“When anxiety decreases sufficiently people can begin to think about their problems.” (Roberta Gilbert)
I have other the years been in various situations where I’ve had to help people calm down before they can begin to name and address the problem, or conflict, at hand. Last night, while on-call as a Chaplain Intern at the University of Virginia hospital, I experienced this again.
I received an urgent page from a nurse to assist with a patient who was in extreme anxiety. Scared and worried about what was going to happen to her, she was yelling out that nobody was going to move her from this place. As I talked to her and the anxiety slipped away, I learned that she was scared and worried about the pain that she was experiencing in her back. It turns out she has pretty bad arthritis. She was frustrated because she felt that she wasn’t getting any “answers” to why she was in so much pain or what they were going to do about it. The problem that lay underneath all the anxiety was something that was able to be managed. Yet, the anxiety had to decrease in order for the problem to come to the surface. “Anxiety,” Gilbert writes, “impairs the ability to think.”
Often times we are taught that we shouldn’t worry because the God who clothes the lilies and feeds the sparrows, will surely do the same. But somewhere in our emotional DNA we are a people who worry. We experience anxiety in some way or another, on various levels. I met a man last night who felt guilty because he was experiencing anxiety. His mother and his church have taught him he should not feel those things. I feel like this should not be the chance. One should not feel guilty because one feels worried or is anxious.
How do we talk about worry and anxiety in the Church? How do we respond to our own feelings of worry, even though intelligently we know that God is in control of all?