A Vaccine for Anxiety

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I read an article in The New York Times that said although we – today, in this generation – are more wealthy, are more healthy, have a bigger sense of liberty and purpose than our parents and grandparents did in their generation, we are 20% more anxious and depressed.

People today are 20% more anxious and depressed than the previous generation. 

Usually when anything increases 10% in any generation, it’s an epidemic. We are living in a double epidemic of depression and anxiety right now. 

This is The New York Times reporting this. They don’t lean to the right politically. They’re not really any friend of the church. They’re just doing their journalistic duty reporting that even though we are healthier than ever before and have all the advancements of the medical world available to us, and even though we are wealthier and have more opportunity and more means to make more money and even though we have a greater sense of liberty, meaning we can go anywhere, travel anywhere, set personal goals and bucket lists, with all of that – 

People today are 20% more anxious and depressed than the previous generation. 

I’ve got a friend who is a pastor in the church. 8 years ago he was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. As time went on after his diagnosis, he became fatigued toward the people in his church coming up to him Sunday after Sunday saying that the cure to his anxiety was that he just needed to trust Jesus a bit more. 

He told me one day over coffee that he wanted to lovingly punch the people who kept saying that all he needed to stop any anxiety attacks was to pray more. 

If you don’t know anything about having an anxiety disorder than you don’t know. 

I read about a man who experienced an anxiety attack for the first time and when it hit him, he thought he was having heart attack because his blood pressure was at the level of a stroke. 

The doctor told him to go home and rest, and for the next 3 nights he had an anxiety attack and thought he was dying. He was flown from Kansas City to Los Angeles for better care and for the next 6 months, every single night, he thought he was dying due to experiencing this anxious paralysis. 

$50,000 later with all the medical tests available, he was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder. 

And this guy is a Christian leader, an elder in a church. He gets told all the time by people at his church to suck it up, pray it out, trust Jesus and he wants to slug people in their well-meaning faces. 

I know a woman in the church who struggles with an anxiety disorder and I reached out to her via Facebook-messenging last week asking her about her anxiety disorder and she wrote back – 

“You can do everything right in your marriage and it can still fall apart. You can do your best in raising your kids in a loving way – or even in the way the Bible wants you to – and there’s still no guarantee that when they are older they still love Jesus – they could walk away from God. You can do everything right at work and still not succeed in the way you expect .Or still not get promoted. Or still not find purpose. Or even lose your job. You can do everything right as a friend and still get back-stabbed by them.”

And then she wrote this – 

“This world is volatile and if you haven’t admitted that, it’s time to admit it.” 

The New York Times article referenced earlier goes on to say that the Western world, specifically America, is disintegrating from other inside out. That, no matter how much you convince yourself on the outside of things that everything is okay, your soul inside knows something is off. No matter how many trips you take or things you buy or nights out with friends or shows you binge to ignore it – something is off inside.

I’ll put it like this: 

In all of life, in every aspect, there will be a backdrop of disappointment and dissatisfaction. 

[insert sarcasm] Thanks for choosing to read my blog today. I hope you are fully encouraged. Enjoy the rest of your week.

…………………………..

No matter how much wealth, how much health, how much liberty you have to succeed or how great you look or how awesome your family is, depression and anxiety will set in if you think any of those things can really save you. 

Have you heard the latest report on what the death rate is right now? I didn’t have to Google the answer. The death rate is 1 per person.

You are going to die.
I am going to die.
Every day is a gift from God.

And if I attach myself to something that is also disintegrating, like my marriage, my kids, my job, my money, my health,  then my soul knows that and I will disintegrate as well. 

C.S. Lewis put it this way, 

“Most people, if they really learned how to look into their own hearts would know that they want something that this world can never give them. These longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning will ever satisfy. 

There is always something that we have grasped at that first moment of longing that just fades away with reality. The thing we thought we were going to get in the new experience always evades us.” [C.S. Lewis]

Part of the reason people come to Jesus and give their life to Him is they hope He will give them the idols they worship. They hope Jesus will give them a spouse, give them a child, give them their break through, give them their health back, give them a house like everyone else. 

People pray to Jesus all the time saying He’s their Savior but what they’re praying for is really their savior. 

