We live in what some are calling the “Anxiety culture.” We’re getting gray hairs because we’re nervous Nellies about our to-do lists, our relationships, and our ever-expanding list of ways to improve. We’re taking chill pills because we’re worried sick for ourselves and our families. For some of us, one second we can be doing okay and the next a Facebook post sends us into Anxiousville. Worry is a friend to all, stopping by for visits all too often and for some, it has actually moved in and become our roommate. But what if there is another way than worry and anxiety?
In the beautifully designed, colorful ten-part Bible study titled ‘The Birds and The Lilies’ that we released on Nov. 2nd, we center around the passage in Matthew 6:19-34 where Jesus speaks into worry. The book leads women to engage Scripture, reflect on questions that invite them to new places in their faith, and read personal stories from other women who have collided with Jesus as He teaches them how valuable they are to Him.
We are pleased to share with you the first in a series of blog posts highlighting some of the personal stories that can be found in the book, in hopes of encouraging and inspiring you out of your own posture of worry. We hope you enjoy these words by Kellie Furlan…
At the age of 28, I gave birth to my first son. I was totally and completely smitten and immediately absorbed in the thrill of having a tiny infant. My pregnancy had been extremely difficult due to a constant migraine headache, nausea and vomiting through the second trimester, and pre-term labor and bed rest in the third. So, waking up every three hours to nurse and jostle my little screamer felt like a cake walk.
When our son was about 9 months old, my husband and I packed him up with as much baby paraphernalia as we could carry on a plane and headed to California to visit my sister and her new husband. Although I honestly don’t recall much from that trip to California, I’ll never forget a conversation I had with my sister that would deeply influence the next 10 years of my life. I was about to begin a painful and worried preoccupation with food and body. My sister had always been thinner than I was. “Stocky” was the term my family used to describe my body-type and although I knew I wasn’t the “pretty one” I was resigned to it. We all have our role in our families; hers was to be pretty and mine was to make sure that we held together.
During this visit, my pretty sister was trying to find some of her bigger spare clothes for me to borrow and I was having more than the usual trouble squeezing myself into them. I remember saying in a perky voice, “I know I’ve got a stomach now, but I’ve had a baby and I’m okay with it.” She sneered and said, “I think you are just making excuses for yourself.”
I received her statement with such innocent shock. I never saw that coming. As I look back, I feel genuine compassion for my vulnerable then-self that traveled back to Washington with a new invisible body wound. Although most girls have been on their first diet by age 11, that wasn’t my story. Cheetos were my jam. And jam was my jam. I ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it. I didn’t know how to calculate a calorie or what one did to burn one. But, the days of worry-free eating and getting dressed in the morning were about to change.
Like so many women before and after me, I fell fast and hard into a daily anxiety over body insecurity and I devoted myself to the task of grasping for the illusory ‘good enough’ when it came to my appearance. As those initial pounds fell off I was suddenly noticed. People started telling me how good I looked. I think I was terrified of losing the approval I had never known I was missing. With worried vigilance I recommitted to never “make excuses for myself” when back at church after giving birth to my second son, a man came up to me and without saying hello asked, “So… have you lost all the weight yet?”
I think that when Jesus invites us in Matthew 6 to seek first His kingdom, the antidote to any variety of worry or anxious distress. Jesus clarifies the nature of our spiritual hunger and offers real nourishment. We are hungry for the kingdom and kingdom-ways. We are vulnerable to worry when our focus and priorities are out of alignment with what is actually important. It doesn’t matter whether we have become anxious about our size and shape, our bank account, our health, our reputation, or our relationship status, it’s the wrong focus. The more energy we pour into our idol of self-interest, the more it fuels the anxious distress.
On the other hand, serenity is our birthright in Christ.
Align your focus and priorities with His kingdom and what is right under His reign and anxious distress and worry can be replaced with serenity. The audacity of His grace is that when we prioritize loving Him and worshiping Him (Matthew 22:37) rather than the idol of our peculiar self-interest, we are given what we really need… and more. Maybe not what we think we need, but certainly the serenity that we need in and out of all circumstances.
Talking with friends, educating yourself, receiving prayer, working with a compassionate therapist, proper nutrition and medication support can be indispensable resources on the road of recovery from worry and anxiety. So is the Holy Spirit. A turning point for me in my worry about what I would eat came when I was reading in the Old Testament how Moses travelled up Mount Sinai after leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. God had just split the Red Sea allowing them to walk through on dry land, confused the chariots of their pursuers and had been delivering literal daily bread out of no-where to feed them! But while Moses is receiving the ten commandments, the people decide to make a statue of a golden cow to worship. They worship this piece of shiny instead of the living God who had seen their distress while in bondage in Egypt, was compelled by His compassion for them and was providing just what they needed. As I’m reading I’m thinking, “What kind of idiot creates something with their own hands and then worships it?”
In a split second I heard a voice in my own mind that said, “You’re that kind of idiot.”
Oh the bitter-sweet taste of conviction.
In my own self-interest, believing the lie that I would be happy and at peace if I could hang onto being some-body by being a no-body, I had become guilty of crafting through diet and exercise an image that I was sacrificing way too much for. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that this misalignment of my priorities away from seeking first His kingdom was killing me spiritually, emotionally and relationally.
I have learned and am still learning that seeking His kingdom and righteousness requires constant realignment. This is especially so in the beginning. But it’s worth it. As Psalm 34:8 reminds us, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” When we put Jesus back on the throne and seek His kingdom, it becomes the antidote to the worry that wears a thousand different faces.
Let us know in the comments below how this story impacted you and be sure to check back in next week for another snippet from The Birds and The Lilies Bible Study. Books are available now at wecollide.net/store.
This post was written by a counselor or therapist for informational use only and is not intended to replace advice from a professional who is working directly with you as a patient [or client].