An Anxious Heart Revealed
by Georgia Small
Friday, August 5, 2016, and the days that followed, remind me of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Since I lived in New Orleans when Katrina was approaching, I evacuated to my mother’s house in Baton Rouge. Friends and families scattered in many different directions – wherever they could find lodging – and we spent many hours in traffic as the roadways clogged with evacuees. When the storm came on Monday, we lost power and our cell service. The phone lines were overloaded, and it was extremely difficult to check on loved ones. As we watched the nightmare unfold, we learned that New Orleans was flooding. Many people had stayed behind, and their rescues were dramatic. The stories from the shelters were scary and heartbreaking. Even in Baton Rouge there was anxiety because of low supplies of gas and food, and rumors of muggings and carjackings. It was horrific. As our power came back, we watched the awful story unfold on the news.
We kicked in to a fight or flight mode of living — high anxiety and hyper-focused on how to survive the day. There were so many things to worry about: Is everyone I love safe? Is my home dry and unharmed? Will I have a job when I return? These were the questions we all dealt with, and many were answered with, “no” or “not yet.” Hurricane Katrina hit on Monday, August 29, 2005, and it was October before the first few neighborhoods were allowed to return. New Orleans has had a long road to recovery since then.
Friday, August 12 of this year, as we prepared for heavy rains in the Baton Rouge area, we did what we always do in Louisiana — we loaded up supplies in case we had to stay put for a while. We expected closed roads and dangerous driving conditions, but no one anticipated the horror to come. By Friday night we saw this was no ordinary storm. People were getting trapped in their neighborhoods, and the rain was still coming. By Saturday, it was obvious many who were not in flood zones would flood. Major roadways were flooded. Boat rescues began. Nearly 90 percent of the homes flooded in Denham Springs, which is where my stepdaughter lives, so it was getting personal at my house. As we became more and more concerned, my husband tried to find a way to reach her. We took a deep breath of relief as we discovered that a friend of hers had rescued her by boat.
The rain kept coming and the waters kept rising. Baton Rouge, and then Ascension Parish where I live, began to flood. More roads closed as the waters rushed across them. More homes flooded. As I write this on August 20, the damage is still not complete. There is still what is termed “back flooding” in an area near my church.
During this entire week, my anxiety has been extreme. Despite my house and neighborhood not being affected, I have had trouble sleeping and eating and, at times, have been unable to stop shaking. It is as if the whole experience of Katrina had been lurking below the surface in my mind, and this storm had reactivated my fight or flight response, which has led me to wonder why. Katrina was horribly traumatic for me, but my story had a happy ending. My apartment was spared. Although my job fizzled out, losing it led me to a new life in Baton Rouge. I joined a wonderful church, became involved in an amazing ministry, met my husband and have since had two wonderful kids. So why am I so anxious and worried? I have seen God’s goodness and his provision time and again. As I contemplated this provision, I had a revelation. A catastrophic event like this exposes the dirty little secret that I am most afraid of: I am not in control. In my daily life I am a planner. I am not super-organized, but I have a schedule and a “to do” list. I like things to go according to plan. This flood was not part of my plan. Not thousands of people suffering with flooded homes, businesses, schools and churches. Not flooded roads that trapped us in our neighborhoods. Not cell phone outages, or store closures, or empty shelves or curfews or lootings, or any part of it. On a normal day I can pretend that I am in control, but not today. No way am I in control today.
When I cannot control my circumstances, my faith gets tested as a Christian. In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus admonishes us not to be anxious. In verse 27 He says, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Hmm… so my worrying and stressing and pacing like a caged animal is not going to change any of this? No. So what am I supposed to do? Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” Ok, so trusting in the Lord does not depend on my understanding what is happening. Good news because I do not understand all of this suffering. So if I can’t spend my time worrying, what am I to think about? Philippians 4:8 says to think on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise. Doesn’t that sound like it’s talking about God and His word? So this is where reading the Bible and storing His word in my heart can help me. Psalm 23 can be my lifeline. The Lord is a good shepherd, and He will care for me even in the valley of the shadow of death. Deuteronomy 31:6 tells me that I can be strong, courageous and unafraid because the Lord my God goes with me, and He will not leave me or forsake me. This is good news!
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not minimizing the horrible suffering all around our region right now. I am not saying that we should not cry out to God in lament. The Psalms teach us that we can pour our heart out to God about whatever troubles us — and we should. Even Jesus modeled this on the cross as He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But, as we cry out to God, we have to cast our cares on Him (Psalm 55:22). Anxiety exposes a denial of God’s goodness. Finding the root of my anxiety is helping me to let go of it — slowly, and with two steps forward and one step back. I pray that as our community moves forward from this disaster that we will remember to whom we should give our trust. “… The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”