Anxiety is ultimately the fear of losing someone or something you think you can’t live without. 

Yes, if it happens, one day, it’ll hurt to lose a job, lose a dream, lose a loved one, lose your own health. But the only thing you can’t truly live without is Jesus.

When our day doesn’t go how we thought, or our year doesn’t go as hoped, or our life turns out in a worse way than we dreamed (when a flu virus becomes a global pandemic) we forget there’s a sovereign God.

And I’m not a doctor or a scientist but if you feel like you don’t have control of your life you probably don’t have control of your life. 

The only thing that lasts is God. Everything else fades away. 

Your soul knows when you attach yourself to something other than Jesus and that’s why we get more miserable and more unsatisfied. 

We are only as durable as what we have placed our trust in. 

Did you know that beautiful people (to the world, I think all people are beautiful) but beautiful people to culture are more prone to commit suicide because as they get older, they lose their looks and figure and since they’ve attached their identity to their physical appearance, once that is gone, what do they have to live for in their mind? 

The Bible communicates that your life and mine is all about us having an intimate relationship with God and once you say you will believe in Him and follow Him, He will not only forgive you and bring you in, He will spend the rest of your life destroying your lesser loves. 

He will frustrate the things in your life you love more than Him – the things you think you can’t live without. If God doesn’t destroy what is destructible, you will place your identity and faith in it and it will destroy you from the inside out. 

That’s why I beg every Sunday when I preach at the loving church I am a part of for those listening to place Jesus at the center of who they are. They need love Him more than self, more than health, more than money, more than marriage, more than children, more than dreams, because if they don’t, those areas are going to be frustrated until Jesus is their passion and you are going to be anxious. 

As long as you think life is all about you and how fake great you are, anxiety and depression will grow in you. 

If you want the good and satisfying life Jesus came to earth to die and rise for you to have, you have got to let go of whatever or whoever you’ve attached yourself to and hang onto Him. 

Let go and let God.

It’s when we say, God, this life is not about me. It’s about You. I’m taking each day as a gift from You, no matter what happens, You are large and in charge and I am Your child, Your servant, I will trust in You. 

How many Christians are praying a prayer like that verses how many are over-reacting with anxiety at what is taking place in their lives or in the media?

If you want to let go of anxiety, you have to attach yourself to something eternal. 

If you attach yourself to someone or something other than Jesus, that something or someone is fading away and you will fade away with it, but if you attach yourself to Jesus, the One who was, is and will always be, you will live and your anxiety will fade away. 

But it’s a daily decision and I was hoping to give you that daily reminder today. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

For the Procrastinator In Your Life

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Would you like to take a quiz to see if you’re a procrastinator or not (if you thought, Sure!, you’re not. If you thought, Can we do it later? You are one.)?  

Do you get resentful when reminded of tasks left undone?

Do you sometimes delay a task so long you become embarrassed to actually do it?

Do you distract yourself spending time on non-essentials while letting important things sit on the shelf?

Do you have a difficult time determining what to do first?

Do you agree to do a task and then regret agreeing to it?

Have you ever put off signing your kids up for something and then they missed out?

Do you ever think, “If I wait long enough, the task will not need to be done by me”?

Do you find yourself making excuses for work left unfinished?

If your answers were yes to some of those questions, I don’t have to tell you about the stress level that comes with putting things off. It rises your blood pressure and erodes your level of joy. 

There is a level of enjoyment in getting things done right and timely, so putting things off takes joy away. 

Putting things off also gives you a chronic sense of guilt. It eats away at one’s self esteem and it causes friction in relationships. 

Co-lead singer of the Beatles John Lennon, in one of his more lucid statements, said, Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans.

Here are five steps I’ve taken to suffocate the procrastination out of my life. 

(1) Stop making excuses.

Making excuses easily leads to lying. We exaggerate or make up a story on why we didn’t get it done, why we were late to the meeting, why we couldn’t respond to the email, and so on. 

Ben Franklin once said, People who are good at making excuses aren’t good at anything else. 

People who keep putting things off that need to be done are great at rationalizing. They rationalize (they ration, lies) This probably flies around the work place more than anywhere else. 

