingly do not involve him.  One thing that John has really "preached" (literally, he preached on it at Christ Community Church:) is that we need to know the promises of God and act on them.  So the next day I went to read the Bible and searched it out for promises that related to peace and comfort as I was feeling discomfort in regard to my own personal weaknesses in photography.  I wrote down a few, including Jesus' somewhat cut and dry statement: "which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to your life?" (okay, Jesus. so you're telling me anxiety doesn't produce anything).  I found that God really does care about our anxiety, and that this emotion or state isn't some 21st century problem but ages old, as Jesus taught his disciples "not to be anxious about your life... what you will eat or drink or wear...but to seek first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you..." Matthew 6:24-34 ish.  Obviously God knew we would battle with uneasiness and worry.  Jesus tells the disciples to look at the flowers of the field, the birds of the air, and recognize that they don't worry or fret and yet they are taken care of daily.  He tells them that people, made in the image of God, are of so much more value than birds and flowers, so how much more will we be taken care of specifically as his children.  Whenever I write about this stuff I always feel like I need to explain so many things, but I think I might get off on a tangent if I go into a theological explanation on what it means to be a child of God.  Sufficent to say that Jesus taught that he came and died that we might believe in him for eternal life and thus become children of God, not orphans lost in this world to our own devices, but saved by grace and given a place in God's forgiven family.  So as I was thinking about what it meant to be a child of God, I thought about what it means to be a child...

Growing up I knew that if I got into trouble, my parents were there to save me.  I knew that if I made a mistake, my parents would cover for me.  I thought about the time I stole a doughnut from the grocery store, and told my dad that I never paid for it.  He went back to the store and paid them for my doughnut.  My dad is pretty cool.  I started thinking about Ethan and what Jared and I would do for him.  If he makes a big mistake, I want him to come to me and know that I will help him, I will cover for him, I will be a place he can hide as he experiences the growing pains of life.  Not that he doesn't need to "feel" the pain of mistakes (that's kind of a given), but that he doesn't face them alone and I will always work to help him.  It was in these thoughts that God gave me HUGE comfort.  How much more, as God describes himself as our heavenly father, am I to be taking care by HIM.  As I worried and feared people's disapproval, I was acting like a weak orphan who had no one to comfort & protect me.  God was reminding me that he is with me, that as much as I desire to cover and protect and comfort and care for Ethan in the midst of difficulties, God desires it so much more for me and even better, is able to carry it out.  This led me to verses that talk about God being our refuge, a very present help in trouble, commands to make our requests known to God and the promise that the peace of God will guard my heart and my mind (i.e. anxiety's breeding ground), that he will restore my soul, that God will supply my every need and strengthen my inner person (Phil 4).  I started to see the promises in the scriptures that accompany commands.  Words like "make your requests known" (i.e. pray) and God WILL give you peace.  Promises that those who trust in God will never be put to shame (i.e. trust in the Lord that he will work out your difficulties).  That the mind set on the spirit brings life and peace (Romans 8:1-11).  Psalm 10 talks about how God strengthens our hearts in the midst of our difficulties as we trust in him.  All of this was like a waterfall of blessings on my head.  I remembered what it meant that God hide Moses the cleft of your rock, i.e. God provides a hiding place in himself when something is too great or too much for him.  All of the references to God being a strong tower, a rock, a fortress, etc. are referring to God being our home in the midst of battles where he protects and keeps us. 

There is so much more to the idea of how to battle anxiety and fear, but this is a piece of what I have been learning.  I am seeing the practical side of the battle, that is, to not set my mind on my mistakes or fears of what others may say, but to set my mind on things above.  I need to draw closer to heaven than to earth, especially if I want to be of any good on earth.  And I need to step out on faith, believing God's promises of peace are really true and for me as I trust him to take care of me even in the midst of personal weakness and failures.  I may not be able to fix a terrible picture, but that doesn't mean my mind and heart have to be in a state of unrest.  What it does mean is that I have the opportunity to come to Jesus and put all my hope in him and trust that he ordains whatsoever comes to pass.  And he ordains it for my personal good and his personal fame.  The work of faith is trusting God and casting all my cares on him.  He commands us to do that.  Pushing my cares off my back and unto to one who is much stronger and wiser than me.  Jesus commands us to come to him in our weariness, and we WILL find rest for our souls... for his yoke is easy and burden is light.  Understanding what a yoke is helpful here (b/c I always pictured an egg:).  A yoke is a wooden beam that was used to connect two oxen for the purpose of helping them pull a load.  My faithful bestest friend Lisa Driver told me recently how she learned that in the pair of oxen, one ox is stronger and helps pull along the weaker ox.  That just solidified the beauty of Jesus' words for me.  Here was God in the flesh saying, "be yoked to me."  In saying that, he was saying let me help you bear the load, and you will find rest for your oxen soul:)  I am not alone.  God is saying I will carry you, I will take that load and you will find your burden to be light.  I am not alone in facing my fears of people, and that makes all the difference  to me.  Not only am I not alone, I have the help of the God who made the universe with a word.... which means he is pretty powerful and my doughnut mistakes are not too big for him.

This has been especially a long train of thoughts, and even more could be said.  But I think this is one of those never ending lessons I will be learning.  I read in The Valley of Vision yesterday a prayer that said, "Raise me above the smiles and frowns of this world, regarding it as a light thing to be judged by men."  I am hopeful and experiencing the peace of what happens when I begin to see God for who he is, that is, a powerful & good eternal father, and people for who they are, a significant but imperfect community that came from dust and to dust will return, certainly not to be feared.  So thankful that God uses all my endeavors, like photography, to bring me closer to him.