Fear and Anxiety

I spent yesterday afternoon and evening volunteering at Atlanta Track Club‘s America’s Marathon Weekend Experience, greeting some of the 15,000 athletes who will be running and walking the streets of Atlanta this weekend and handing out T-shirts. When I signed up for this particular shift, I didn’t take note of the media stage schedule for that day. I didn’t know who would be on the stage – or what I would hear from the stage.

During our dinner break, as I was munching on the pizza provided for us, I overheard the press conference already in progress hosted by Jay Holder. When Jay welcomed to the stage some of the top women and men contenders for the Olympic Team Trials – Marathon, I quickly ditched the rest of my pizza. I could eat later; I could only hear from these amazing athletes now.

The top five women contenders and top five men contenders, based on their qualifying times, were invited to a press conference, where they would be asked questions by high school journalists. Whoever thought of the idea of having high school students interview these Olympic hopefuls was genius. Their questions were equally as insightful as the answers – and what an amazing gift for these high school students, filled with dreams and aspirations, to hear from those who are toeing the line tomorrow to pursue their own dreams and aspirations.

There are so many great quotes from the press conference. Des Linden’s mantra “Keep showing up,” as quoted by her teammate Jake Riley. When asked how he deals with pressure, in speaking as a father of a 13-year-old and 10-year-old to a panel of teenagers, Bernard Lagat said, “Put in the work. Just keep working and doing your work.” (Did I mention what a gift these interviews were to high school students – and to the rest of us?)

The statement that has stuck with me most came from Jared Ward, who placed 6th in the 2016 Olympic Marathon. When asked, “Do you get nervous, and, if so, how do you control those nerves?” Ward answered, “The key to managing anxiety is not to get too far ahead of yourself in what you’re thinking about.” He then quoted Brigham Young University sports psychologist Craig Manning: “Fear and anxiety live in the future. Those emotions don’t exist in the present.” Ward responded, “When I start feeling fear and anxiety, I think to myself, ‘I’ve got to get my mind back to the present and focus on what I’m doing right now that will help the future, instead of focusing on what might or might not happen in the future.'”

I’ve been there – not just on race day, but in the everyday. I can get too far ahead of myself in thinking about things. Everything. Our family. Our vocations. Our finances. Healthcare. The stock market. The upcoming election. The list goes on. I can get so focused on the future that I lose sight of the present. When I do, I start feeling fear and anxiety.

When I start feeling fear and anxiety, am I able to recognize those are emotions of the future, not of the present? When I get too far ahead of myself, what can I do to get back to the present? I can ask: What am I doing right now that will help the future?

I’ve recently begun reading Your Future Self Will Thank You by Drew Dyck. In his insightful writing about habits, Dyck states, “Ultimately, it’s the habits that are built into our lives that shape (for better or for worse) who we end up becoming. Habits help us translate what we believe into how we behave.” He goes on to quote C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity: “Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.”

What we do today impacts what will happen a few months from now. It sounds like a cry to think about the future when really it’s a call to think about today. What am I doing right now that will help the future? What’s a small act I can do today that might lead to victory a few months from now? Will I give way to a trivial indulgence in lust or anger – or will I make way for something better?

I don’t claim to know the answers to these questions, but here are a few thoughts – or rather, more questions – that come to mind for me: How do my everyday habits today affect what will happen tomorrow? Especially those habits I can choose – or neglect – when life gets busy or hard. Those habits I do – or don’t do – when no one’s watching. What I eat or drink. What I read or watch. How I exercise – or not. How I rest – or not. How I treat my neighbor – or mistreat my neighbor. In this political season, when we’re all focused on what might happen a few months from now (and rightly so!), how do my choices today – what I say, what I do, the news sources I read or to which I listen, what I post on social media, for whom I do or do not advocate – how do they shape who I am becoming? More importantly, how do these habits shape who God wants me to become?

As I wrestle with these questions, it strikes me as no coincidence that today’s “Daily Practice” in the Lenten devotional Pauses for Lent: 40 Words for 40 Days is: “Make two lists today: ‘What brings me life?’ and ‘What takes life from me?’ Add to the lists throughout the day. At the end of the day, reflect on these two columns and ask God for guidance.”

So I’m making my lists, asking myself questions, and asking God for guidance.

“Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him.” – Deuteronomy 30:19-20.

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