Someone comes to work late again and they say, Traffic was bad. Alarm didn’t go off. Sitter was late. Starbucks was slow. I thought it was Saturday. Pick your excuse, whether that’s the real reason or not.

Teachers hear it. Parents hear it. Bosses hear it. Customers hear it. 

Why wasn’t the work done on time? Well, I’ve got an excuse for that. 

If you want to stop procrastinating and start living, you’ve got to stop making excuses. 

Whenever you feel defensive about something, or you feel any type of rationalization rising up in you to protect your pride, stop, call it what it is and say, You know what, here’s the truth. And I’m sorry. And I’m thankful you’re holding me to a higher standard. 

It’s okay to say, I was unorganized. I chose to do something else instead. I was lazy. I forgot. I chose Netflix instead. It’s okay to admit that when it’s the case because as Christians we serve God, not people.

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. (Colossians 3:23)

(2) Face your fears.

Have you ever asked yourself the question, What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?

My wife Whitney put this truth on our bathroom mirror months ago in her beautiful hand-writing,

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)

From the day we are born God instills in us with two automatic fear responses: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. As we grow up we learn healthy fears of fires and strangers and sharks and Oakland Raiders fans.

But, God has not given us a spirit of fear. We are not meant to be frozen by fear. 

Procrastination reveals two kinds of fear in us.

The fear of failing.

The fear of not measuring up or feeling rejected or not doing a good enough job. It keeps a person stuck. 

And strangely, there’s,

The fear of succeeding.

If I do this well, they might ask me to do it again, and then I’ll have to maintain this level of excellence, and they’ll ask me to do more and more.

It’s easier to stay in that mode of, Someday I hope to…. Someday I will..…

It’s more difficult to bravely take action. 

(3) Establish a plan.

Get a game plan. Map out initial steps to take. Start with the end goal in mind and work backwards. Invite trusted people in to help. 

I’ve got steps all over my life. I’ve got daily tasks that I make at night of things I need to do the next day and I check them off as they’re completed. I’ve got lists for yearly goals and I’ve got steps under those to get to those goals. 

YOU CAN get on a budget and put that plan together to keep it. 

YOU CAN finally get all of those family pictures printed and organized. 

YOU CAN get the junk out of your home. Go through all the clothes and the toys and the things unused and give it all away. Get that clutter out. Simplify so you can more easily focus on the goals you have. 

YOU CAN start leaving home 30 minutes earlier to get to work to get to school to get to the airport or get to church – so you’re there on time and if early, you can pray over your work, your school, your travels, your church.

YOU CAN sit down and think about what needs to be delegated in your life to others who are gifted in areas you’re not. 

 A wise person thinks ahead; a fool doesn’t. (Proverbs 13:16)

Put a plan together on paper. Just one single step toward your goal will start to bring relief and joy, because procrastination is a huge joy-sucker.

(4) Get disciplined.

Our culture says that discipline is a joy-sucker but it’s actually what brings more joy into your life because it fights procrastination. It fights fear. It fights laziness.

When you set a plan, there will be set backs, hurdles, disappointments, failure. There will be temptation to do something else, anything else, than the goals you have. 

You’ve got to stay disciplined (focused).

Discipline is the guard rails on that adventurous road you want to drive on. Discipline is that fence in the large backyard you want your kids to run freely in. You need guardrails to protect you, kids need fences to protect them from wandering.

If I don’t have discipline and accountability, I will veer toward the unhealthy habits in my personality and I will drive everyone around me crazy. I won’t be the best version of myself. 

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Stop making excuses, face your fears, establish a plan – invite someone in on it – get disciplined – invite someone to hold you to your responsibilities and goals.

(5) Start changing today.

In the Exodus saga, God’s people are enslaved by the Egyptians for 400 years. He hears the prayers of the Israelites and rises up Moses to go to Pharaoh and say, Let God’s people go, and Pharaoh refuses (because the 1-2 million Israelites are his free labor work force).

That’s when God gives Moses some powerful bargaining chips known as the 10 Plagues to let Pharaoh know he wasn’t the one in charge, but that God was/is. The Nile River goes from water to blood, killing all the fish. The livestock outside die. Locusts fill the sky. Flies all over. Boils on the people. Each plague Pharaoh refused to give up control.

