Working Around Structural Flaws
Nearly every morning, I write down on a piece of paper a series of declarations. One is, “Be anxious for nothing.” Anxiety runs in my mom’s side of the family. My great-grandmother suffered from it. I knew my grandmother well, and she was usually an optimistic and affirming person, but would have bouts of anxiety, pacing the floor and wringing her hands. My mom’s level of anxiety changed her life and contributed to other series medical problems. Those around her had to adjust their world to her debilitating struggles over this malady. I thought I had escaped it, but as I get older, I experience seasons of irrational anxiety.
So I write down that affirmation from Paul in Philippians. Yet, it cannot be a command, but an invitation, for I have found that many people struggle with what I call structural flaws, flaws at the foundation of their lives rising out of unknown or only partially known sources, and apparently resistant to full eradication.
I see this in the penchant of the family lineage of Abraham, for Genesis tells us that Abraham lied twice about his wife Sarah being his sister. Isaac repeated the same mistake about his wife Rebekah, to Abimelech’s frustration. Jacob deceived his father to illicitly receive his blind father’s blessing, and Jacob’s sons lied to him, suggesting that Joseph had died from an attack of a wild beast. Lying was a consistent problem in the family!
Peter, despite being in the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples and the first primary leader, showed paralyzing fear in the events surrounding the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. And even after Pentecost and the filling with the Holy Spirit, having been criticized for fraternizing with the Gentile believers, he withdrew, to the consternation of Paul. Fear seemed to plague him.
So, what do we do?
The Work Around
I have driven a lot, but one evening, after a long trip, I felt a pain in my back by my shoulder blade. I ignored it and it got worse, and finally, nearly unbearable. So, I took a trip to the doctor and then the physical therapist. The outcome was a change in the way I do things. I normally would drive with my right arm across my body on the steering wheel. All that has changed. I drive for shorter time frames, with my left hand at the bottom of the steering wheel. I no longer reach over with my right arm and pick up my briefcase from the passenger’s seat. And I do a series of four exercises nearly every day to benefit my shoulder nerves.
All this allows me to keep my world large. I work around it. But I am constantly aware that if I get careless, I feel that nerve twinge returning. It is weak now and will always be a threat.
So it is, I think, with a structural flaw. I must recognize it, name it, and take evasive action to keep it at bay. It may never fully leave, but it can be neutralized. If I don’t, it takes authority and drives me into behaviors that reduce my world and my access. My mom was a great mother, but in this area, she spiritualized her response and was constantly sabotaged with an unfortunate trickle-down impact on others. She allowed it to reduce her world.
Working around structural flaws is not a final answer, I don’t suppose, but it is a perspective that has been productive for me.
So I remind myself daily that it is possible not to be overrun by anxiety, but only if I take intentional action to rob it of its’ power in my life. Just like my exercises, my daily declaration is one small piece of emotional exercising that protects me and my purposes from sabotage.