A couple of weeks ago I went to bed early. I awoke at 11pm or so to the sound of Penn rummaging around our bedroom, for a flashlight. "How can you sleep through that?!" he asked in a stage whisper. I listened. There was a very loud helicopter hovering over our home. It had apparently been doing so for several minutes. It's search light was sweeping the steep wooded cliff that runs along the other side of our backyard fence, and those of our neighbors.
I jumped up, made sure Nicholas was still asleep in his bed and checked all the doors and windows. Penn looked out every window with a flashlight to make sure no one was around our house. He and I had a brief argument about whether or not all the lights in the house should be on or off. I was of the mind, ON. If there was someone out there I wanted him to know we were awake and at the ready! Penn felt very strongly that they should be OFF, so that we could see out but no one could see in. I realized he was right so we hunkered down at our respective bedroom windows and peeked through the curtains for a few minutes.
The search continued. The helicopter searchlight hovered for a minute on this neighbor's patio, a minute on that neighbor's tree, a minute on our own bushes. I tried to stay calm and not let my mind run away with me. "But really, what could it be?" I wondered. My first thought was escaped convict. Except, to my knowledge, we don't live near a prison. Missing person maybe? Dear God, it could be a body. I tried to think of something positive that could result in a helicopter search, but my mind drew a blank. So I waited and prayed.
Finally I couldn't take it. This thing had been hovering around our house for almost forty-five minutes by now! I turned on the TV and looked for a breaking story. Nothing. I opened my laptop and found a report on one of the local news channel's websites. There had just been a pitbull attack at our closest Target. One of the dogs had been shot by officers, the other was on the loose. It seemed kind of far away (at least five miles), but I guessed that a dog could run pretty far, pretty fast, if extremely motivated. I wasn't thrilled about the idea of a pitbull on a rampage in our neighborhood, but I immediately felt hugely relieved. There was no way it could get in our home. I got the stray cat inside and we promptly went to bed.
The helicopter must have been waiting on us, because almost the moment we said goodnight its noise started to fade and it was soon gone. I still had some residual butterflies in my stomach, so I prayed and fell asleep almost immediately.
Imagine my surprise when, yesterday, my husband handed me the neighborhood newsletter. I scanned the thing, wondering what in the world could have attracted my husband's attention. The upcoming Easter egg hunt, maybe? A change to the recycling pickup schedule, perhaps? At the bottom of the second page was a small blurb about the "excitement" in our neighborhood a couple of weeks prior. It turns out it was an armed robber on the loose. In our neighborhood! In our yards! I have no idea what this person robbed, but he'd led police on a chase right down our street. We live on cliffside lane that is full of sharp curves, steep hills, and lots of dead ends. The suspect had accidentally gotten lost in our 'hood and stuck on street that didn't go through. He'd abandoned his car on a neighbor's lawn and hoofed it. Right through our super quiet, little-old-lady-filled neighborhood.
I have no idea what to think of this. I'm not really worried, since it happened some time ago and I doubt he has any reason to come back. For heaven's sake, we live three doors down from a police officer. No one knows whether the robber was apprehended. I'd like to think so. But mostly I am exceedingly and overwhelmingly grateful that I didn't know what was really happening at the time it was happening. Obviously, it would have been a sleepless night. In fact, I'm fairly certain I would have lost my mind. I had already suggested to Penn that we all get in the car and drive to a hotel (before I found out about the pitbull incident). Penn shot that down right away. Luckily. Can you imagine if we'd opened our garage door and made ourselves vulnerable to someone - someone with a gun - in desperate need of a getaway vehicle!?
It may not seem like it from the details of this post, but God has really healed me from so much of the anxiety and fear I used to live with. Since childhood, I've spent the bulk of my nights lying awake, imaging worst case scenarios. What I would do in a fire. How I would react if there was an earthquake. Or nuclear-terrorist attack. My course of action if gunmen broke into the house. Or an axe murderer. Or a baby thief. What if something happened to my mother. Or Penn. Or me. Who would take care of Nicholas if Penn and I, and my parents all died? I would get so wrapped up in my imaginings that I often found myself trembling with fear or my eyes full of tears.
Talk about borrowing trouble! Why not wait until one of those things actually happened to feel the terror or grief of it?
There are so many Bible verses that speak to us about what to do with our anxieties and fears, as well as how to battle the evil of the world. The kind of evil that we see on the evening news or even willingly invite into our minds when we chose to watch certain television shows or movies. This is why I've had to swear off crime dramas and can't watch anything, fiction or non-fiction, about crashes of any kind. And I haven't watched anything remotely scary for years. Seriously, we rented Nancy Drew a couple of days ago and I was scared! My husband had to laugh at me with my hands over my eyes, peeking through my fingers. But it was suspenseful!
I've spent most of my life going to church every Sunday. And Sunday School, youth groups, the choir. But I never really got serious about Bible study or having a regular "quiet time" until the past couple of years. And It's really creating profound changes in a whole bunch of areas of my life, including fear and anxiety. I don't live under the cloud of fear or in the depression fog that consumed me for most of my adult life. I still have those same flashes of thought. My trigger thoughts. At night they tend to be either "What's that noise?" or worst of all "What if..." But I don't indulge them anymore.
It's kind of like when I quit chewing my nails many years ago. It wasn't that I quit cold turkey. I would have had to cover all my nails in band-aids to do that, because it was such an unconscious habit. Instead, the moment I caught myself chewing my nails I'd just stop, immediately. Sometimes I'd chew a whole nail off before I even noticed what I was doing. But pretty soon I noticed more quickly. And pretty soon I had stopped chewing my nails. Every once in a while I would briefly reverting back, and I would just stop in mid-chew, because it felt unnatural and because I had developed the habit to stop myself and choose another course.
I find that I have to do the same thing to keep my thoughts under control. I don't know how to go cold turkey from dark thoughts, because I don't have control of every thought that crosses my mind, before I think it. But every time I catch myself thinking the thoughts that I know I shouldn't, I stop. Sometimes I've gotten far along enough in my line of thinking that I'm already frightened or depressed. But more and more I notice almost right away that I just had a destructive thought.
Then I can do one of the many things the Bible instructs when I feel fear, anxiety, melancholy, etc. Rather than focusing on negative thoughts I can think about "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right..." (Philippians 4:8). I can choose to turn away from my anxiety and "in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving" present my concerns to God. (Philippians 4:6) Why worry about something I can't handle when I can give those concerns to God and enjoy a good night's sleep? I can refuse to let the evil of the world overwhelm me and can instead "overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:21) I don't have the power to change the terrible things that are a part of each evening's news report. But I do have power. The power to pray. The power of good deeds to share the love of Christ with those who suffer. And the power to combat all the bad and dark things of this world by doing my best to glorify and share the one true source of goodness and light, Jesus Christ.
I can personally testify that God's instruction can lead to less anxiety and more sleep. And more importantly it has a radical impact on our souls and our needy world. And best of all, when we chose to believe and follow God's Word, we tell him that we have put our trust in him and in his ways, not our silly broken cistern way of life.
Is it just me, or is the Bible the best "self-help" book in all of creation? It works!