I love the old testament Bible story of David fighting Goliath, about a youth who fells a giant that is terrorizing his nation. I have read a couple of books and read articles that use this tale to make important points about underdogs and unlikely heroes, succeeding against the odds and achieving greatness. I have recently been thinking about giants. Everyone has their own, or so I have heard, but it has taken me a long time to clearly identify some of mine.
A big one is anxiety. A talented speaker that I follow on YouTube says that the situation you find yourself in today is a result of many small and big decisions you took along the way. I have often rued many of my own decisions especially those that have resulted in hardship and lack. I used to wallow in regret until I heard the same speaker advise that mistakes are like seasoning; they give you flavor! So, regret be gone! This however leaves me with the task of analysis, why do I keep making self-sabotaging choices? How do I break free?
I find this an especially urgent issue because as a single mother, the situations I put myself in not only affect me but have a huge impact on my children. Career success and well-paying jobs mean a decent standard of living, good schools, health care and the extras that make life pleasurable. Ballet classes, guitar lessons and holiday camps. Once in a while, a weekend away at a beach hotel. Building a lovely home. Unemployment or miserly pay means total hell. Like David, however, I am in a position where I have to fight the odds, low expectations, and naysayers to create the type of life for my family that my heart desires. There is no other option!
When I took time to reflect on this issue to try and identify the common thread in these decisions, I found the underlying problem. Even though I believe that I am free from what Winston Churchill described as the “black dog” that had plagued me for many years, it seems that anxiety remains a factor in my life. Anxiety is the fear of some unknown or future threat. Anxiety symptoms include panic attacks, generalized worries, anticipatory anxiety, catastrophic thinking, avoidance, muscle tension, disrupted sleep, phobias, fear of social scrutiny, flashbacks, and obsessions/ compulsions. One online source describes the difference between depression and anxiety: depression is the result of loss while anxiety is the fear of loss.
I trace my grappling with this to my early years, when I would have recurring nightmares about my mother being murdered at one of the numerous army check points, or roadblocks as we used to call them. These were a frightening feature of my childhood, living in a country plagued by armed rebellions and military coups. Then years later when both my parents were ill with terminal cancer, I adopted a “prepare for death” mindset that would supposedly make the pain more bearable. My fiancé had suddenly died just before they did, and I wanted to insulate myself from the shock and disorientation that had nearly destroyed my mind.
I believe this translated to years of having a similar “prepare for disaster” mindset that led to me to constantly think of the worst case scenario. This can trap one in feelings of helplessness and foreboding. Even after my loved ones were long gone, the grief filled nightmares remained. With time, these evolved to anxiety dreams about tyrannical bosses, tragic accidents, sadistic house helps and crippling poverty. Many are the times I would wake up with a feeling of dread about what the day would bring. A child’s fever would have me mentally pick out a burial outfit, the best portrait to display at the funeral, and who would read my speech. A setback in business would have me rush to shut it down. Stress and conflict at work had me constantly submitting resignation letters.
Anxiety affected my relationships too. Yes, my mind would tell me, I should not be in this relationship but since I was denied the chance to marry my best friend and true love, I am doomed to either settle for what I can get or face the rest of my days alone. When one friend let me down, I put up high walls to guard my heart. Any lulls in communication meant I was being rejected. This is deeply personal, and possibly embarrassing stuff. But I think giants need to be faced. Like Goliath, they roar and dominate and seem undefeatable.
I identified this giant after many months of prayer, absorbing the Word and relentlessly asking God to show me what was wrong. I had reached a point where this giant had crippled my ability to work, to parent, to learn and worst of all, it had taken me to the doctor’s office with a potentially chronic illness. It is hard to describe the relief I felt when I finally saw it, ugly and menacing and threatening to steal my peace for the rest of my days. There it was, aiming at me its huge spear of insomnia, nightmares, and deep dark fear. Stealing my creativity and threatening to quash my Lord’s promise of an abundant life. It mocked me with reminders of my failures and laughed loudly at my dreams. “Who do you think you are?!” it thundered.
Well, now, do you hear that sound? That’s me – sharpening my sword, because this is the year that I get to cut off a giant’s head.
Psalm 40: 1-3 New International Version (NIV)
For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.
1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.
Isaiah 54:14 New International Version (NIV)
14 In righteousness you will be established:
Tyranny will be far from you;
you will have nothing to fear.
Terror will be far removed;
it will not come near you.