While taking a class this summer I was struggling to remember many pages of new terms and how to apply them while teaching. I was part of a group preparing a presentation on an educational theorist. We were asked to prepare two educational therapy sessions that demonstrated our depth of knowledge of five different techniques used in our classrooms. All of the class expectations were reasonable. All of them were effective ways to solidify our knowledge and understanding of important aspects of our work.
One afternoon though as I thought about everything I had to do, I began to slip into a black hole of being hopelessly overwhelmed. I can also do that when a flight connection is tight. Will I miss my connecting flight? If something important is scheduled I can slide toward that hole fearing illness or other unexpected changes may overturn my plans. If I'm called upon, or even fear that I might be called upon, to do something I don't know how to do, that hole looms ahead in my path.
I don't know whether you are a person who experiences panicked emotional response to stress. Perhaps instead of despairing, you become angry, silent, manipulative or argumentative. None of these responses are what God desires from us. Since I've been in this black hole before and since it is paralyzing instead of helpful, I've been asking myself why I go there and how I can stay away. I think I go there because I don't really believe that God is my only hope and help. Perhaps I depend too much on myself rather than God and other Christians around me who can help.
This brought to mind a series of three parables that Jesus told in Luke 15 in order to demonstrate how important we are to him. The first was the parable of the lost sheep, the second of the lost coin and the third of the lost son. I've been struck by the demeanor with which the woman approached hunting for her lost coin. It is not a picture of panic. "Suppose a woman has 10 silver coins and loses one. Doesn't she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?" Luke 15:8. What a calm and rational response! She lit a lamp and swept and searched carefully. That is not the picture of someone in a state of panic throwing things every which way hoping the coin will jump into her hand. That is not the picture of someone paralyzed by the situation.
In order to stay away from the black hole of despair, I need to remember who really is in control. I need to focus on Christ, not my situation. I need to remember the only real source of help and strength. "Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. When I said, 'My foot is slipping,' your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within, your consolation brought me joy" Psalm 94:17-19.
I've had the opportunity to draw upon this help as the school year starts at Black Forest Academy. In other words, God has given me opportunities to practice what I believe he wants me to continue to learn. As department supervisor, one of my tasks is to coordinate the schedules of three schools, four therapists and 15 students in a situation where there are not enough classrooms in which to meet. There have indeed been many opportunities for panic. While I've become somewhat stressed upon occasion, I've not been in despair. Praise God for glimpses of growth. During this fall, let's all focus on how we might grow in our faith and trust in God's ability to help and guide in time of need.
Helen McCormack writes the Reflections column every six weeks. She and her husband, David, serve with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Germany.