A reflection by Laura Whitman
It’s that time again. If you stay still you can almost feel it. Change. It’s constantly happening, but seems more prevalent this time of year: vacations end; a final burst of heat before the cool of fall; kids return to school. Even the General Offices feel this shift as summer busyness subsides, people return to their offices after summer travel, goodbyes are shared with Brethren Volunteer Service volunteers, and new volunteers arrive. Change.
With the uncertainty of change and transitions, there are three uninvited hitchhikers that tag along: anxiousness, worry, and fear. Swirling thoughts can keep us up at night: How will we get through this? What if something goes terribly wrong? These thoughts can become debilitating fears.
Deuteronomy 31 reveals a time of change and unknown. Moses was retiring from leadership and appointed Joshua to lead the Israelites to the promised land. I’m sure both Joshua and the Israelites felt anxious in this transition. In verse 6, Moses gives them a pep talk: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified… for the LORD your God goes with you”(NIV).
Be strong and courageous. I don’t know about you, but when I get lost in worry and anxiousness, I don’t feel strong and courageous—I feel like putting on sweatpants, hiding from my problems, and seeking temporary comfort from a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. In these moments, I also need a pep talk. Recently my favorite author, Elizabeth Gilbert, shared a story that spoke directly into my anxious soul.
Elizabeth wrote about a recent vacation to Miami Beach, Fla., where she was startled by a cell phone notification about a tornado warning in her vicinity. She began to panic and quickly sought shelter in a dressing room at a store. After another notification said the storm had passed, she realized that the warning was not for Miami, but rather for her hometown over 1,000 miles away. She wrote: “99.9% of the time I panic over NOTHING — allowing myself to become saturated with anxiety over imaginary tornadoes.… When the actual tornadoes of our life do come, my experience is this: we tend to be able to handle them. Oftentimes we handle real disasters better than we handle the FEAR of possible disasters.”
How many times are we like Elizabeth? Letting the fear of the unknown—tornadoes we invent during times of change—steer us off track until we find ourselves cowering in a dressing room unsure of what led us there. Instead of letting worries distract us, we can remain calm because God is with us through storms, imagined or real, and helps us face transitions and changes courageously.
Laura Whitman serves through Brethren Volunteer Service as a volunteer in Congregational Life Ministries. Learn more about the life-changing ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org, or support them today at www.brethren.org/give