I was his nanny for five years; I remember the day he died.

This boy I once listened to and read to and sung to and rocked to sleep — he lived to 16, got into his car, and smashed it into a tree. It wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t anybody’s fault.

From the time he was born, his mother wrote a weekly biography of his life in empty journals, recording his milestones and memories for him to read one day in the years that never came.

My firstborn son was five when the pages went blank. And I began to hold my boy too close.

——

Anxiety is a mind-weed. It wraps itself around our joy and chokes it out; it entangles our innocent thoughts and runs with them all the way to the end of absurdity and despair.

We struggle with the fear of loss, and our temptation is to stamp it out from the top down with logic.

I’m being ridiculous. That won’t really happen. I need to stop letting my thoughts run away from me. 

But weeds always grow back. We can’t trust the poison of reason to kill something so unreasonable — when what we really need to do is spade them up by the darkened roots.

For anxiety, that root is pride.

Constant worry betrays a core belief that my life should be easy. My world should be pain-free. It doesn’t matter if billions of others face hunger, doubt, disease, death, loss, fear. My days should go well; what happens if they don’t?

The boy’s mom, I thought, what had she done to deserve this? I had idolized her meticulous mothering, her careful planning, her focus on what mattered. I longed to be like her; her days should have gone well.

Because that’s what I believed about me. I plan well, I get well. I do right, I get right. I am good, I get good.

But the truth is this: I will never plan enough to stop the world’s pain and chaos. I am not strong enough to tame life’s sin and circumstances.

I am not good enough to be the one who claims the solitary life without heartache.

I hugged my son a little tighter. But I began to see that you do right things not to make things go right, but to build habits that help you stay upright when they don’t.

And here is what’s crazy: when we stop believing our pride that things ought to go well, we are consumed by gratitude for all that is going well. Thankfulness crushes the anxiety; joy crowds out the fear.

When we let go of our belief that our tomorrows should be perfect, we become free and passionate about enjoying our today.

 

A personal note: I have suffered from both postpartum depression and medication-related anxiety. I don’t write about it lightly, and I absolutely believe that there are mental states that are hormonal and chemical instead of thought-based and spiritual. If you have very few good days, don’t keep suffering alone; please ask someone for help.

If you want more joy, you have to plan for it.

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