Anxiety and Looking Ahead

On my commute every day into the city, the world wakes up as I rush by. If I try to catch the details of the scenery outside, my eyes start to hurt. It’s too fast; it’s too much. Instead, I let the view blur around me and I look ahead, in both my physical vision, and in my thinking about the day. If I try to focus on every detail of what’s to come, I start to sink into doubts and unsolvables. I get anxious. Without a forward-looking perspective, a focus on what’s ahead, the world can get overwhelming. It’s easy to get lost, distracted, disoriented, and discouraged by the screaming pace of today.

An orchestra director once told me that good musician can be identified by how far she looks ahead in the music while she plays. Music is an amazing connection between the past, present, and future. The beginning of a piece of music allows a musician to anticipate what comes ahead. Everything the listener has heard so far up to the very moment she is experiencing informs what she will hear next. And the composer or the performer can either satisfy those expectations or surprise the listener, as either one chooses. So the best musician can sight-read a piece of music and be looking many measures ahead as she plays, in order to make better decisions about each note.

In our spiritual lives it is the same. The more we take into account the future (and God’s truth is the ability to know the future), the better we can make decisions about today. The clearer vision we have of the future (attained by not allowing ourselves to be distracted by the details and worries of physical life), the less we stumble over our day-to-day lives.

Bill Watterson said, “The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive.” And there will always be a sense of the unknown. Often we cannot see until much later how God works in our lives, how things were meant to be. But without the unknown, we could develop no faith, no patience, no character. And there would be no choice, no expectation, no surprises. Ultimately, we know where we are going. We only worry about stops along the way.

In The Meaning of Anxiety, Rollo May writes, “One would have no anxiety if there were no possibility whatever. Now creating, actualizing one’s possibilities, always involves negative as well as positive aspects. It always involves destroying the things as they are, destroying the patterns within oneself, progressively destroying what one has clung to from childhood on, and creating new and original forms and ways of living.”

We could stay as we are, and not move forward, and not have to worry about the unknown. Instead of looking ahead, we could look down. But accepting the challenge of God’s calling to grow and change means taking on the anxiety of what we do not know and what we cannot see, the discomfort of becoming someone new as God moulds us. And if we look toward the future that He has promised us, we can better maneuver the challenges and anxiety of today.

 

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