August 12, 2014

Overwhelmed and a Little Afraid

It is Tuesday, August 12, and I am feeling overwhelmed and a little bit afraid. I have too much to do, too many responsibilities, and too little time to do everything on my schedule. I am feeling panicked over my preparations for teaching. I am feeling anxious about my abilities to teach, and I am feeling that gnawing sense of dread (fear) that my courses at Regent will be too much for me to handle. In all, I am stressed. I am feeling so very stressed.

Today, I have another teacher in-service day at Arizona Christian University. Yesterday was day one of Professional Week, and it was an awesome day filled with worship, teaching, and mentoring. I came home exhausted, literally exhausted (mind numbed) from the experience. As an INTJ personality, the focus of the day was on fellowship and worship along with teaching instruction. This meant that I had to be "on" all day long. I was asked to stand up in front of groups, present findings (from group work), and share my views. I don't mind doing this, but for me, it is draining after a while. I had little down time to recoup, and the schedule didn't permit any breaks where I could go and sit quietly to reflect on what I was learning. I understand that there was a lot of content to grind through -- the leaders constantly said this -- but still, it was overload for me. I wanted to take a nap by 2:30 -- but that was when I had to participate fully in an Instructional Learning Workshop.

Today should be better. I have an ELearning Workshop and a department meeting to attend. I get to spend most of my morning at home (PTL!) so I should be able to rest up and be prepared for this afternoon.

On reflection, I can say that yesterday was a good day. I took away a lot of great instruction ideas, and I met some new faces. However, the focus on integrating anticipatory learning in the classroom threw me for a loop, and I started to feel that I was not prepared for Monday (school starts on 8/18). Furthermore, I received emails from Regent -- my classes also begin on Monday -- welcoming me to school, and suggesting I "pre-read" to get started on my coursework. On top of this, I received instructional emails from Grand Canyon -- my classes (I am teaching two) are ready to be "opened up" online. All of these things just pounded down on me, and I began to feel as though I was sinking because of the weight of responsibility and commitment.

I turn always to the Psalms whenever I feel stressed or overwhelmed. I find such comfort in reading them, and I share an affinity with King David (author of many of them) who suffered from some of the same issues I face (depression, loneliness, fear, dread, etc.) Today, I turned to Psalm 61 and this is what I read:

Psalm 61
For the choir director: A psalm of David, to be accompanied by stringed instruments.

1 O God, listen to my cry!
    Hear my prayer!
2 From the ends of the earth,
    I cry to you for help
    when my heart is overwhelmed.
Lead me to the towering rock of safety,
3  for you are my safe refuge,
    a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me.
4 Let me live forever in your sanctuary,
    safe beneath the shelter of your wings! Interlude

5 For you have heard my vows, O God.
    You have given me an inheritance reserved for those who fear your name.
6 Add many years to the life of the king!
    May his years span the generations!
7 May he reign under God’s protection forever.
    May your unfailing love and faithfulness watch over him.
8 Then I will sing praises to your name forever
    as I fulfill my vows each day.

The worst part for me is that when I get to this place, this uncomfortable place, I will internalize the anxiety, and in doing so, my stomach will begin to turn on itself. I end up feeling awful, feeling pain right in the pit of my stomach (this has been the case since Sunday). If I don't change my thoughts, change my mind (so to speak) -- then what is an annoying anxiety fueled experience will quickly explode into a full-blown panic attack (with hyperventilating). Interestingly, I haven't had a panic attack like this in a very long while (I mean like in years). I am not certain why I am panicking today, but I feel so utterly helpless and out of control. It is something I have not experienced in such a long while and it makes me question why this is happening to me now. What has changed in my life to cause me to panic like this?

As I was praying about my feelings, about my situation, I started to confess my need to the Lord. I know I am well-covered. I know that I am right where the Lord wants me to be. I know that He has every task, every responsibility, every item planned, purposed, and permitted. I am resting in His comfort and care, yet my stomach (fed by my brain and thought processes) is sending contrary signals and is causing me a great deal of pain.

So I Googled for some inspirational help, for Bible verses, and other helpful messages to remind me to place my trust fully in the Lord. As I searched online, I found this image:

I really liked the three-step process outlined in this graphic. It is so appropriate, so common-sense. Yet, how often do we (meaning I) actually implement these steps?

The creator of this image gets right to the crux of the issue by highlighting the fact that panic or a sense of being overwhelmed comes when we forget or ignore the TRUTH. Notice that all three statements focus on the truth in whatever is causing us to feel overwhelmed:
  1. Declare the TRUTH of God
  2. Admit the TRUTH of our weakness
  3. Detect the TRUTH of our situation 
Yes, most panic attacks are born out of fear or dread (not all, of course, some panic attacks are in response to actual threat) of POTENTIAL outcomes. People like me who suffer from panic attacks will often imagine likely scenarios, likely outcomes that are reasonable for this kind of response. We THINK that a certain thing will happen, and thus, we panic about the situation before it has occurred. In truth, we do not know that the THING will actually happen, we only THINK it will happen. In this way, we panic over imagined outcomes. Psychologists call this irrational fear.

Phobia - A persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid it, despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous.

Irrational fear is associated with phobias. I can say that I don't have a phobia about certain things (avoidance), but I do have a fear about doing certain things. I will not avoid doing something, but I will anticipate doing it (the panic part), and I will suffer some physical pain in the moments leading up to it. The funny thing is that once I do the thing, I am usually fine. In fact, I will often tell myself (afterward) that it was really stupid to panic like that because the event (circumstance or situation) was no big deal.

In my imagining recently, I have made myself believe the following UNTRUTHS:
  1. God is not able to handle my situation.
  2. God is not able to use me in my situation.
  3. God is not interested in helping me through my situation.
When I say it this way, I clearly see the LIE behind these statements. I clearly see that what I am believing in regard to my situation (Regent, teaching, etc.) is not coming from God. No, I have been listening to lies of the enemy -- my enemy -- the who desires to keep me panicked and in pain. My enemy seeks to devour and destroy me (1 Peter 5:8). He wants me to be panicked to the point of incapacity. He wants me to be ineffectual in my role as student and as teacher. He doesn't want me to be successful in my ministry at Regent or in my ministry to the students at both ACU and GCU. No, his grand plan is to cut me off at the knees, to hurt me to the point where I will be so miserable that I will not be able to stand up and defend myself. He knows that if he can hurt me (physically) then he will get me to stop looking up, stop relying on the Lord, and focus only on my pain, on my hurt, on my helplessness. Yes, my enemy is clever and crafty. He knows my weakness well, and he attacks me right where it hurts most.

If I look at my situation clearly, through God's lens, then I see that I am right where I am supposed to be, I am right where He wants me to be. The Lord has provided these opportunities to me (I didn't seek them, He provided them). The Lord has provided my schooling at Regent, and my course selection for this fall was prayed for and committed to Him. Therefore, I am not doing anything that was not planned, purposed and permitted by the Lord.

SO....this means that
  1. God is more than able to handle my situation (Eph. 3:20)
  2. God is able to use me IN my weakness (2 Cor. 12:9)
  3. God knows my situation and is directing my steps (Ps. 37:23)
My choice, therefore, is to agree with what the enemy says or to agree with what God says (through His Word). In whom shall I place my trust today?

Psalm 18:2 - The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.

Yes, today I place my trust in the Lord. Today, I refute the lies of the enemy, and I reclaim the TRUTH of the Lord. I stand up, lifting my shield of faith and my sword of the Spirit. I stand and I rest in the security and provision of my Lord and my Savior.

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