Anxiety: A Red, Yellow or Green Light?

For many years, when we traveled beyond the boundaries of the familiar roads that my husband and I normally take, he did most of the driving. That’s not because I was incapable of navigating more crowded highways; it was because John enjoyed driving, and I enjoyed relaxing or reading books. The problem was: I gradually lost confidence in my driving ability. I didn’t realize this had happened until he needed me to make an eight-hour trip by myself.

My immediate thoughts were “I can’t handle it! I’ll have an accident!” I felt almost panic-level anxiety. Were those feelings a red light, signaling me to stop? In some instances, intense anxiety could be warning me of danger, and it would not be wise to proceed. Often the opposite is true. Anxiety is a green light, telling me to go ahead; it’s safe to proceed. I need to do what Susan Jeffers says to do in the title of her book—Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway.

I like the title of this book because it includes both “feeling’ and “doing” as parts of anxiety. That fits in with my definition of emotion (chapter three in Emotional Freedom)—it’s a “tree” with roots (core beliefs), limbs and branches (conscious thoughts), leaves (feelings) and fruit (attitudes and behavior). If we focus on the feeling-part of anxiety, it can overwhelm us, and we will automatically act as if it’s a red light and stop forward movement. When we continue to allow feelings of intense anxiety to determine our direction in life, these are the consequences. We become more and more anxious. We withdraw from people and avoid doing things. We stay home. Our world becomes smaller and smaller. And we feel increasingly incompetent and unable to handle anything unfamiliar in life.

Instead of focusing on the feeling-part of anxiety, it’s helpful to turn our attention to the thinking-part of anxiety. We can ask God to show us if what our anxiety is about and whether it’s based on truth or lies.  By asking appropriate questions and considering all the possible actions (behaviors) we might take, we can determine whether our anxiety is a red light, warning us of actual danger; a yellow light, telling us we need to slow down and prepare ourselves for success; or a green light, telling us it’s wise to ignore our anxious feelings and keep moving ahead.

I decided my driving-related anxiety was a yellow light, signaling me to slow down—not a red light, signaling me to stop.  I looked at my destination and determined the route that would be easiest for me to drive. I scheduled the time that I would be driving through large cities so that I could avoid rush hour traffic. I asked friends to pray for me. After that, I decided that anxiety was a green light. I made the trip without my husband. Did I feel totally at peace while driving? No, I did not. A couple of times, I got lost. My heart pounded. I felt like crying. I stopped, prayed, felt calmer, and got back on the road. When I finally reached my destination, I felt very tired, very thankful, very happy, and much more confident in my ability to drive.

Questions to consider:

  • In what situations do you think of anxiety as a red light? A yellow light? A green light?
  • If it’s a red light, what good things is it keeping you from doing?
  • How could you prepare yourself to safely “feel the fear and do it anyway”?

Words to meditate on:

When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, your [God’s]consolations delight my soul.” (Psalm 94:19 NASB)

What God’s Forgiveness Includes

In my busyness the last few months, I’ve not taken time to put papers, receipts, books, cards, and other miscellaneous items in their designated places. This morning, I set out to change that. As I was sorting through the items piled next to my computer, I soon realized that it would take me more than one day (likely, many days) to put my office in order; this realization made me feel depressed. Wondering why, I prayed for insight and soon became aware of this subconscious belief:  Before I die, I must correct all of my past errors and see to it that my house is in perfect order. In other words: to please God, along with needing  to make up for yesterday’s mistakes and failures and not repeat any of them, I must, also, attain and maintain a picture-perfect house.