A memorable plague was frogs all over the ground. Everywhere you looked, there was an amphibian. Here a frog, there a frog, everywhere a frog, frog. They came up out of the Nile River. Kermits everywhere is what gets Pharaoh’s attention.

Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and begged, “Plead with the Lord to take the frogs away from me and my people. I will let your people go, so they can offer sacrifices to the Lord.” (Exodus 8:8)

“You set the time!” Moses replied. “Tell me when you want me to pray for you, your officials, and your people. Then you and your houses will be rid of the frogs. They will remain only in the Nile River.”  (Exodus 8:9)

This is how Pharaoh responds: 

“Do it tomorrow,” Pharaoh said. (Exodus 8:10)

Do it tomorrow?

Wow. 

Pharaoh can’t even back his chariot out of the garage without running over hundreds of frogs. Every Egyptian household has a wife on top of a dresser screaming at their husbands to do something. 

It’s very stressful on the entire nation of Egypt and Pharaoh says that something should be done – tomorrow?

Start changing today. Not someday. 

How many of my thoughts and how much time has been wasted in someday?

Someday I’ll ask her out.
Someday I’ll read that book.
Someday I’ll take my health seriously.
Someday I’ll get help on my addictive habit.
Someday I’ll start that non-profit.
Someday I’ll have my neighbors over for dinner.
Someday I’ll balance my schedule so I can invest more into my family.
Someday I’ll get on a budget and stick to it for a better future.
Someday I’ll get serious about God.
Someday I’ll invite that person to church with me.
Someday I’ll forgive that person.
Someday I’ll confess my struggles to a loved one.

There is something all of us here have that we have been putting off that God has been inviting us to step up and take care of. 

Don’t be like Pharaoh. Don’t settle for one more night with the frogs. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

When You Can’t Do Life On Your Own Anymore

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Do you want to make a positive influence on your relationships? 

Do you want to improve each room you walk into? 

Do you want to get through a difficult time in an honoring way as others are watching you suffer? 

It’s embedded in my worldview that these people believe they can do it, but only with the help of God. 

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)

Put fear and timidity on one side. Those aren’t from God.

Place power and love and discipline on the other side. Those are from God. 

Which means, every time you have chosen to endure, or rely on this inner strength to get through something, each time you’ve loved or have felt love, each time you’ve stay focused to do what was needed, all of that is from God. God gives us a spirit of power and love and self-discipline. 

Which means that fear and timidity, these aren’t from God. Any anxiety, worrying, afraid to live, afraid to get through it, afraid of failure, depressed, not from God. 

Being insecure and anxious is what will happen if we just believe that we can do it on our own. We will harm our relationships over time if we continue to buy into the delusion that all we have to do is pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and go after another day. 

We need God’s help.

I’ll give two examples of each side when it comes to parenting. This crosses over with how you lead employees during the week or how you are with friends, how you react to stressful circumstances.  

I get to be a father of two daughters, age 8 and age 5 currently. 

EXAMPLE ONE

One morning, I’m getting the girls ready for the day, trying to keep them focused on the following: outfits, shoes, teeth brushed, hair somewhat presentable, somewhat disheveled only a father’s touch can provide. 

They’re sitting at the kitchen island, time is short before the school buss arrives, so I throw together a Carnation mix with milk for breakfast. With a straw. No lid on either cup. 

Right when you just read the words, no lid, every mother reading knows where this is going.

Every mother is thinking, Oh, you gotta put a lid on it. 

I know that now. 

Izzy, our five year old, knocks her cup over accidentally, it hits the floor, and makes a mess. You would’ve thought a cow was murdered in our kitchen. There was milk everywhere. 

I let anger out on Izzy until the alligator tears started to form in her eyes.  

Hold that memory. 

EXAMPLE TWO

A few days later I’ve set a mug of coffee on the end of our sofa and Izzy comes flying in the family room. She’s at this stage where no matter where she is or who’s around her, she’s doing a cartwheel. 

She flies into the family room, does a cartwheel and accidentally knocks over my mug with her feet. Coffee goes everywhere, mug falls onto the wooden floor and shatters instantly. 

This time I’m calm. I’m chill. 

