Friday, August 6, 2010

Anxiety – The default emotion

Last week, I moved into a basement suite with a good friend of mine. Last night, I realized that the cheque I had written for the first month’s payment would bounce. Needless to say, last night’s sleep was restless and almost non-existent. Though it seems to be common place for today’s North American to live in debt, this was a new feeling for me and certainly not a good one.

While I tossed and turned, trying to find the proper position for my body and mind to relax again so I could sleep, I realized this was hopeless. I remembered that there was a reason why I had pulled only one all-nighter as a university student. So that Helplessness would not knock on the door of my mind. But this evening, he had found the door and was pounding. I was anxious.

Matthew 18 is the parable of the Unforgiving Debtor. It tells the story of two workers; Fred, who owed $1,000,000 and Bart who owed $10. After Fred realized he would not be able to pay his debt when it was due, he begged for patience from his boss. His boss didn’t just have patience with Fred, but cancelled the debt entirely. Later that day, as he was walking along, whistling to himself, overjoyed at the great news he had just received, Fred bumped into his colleague Bart, who didn’t owe anything to their boss, but owed him $10.

“So when am I going to receive a $10 bill from you?” Fred was cheerful bur direct. “I need it ASAP. In fact, because it was due last week, you now owe me $10.10.”

Bart, surprised at his friend’s jagged comment responded “Come on man, it’s ten bucks, you have hundreds, why are you so concerned about this? I’ll get it to you one way or another, just hold your horses!”

“That’s not an option. My horses are thirsty. You owe me, pay me now! What allowance money do you give your kids?”

“A dollar a week,” Bart replied.

“Not any more. At least not for the next few months. And what about that Big Mac meal back there?”

“Gee Fred, slow down; I’ll have the money by next week! But I need to eat to pay you.”

“That’s Sir Fred to you. I’ll be by your shack tomorrow to collect my first payment.”

While this conversation, which had been rising in volume, continued, the colleagues had stopped walking and a few passers-by were looking on.

One of them commented, “Hey, I know these guys. They work in the cubicles opposite me. They are usually pretty cool people. What’s up with this?” He went immediately to their boss and told the whole story. The boss was none too pleased and had Fred brought in for questioning.

“What’s this I hear about you and Bart? Bart owes you what, pennies, and you owe me what, thousands . . .”

“But I thought it had been forgiven and forgotten!” Fred stammered.

“Not anymore. If what Bart owes you matters to you, than what you owe me matters to me. Your forgiveness has been withdrawn!”

The day before my sleepless night, dad had told me that anxiety was something he experienced regularly, but I rarely had it. Instead of being worried or concerned, he says my character is more like mom’s, who is relaxed almost all the time. But as much as I hope that it would leave for good, anxiety would raise its ugly head periodically because of stupid mistakes like my bounced cheque.

If we want anxiety to flee so it is no longer our default emotion, we must make an active decision to replace it with something else. There are many options; happiness, being encouraging or helpful are just a few. Changing your habits is hard, and changing your emotions is just as difficult.

When does anxiety get the better of you? What would it look like if you practiced another emotion rather than your default emotion? Try it for a few days, and maybe you might want to change your default emotion for good.

"Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

Matthew 6:34