My new book, Holy Vulnerability: Spiritual Practices for the Broken, Ashamed, Anxious and Afraid, comes out on July 6, 2021, and I wanted to introduce some of the ideas in it here each week over the next few months.
The idea for Holy Vulnerability came to me on an international flight a couple years ago. I had boarded the plane and started to unpack all I “needed” for the long ride–headphones, neck pillow, iPad for movies and books, hard-copy book (in case my battery ran out on the iPad), anxiety medication, crossword puzzle book, pen, glasses, etc. You know, all the stuff one “needs.” Well, the guy sitting next to me didn’t have anything with him other than his boarding pass. I was pretty convinced he’d forgotten his bag with all his accoutrements in the terminal. And then I realized with a rush of embarrassment that I might not actually be able to live through the flight without all the things in my backpack. Sounds silly, I know, but for someone with anxiety, it’s pretty normal. I started to panic at the idea. Without all my stuff, I would be overwhelmed by fear. My stuff was the way I coped with my fear. And this fear, by the way, isn’t something I can simply overcome through thinking or praying. I’ve tried it. This fear is something I experience physically–my hands drip with sweat, my insides jump, my legs shake. It’s a bit hard to explain if you’ve never experienced this, but if you have, you know what I mean. You can’t just think it away.
I have been trying to overcome my fear of flying for years. But for some reason, this particular experience got me wondering if overcoming was really the right goal. When I look at Scripture, I see God instructing his people not to be afraid, but it’s not because there aren’t scary things in the world. Rather, he instructs us this way because he is with us in the midst of the scary things (see for example, Psalm 23:4; Joshua 1:9; Deuteronomy 31:6; Isaiah 41:10). But I still have had no success in just deciding not to be afraid, even knowing God’s promises and embracing them as much as my mind and heart know how. So, I thought I needed to try something else.
Because so much of my fear seemed to express itself in my body (shortness of breath, heart racing, hand sweating, shaking), I thought maybe my body needed to be involved somehow. So, I decided to learn more about the body’s role in my fear, my coping practices, and in my relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Turns out, all of these are really connected. And what I discovered applies not only to fear, but to sin, anxiety, and shame too.
How have you experienced your body in the midst sin, anxiety, fear or shame?