If you’ve followed the new NBC television show, “This Is Us,” then you know how powerfully it speaks of what it means to be human.
Recently, the show exposed Randall’s longstanding battle with anxiety. Randall was adopted, but his father reconnected with him as a grown man. While on a road trip together to Memphis, Randall’s father asked about Jack, his deceased father who adopted him. To Randall, Jack’s shining trait was his laugh: “He had this really great laugh. It’s like… When he laughed, it was like it almost surprised him, you know. Like it surprised him that he could laugh so freely.”
On a date one evening during Christmas break, I remember Will taking notice of my laugh. He said I’d laughed all evening and that he wished I’d do it more. My laughter took both of us by surprise.
I know this sounds like a downer, but I write this for those of you whose laughter surprises you, too, as if it’s a stranger when it makes its appearance alone or in good company. I write this so you know you’re not alone.
Laughter – the kind that is free and loud and long – feels hard for me right now. It feels hard because I am a Randall.
In the car, Randall admitted to his father his lifelong fight against false hopes of perfectionism and control that results in debilitating anxiety. Running, showering, working late: his anxiety never waits for convenience to break him down.
Anxiety might surface in the forms of heavy breathing, a breakdown, a panic attack or something else, but its roots run much deeper, digging their way into the stuff of the soul.
Your soul stuff buried deep might be this desire for perfection in your performance – the same as Randall’s. After all, mirages of perfection and control surround us. “100’s” written in red ink on returned assignments, workout demonstrations in magazine pages with Photoshopped bodies, Instagram filters, and “Pinter-esque” parties tell us perfection is within reach.
If I really dare to dig, I know that my recent struggle with anxiety is rooted in fear. This is the stuff that’s forced its way into my soul.
My husband and I are in a place of transition. I shared on social media last week that I am leaving my job in May, and, while we know some details about what’s ahead, there are so many unknowns.
The recovering perfectionist in me doesn’t handle unknowns well. When fear of anything – whether it’s fear of unknowns and transitions or something else – finds a hole in my soul to settle and grow its roots, it can choke out my laughter. It can feel as if laughter is an irresponsible answer to the persistent questions at hand.
In fact, I begin to believe that the opposite is true, that the responsible answer is worry, and debilitating anxiety inevitably follows.
But God is reminding me that a soul reclaimed by Christ is not remade for this stuff. Proverbs 31:25 says that a soul reclaimed by Christ can “laugh without fear of the future.” Jesus himself said, “Abide in me, and I in you… These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:4,11).
I read these words and realize that this fearlessness of laughter and fullness of joy require active participation from me. They say that this soul stuff called joy is mine to claim, but it requires replanting my roots of fear in the abiding love of Christ every moment of every day.
But this is honestly where I am right now. On ordinary days when small panic attacks interrupt workouts or tear-stains soak my textbook or Bible pages, laughter and joy seem inaccessible.
But this is what the Enemy of our souls would like you and me to believe. I know this, so I preach this gospel of loud laughter and full joy to myself:
God, this is not what you have for me.
You have so much more for me.
God, this is not what you have for me.
You have SO MUCH MORE for me.
A soul abiding in Christ is such an easy thought yet a difficult discipline. But I believe God wants the souls of His children so tethered to Him that they are Jack’s: their free and loud and long laughter surprises them, too. Even if I’m not yet in that place where I’m so trusting of God that I am able to laugh at my fears, it does not negate this truth that God wants that for me.
The God of the Universe wants fullness of joy for you and me.
There is a scene in the movie where young Randall (he’s probably seven or eight years old) is gasping for breath as tears rolls down his cheeks. Jack simply presses both hands against his cheeks and says, “Breeaathe, son. Breathe. Breathe.” They take deep breaths together as young Randall fixes his eyes on his father as his breathing slows.
In moments when our fears silence what we know of our faith, I believe that, in a sense, our loving Father presses his hands on our cheeks wet with tears and says, “Breeaathe.” He knows we have access to laughter and joy in Him right now, but He is patient with us as we learn what it means to abide in Him throughout this lifetime.
I am offering no glib answers today. I am not yet in this Promise Land of loud laughter and ceaseless joy. But I know that this is what God wants for me.
“Worry is the facade of taking action when prayer really is,” Ann Voskamp writes in her book One Thousand Gifts, so I would like to share a prayer with you that I am praying when I feel myself moving towards fear instead of laughter:
God, this angst and worry and anxiousness? This shame and guilt and sadness? This is not what you have in mind for your children. You have so much more for me. You have in mind my laughter – free and loud and long laughter – at my fears of the future. This laughter is not the goal. No, it’s just the outward evidence of an inward posture: a soul abiding and trusting in You. Although there are flickers of deep trust in this soul of mine, I am human: capable of quickly forgetting the progress you and I have made together and replanting my roots in old patterns. But you are a good Father, patiently grabbing my cheeks and telling me to breeaathe. You speak words of love and bravery and joy and trust over me. You remind me that You, too, know what it feels to plead for “this cup of suffering to be taken from me” (Matthew 26:39). I do not travel this journey alone, and, even if my feelings take longer to catch up to your truth, I will not surrender to the Enemy’s tactics against my soul. I will choose to abide. I will choose to trust. I will choose to laugh. With your help. In your strength. Amen.
I want to give a disclaimer to my readers. Anxiety can be very debilitating, and my intention is not to undermine this or offer glib answers in my post. Sometimes miracles look like asking for help, taking medication or seeking a counselor. Anxiety is very complex and manifests itself differently in everybody, but I am certain that God wants fullness of joy for his children. This blog is simply a picture of what it looks like for me in this season of my life.