Anxious is not a word I ever would have used to describe myself.
Busy? Always. Stressed? Probably. A planner? Definitely.
But anxious, fearful, and unsettled never used to feel like they fit. Not until this year.
It’s funny, getting older. I say “getting older” as if I’m 35 and starting to grieve my youth slipping through my fingers. I’m 21 but I still feel time slipping like I’m a child at the seashore again, making sandcastles and wrestling with the ocean-soaked sand like I could somehow convince it to stay within my grasp.
When I think back to where I was at a year ago, I remember writing my final thesis for my degree and referencing the pandemic as if it were an event in the past, presuming that by the time I finished my degree a few months later, we’d all laugh at the panic and paranoia we lived in for a little while, chuckle at the sight of masks and hand sanitizer, and forget what it felt like to give people copious amounts of space in public.
“Do you think you see Jesus as a lifeboat, or a luxury?” My friend and I are driving, slowly picking apart the way we’ve seen Jesus preached in our communities, churches, and young adults groups. “Because sometimes, I think we miss telling people why Jesus is so incredible in the first place.”
It’s a sleepy Sunday afternoon, and she and I are falling into our rhythm of long drives and strong coffees and deep talks, tumbling into deep and hard and holy conversations interspersed with laughter and good stories – my favorite. We’ve both noticed this pattern – Jesus being preached as if He’s a jetpack to make life better, if we want Him.
This is a question I’ve been asking a lot of people lately, curious as to how much this particular condition affects others beyond myself. I define pre-grieving as the act of mourning in advance outcomes that are not guaranteed. Or, in other words, giving a voice to anxiety where it has no place; being sad in advance over a future that may or may not ever come.
More often than not, in response to this question, I hear, “Oh yes. I pre-grieve all the time. I thought I was the only one.”
As I tumble out of bed, I glance at my phone and frown at the time. It’s later than I wanted, but I’m up now. I look at myself in the mirror as I put my hair in a scrunchie on top of my head – the bags under my eyes are beginning to resemble suitcases. I sigh.
My first coherent thought is to brew a cup of coffee, and so I do – the first good cup of coffee I’ve had in three weeks. This morning routine provides me with a small shred of steady familiarity; every sip is reassurance.
From where I sit, I have the perspective of a gnat. I am selfish and spoiled by nature, and I know this. I miss my friends. I miss my life. I miss normal. I miss lunch dates and late-night ice cream runs and Bible studies with my community. I miss road trips. I miss coffee shops. I know people are dying and yet I am a helpless bystander grasping at anything to numb the feeling of powerlessness.
C. S. Lewis wrote that to love is to be vulnerable.
The full quote is a beautiful one. It’s one I’ve held onto for a while, one that reminds me I have to give up safe in order to receive something so much better. But that doesn’t mean vulnerability is easy, by any means. And slowly, I am peeling back the layers of my life to reveal the fear and the imperfection, and I am learning to find joy.
“How do you reconcile the two? The goodness of God with the pain and brokenness of life. How do you make sense of it all?”
It’s after midnight, and the three of us are sitting around on the floor of our room, Bibles in our laps, honesty hour for each of us. After a long day of travel and unexpected experiences, we’re exhausted and cutting right to the heart of what we’ve all been walking through.
“I guess…I don’t know exactly. I think I often tend to believe that God doesn’t have to be good to me to still be good.”
I pause for a moment, and gather my thoughts.
“Almost this: I know I don’t deserve His love, so I see the love He does give me as a beautiful, wonderful gift, and everything else as extra. I don’t think that’s right or healthy, but that’s how I tend to reconcile it. He doesn’t have to be good to me in my mind for me to still believe He’s good.”
This mantra has been echoing in my head for months now, ever since a friend of mine sent me those words right when I needed to hear them. Right now, I’m watching the range of life seasons my friends are in, the happiness they’re seemingly consumed with – stepping into their careers, traveling across the world, falling in love. And oftentimes I wonder, in the mundane, everydayness of life – is there joy here? Truly?
In this season, I am fighting for joy. This season, in which my heart is tired, I am learning to find hope again.