During the early days of The Grove, I wrote a book called The Longing: Embracing the Deepest Truth of Who You Are. The book emerged from "deep" inside of me during a 10 year battle with chronic pain and the resulting anxiety.
The Longing is about spiritual identity and embracing at our core what it truly means to live as a son or daughter of God. A number of people have found the stories and scripture I share, in some ways, to mirror their own experience.
I hope these words encourage you today...you can even get your own free copy to start reading this weekend. Here's a snippet from Chapter One.
Introduction - Chapter One
A few years ago, my wife, Krista, and I sat in LAX waiting to board a plane for a much-needed vacation to Hawaii. I was physically present but emotionally stranded. I felt isolated and alone on an imaginary island of “what if” scenarios surrounded by the shark-infested waters of my circling fears. Mentally, I was still sixty miles to the south, back at home, grinding over all the recent changes in my life. Though I was looking forward to our vacation—sleeping in, taking long walks with Krista, checking out new surf spots on Kauai—I was anything but anchored in the present. At the rate I was going, I’d need six months to unwind.
I grabbed my cell phone and called a close friend, a mentor who had helped me navigate the emotional storms and challenges I’d been through in the past few years. My head was in a literal fog from all the pressure I felt inside. (When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I call it “foggy head.”) And the previous two months had been marked by emotional exhaustion and increasing levels of anxiety as my heart reacted to change going on in both my inner and outer worlds. I had just completed a new book and was emotionally spent. The book’s completion took six weeks longer than anticipated. And then edits. And more edits. On top of that, the church where I served was going through layoffs and its third reorganization in three years. I saw good friends lose their jobs. I was also initiating the start of a new nonprofit organization designed to minister to the spiritual development and creative vision of artists in the church. My fear of failure was screaming at me like a wild monkey in the trees (the only inhabitants of my island except me).
Nobody was putting pressure on me but me. The convergence of exhaustion, grief, change, and new risks made me feel as if my heart was being lobbed into a tree chipper. It was everything I could do to duck from the ear-splitting screams of my fears and all the monkey crap they were hurling my way. Exhausted, I was on the verge of messing up a really good Hawaiian vacation. I was headed to the islands, an oasis of palm trees and white sandy beaches, but that’s not what my heart needed most. I was longing for peace. Longing for rest. Longing for a sense of wholeness that, at this moment, seemed completely out of reach for how disintegrated I felt.
Milan, my friend, and I talked. He encouraged me to let go of “the need to know.”
So much of my anxiety was tied to my need to know how everything was going to turn out. Would I still have a job at church when I returned at the end of the summer? With all the departmental changes going on, would I have the same position? Should I jump ship and throw myself full-time into this new nonprofit? What if the nonprofit failed and I was out of both jobs? What if? What if? What if? The sharks were circling and the monkeys reaching for another handful.
All I had to do was let go, but letting go meant grasping the invisible, intangible concepts of faith, trust, and hope. Easier said than done.
Whose Are You?
“Anxiety is the mark of spiritual insecurity,” wrote Thomas Merton, the late Trappist monk and spiritual writer. “It is the fruit of unanswered questions.”1 My anxiety was the fruit of unanswered questions about my future and the refusal to trust in the goodness of God, who has proven his faithfulness and unconditional love throughout my life. Practical considerations aside, I was asking an entirely wrong set of questions. Much like the fear-filled Peter looking at the wind and crashing waves after Jesus asked him to step out of the boat, I had taken my eyes off what was really true about my life. I wanted answers to the unknown future instead of trusting that the most important questions had already been answered. Like Peter, I was sinking deeper and deeper into the abyss of my worries and uncertainties. I was looking at Joey instead of Jesus. I was staring at the invisible wind of my imaginary fears, all of them illusions masking the truth of what was real in my life.
If you were to do a preflight checklist of my life, you’d probably ask, “What in the heck are you so worried about?” The most important questions—Does God love me? Does God accept me? Does my life have a clear purpose? Do I have a meaningful relationship with my wife and kids? Do I have deep, lasting friendships?—had already been answered. All I needed to do now was live from the center of these truths. Sounds good on paper, but for me, this is really hard to do at times.
Our hearts bear the marks of brokenness that reflect the brokenness Christ bore on the cross on our behalf. The truth of our existence is that we are more broken than bulletproof. Our hearts and lives are not always what they appear. We are far more content with the shallow facades of appearances than with a vibrant life pocked with the scars of authentic human struggle. And beneath the brokenness, there is something deeper inside of us. Something truer about ourselves than we ever imagined. Deep inside the very core of our heart is a longing. An incessant longing that won’t go away. It’s a longing that demands an answer. Left unanswered, the longing accesses what is readily available in our heart, in most cases our brokenness, to get our attention. In my case, the longing buried itself deep inside my heart and tried to speak to me through my anxiety. My anxiety, the very thing I thought was destroying me, was this masked longing trying to get my attention in order to free me. But the road to freedom can be a very circuitous route. It often takes many laps around the same issue or problem before we begin to formulate the real question our heart is asking.
So, if anxiety is the fruit of unanswered questions, what then are the questions? When did the questions first go unanswered? Long ago, when and where were the seeds of unanswered questions first planted that are just now bearing the fruit of anxiety, doubt, and fear?
Get Your Free Copy of The Longing Today...
You can read the rest of Chapter 1 (and the whole book) by getting your free copy of The Longing. Available for Kindle, iBooks, Nook (any ereader) and in print. Go to http://www.joeyoconnor.org to get your free copy today.
Questions: What ideas or thoughts resonated with you in what you just read?
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