Finally, the impossibility of perfection became clear to me, and the inclusiveness of God’s forgiveness—which I’ve embraced for years—became more solidly rooted in my heart.  God knows that perfection–in any form–is beyond our capability. He knows about our failures of yesterday; he knows about the ways in which we will fall short today, and he knows what our errors of tomorrow will look like. His forgiveness includes yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

That is called “grace.”What are the implications of this grace? We can stop feeling anxious about our performance in life. We can take a break and relax. Even though, we have a tendency to wander during the day, we don’t have to get stressed about it. God’s forgiveness includes a provision for that in the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the promised “Helper” that Jesus told his disciples he would send to all of us who rely on and accept his sacrificial death as payment for our failures and shortcomings.(John 14:15-17 ESV)

I compare the Holy Spirit to an internal GPS. In order to determine my destination (set my goals) for the day, I prayerfully read a portion of Scripture; then, I ask the Holy Spirit to direct me in my choices. I know that sometimes I will make a wrong or unwise choice. But I try not to worry about it; my always accurate GPS will correct me whenever my ears or my eyes or my heart  distract me.  I’m learning to focus more on listening to him, than on reaching my desired goals for the day; consequently, even if I haven’t completed everything I set out to do, I can sleep peacefully.

Inspired—not driven—
That’s how I like “livin’”;
My cup overflows; I’m not drained.

When I linger in bed
‘Til the thoughts in my head
Are aligned with the Spirit’s voice,

I feel peace; I have strength;
I’m not hindered by angst.
I can handle the load called “Today.”

Who are the Balcony People in Your Life?

Next week, I will be speaking to a group of women on the topic of mentoring. In today’s post, I’m sharing parts of that talk. As you read it, I hope you will remember the people who’ve affirmed you—your mother or father, a teacher, a coach, a co-worker, a friend?—and let them know how grateful you are.

What do people, today, need more than anything else? An affirming, relational connection. How can we meet that need? By becoming a “balcony person.” I’m borrowing the term “a balcony person” from Joyce Landorf Heatherly, the writer of Balcony People;  however, the definition and description that I’m sharing is primarily my own.

What is a balcony person?

In short: a balcony person is someone who values us, believes in us, and encourages us to come to a higher place; it might be a higher place physically, emotionally, spiritually, economically, relationally, or mentally.

In the New Testament book of Hebrews, the writer tells us that a cloud of witnesses is viewing us from the “balcony” of heaven. These are the people whose words and lives have inspired us; we may or may not know them personally, but memories of them remain in our minds and hearts. We still feel encouraged and supported by them. In addition to great grandparents, grandparents, and parents, I have three friends in that “balcony”—the three women who mentored me as I wrote my recent book.

A balcony person supports us, listens without judgment, encourages us when we become downhearted, gives us wise counsel when we desire it, and offers a hand to raise us up when we’ve fallen. A balcony person is an affirmer.

In her book, Joyce says that there are two types of people—evaluators and affirmers. Evaluators judge us and put us down, attempt to fix us, and leave us feeling defeated and inferior. Affirmers value us and raise us up. When we are with an evaluator, we feel that we being judged; consequently, we become anxious and perform worse than we normally do.

Evaluators are very serious. Often, they are perfectionists; therefore, they cannot put up with our dysfunction—or theirs. Affirmers can laugh with us at our dysfunction. They do not take life so seriously. They are not perfectionists. Evaluators use the word “should”.  I should have…you should have… This produces guilt. Affirmers us the word “could. “ This inspires hope.

Katya Greer, a fantastic artist and awesome high school teacher, was an affirmer. (Two days after she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, tragically—she died.) In talking about how Katya mentored her, one student said, that Mrs. Greer always preceded an evaluation with an affirmation. For example, she might say, “That picture is amazing! (Pause) It could be even better if . . .”

Like Katya, a balcony person sees us as we are now; yet, beyond that, she recognizes the more that we could be and calls us to become all that we are created to become.  When a balcony woman values just because we exist, instead of how we perform, she inspires us to improve our performance.

A balcony person offers unconditional acceptance. Neither extra pounds, gray-hair, disability, age, position, unmatched clothing, an out-of-date hair style, nor, even, lack of cleanliness turn her off. She sees beyond these exterior things. She tries to see with the eyes of God.

The world sees only outward beauty.
God sees quality beneath.

The world rejects the ones who stumble.
God restores his fallen sheep.

The world discards the old and feeble.
God upholds those small and meek.

The world’s applause is for a moment.
God’s honor is for eternity.