I make sure she’s okay. I ask her to stay away from the broken ceramic pieces. I gently remind her to watch for her surroundings when she’s in Simone Biles mode. I apologize to her for leaving my mug on the sofa. 

Okay, compare the two instances. When she knocked over the milk in the morning, and I let my anger out, that instilled fear and timidity in her. My ripple effect was negative. 

When she knocked over the coffee off the sofa, I let gentleness out due to self-discipline. She felt that love. 

What’s the difference?

It was reflecting on 2 Timothy 1:7 over and over throughout the day.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)

In the morning, when Izzy spilled the milk on the floor and I spilled my emotions on her, I hadn’t gotten up early to pray for God to guide me during my day. I hadn’t thought about needing God’s power for energy, or God’s love for others, or God’s discipline to help me love on my girls that morning. 

I relied on my own strength and impatience came out. 

But when the coffee spilled off the sofa, I was able to respond with gentleness and humility because I had been praying 2 Timothy 1:7 throughout the day (in fact, my wife had written the verse on our mirror in her beautiful, large hand-writing as a reminder for both of us to lean on the Lord and not on ourselves). 

Lord, please, in all of my conversations, give me Your power so I have the energy to deal with what comes. Give me Your love so people around me feel it. Give me Your discipline as my own so the old Zach doesn’t come out, but the likeness of Your Son does. 

This works in parenting. It works in dating. It works in marriage. It works when you are around your employees, neighbors, friends. 

It keeps our relationships from viewing us as bipolar. Jekyll one day, Hyde the next. 

It keeps the people around us at home or at work from wondering which version of ourselves they’re going to get no matter what the day holds. 

If you believe you can do life on your own, without God’s help, the ripple effect you will have on those closet to you will be fear and timidity. People will be afraid to be around you, they will walk on egg shells, you’ll have extreme mood swings, they’ll be anxious and scared and eventually depressed.

But, if you rely on God daily, in prayer, people around you will see and feel your example of love, and power and focus and they will want the same. 

Even if you don’t have a high view of God, or of the Bible, try it out. 

It’s got to be daily consistently, over a long haul of time. 

What hurts is that Izzy is going to remember me getting irate over the milk spilling more than she will remember me being gentle and concerned for her when the coffee spilled a couple days later. – 

I need to do it daily so she sees me as the latter half of this 2 Timothy 1:7 and doesn’t feel the first part. 

If you work, reflect in the car on the way home, God, I’ve had a long day. I need You to give me Your strength, Your love, Your discipline for me to love my family the best I can tonight. 

In the morning before school or work or the day of errands, God, I don’t know what will come today, but You do. Please give me Your power and love and discipline to honor You and love on others and be an example. 

During a crisis in your life or in the home, you need God’s power to get through it faithfully, God’s love to give you identity that no matter what happens, you are still loved by Him. You need God’s discipline because in trials, if we don’t rely on God in prayer, we get sad and lazy and melancholy and lay around and have no energy and our loved ones see us as that. 

You can do this with the help of others and with God’s help.

We want to change lives, we want to improve relationships, we want to make a difference, we want to leave a legacy, but you need God’s empowerment daily to do it. 

And you need the help of others to also remind you that you need God’s help. 

Most people, when they wake up, they feel rushed and allow life to happen to them and then they react to it and they just want to make it through the day. 

Most people don’t wake up praying to rely on God for the day. 

Most people don’t wake up acknowledging that what they do for that day builds their legacy. 

Most people don’t wake up feeling like a world-changer. 

But, what if you believed daily that with who you are created to be, and with the help of others around you, and with the help of God, you could change the lives of others for the better? 

I believe you can.

5 years into our marriage. Whitney and I found out that we were infertile after desperately wanting a child. That was a harsh realization. 

My father died of cancer six years ago. That was tough. 

I have sin in my past that cost me security and friendships and reputation. The consequences still weigh heavy. 

There are little stresses piled up on me and my family every day. Life pressures down on us. 

All of the trials, all of the worrying, I cannot do it on my own. I cannot have a positive influence on those around me and get through difficult seasons on my own will power. 

I need you and I need God’s help. You need people to help you. So open up to someone. You need God’s help, so pray to Him throughout the day. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z