What Anxiety Steals from Us (and How to Steal It Back)

My pockets are empty, and it’s disconcerting.

We’re at a church picnic in a local city park. The sun is shining and it conspires with summer foliage and a gentle breeze to dapple the grass in dancing light and shadow. The children do their dance, bouncing and playing amongst it all. But thunderstorms are predicted and I’ve left my iPhone at home and I have no way to check on the ever-shifting summer forecast.

I mindlessly reach for it several times. I touch only lint.

Finally, during a lull in conversation, I ask someone with a phone if it is going to rain. And then she does something that undoes me. She doesn’t reach for her phone. Instead, she looks toward the sunny skies in the west, looks back at me with a smile, and says, “Not for the next thirty minutes.”

Not for the next thirty minutes.

She’s not just giving me the answer to my question, she’s giving me the answer to my season. What I mean is, I’ve got a busy autumn coming—more blogging, a new podcast, speaking engagements around the country—much of it new and uncertain, all of it demanding in the way only new and uncertain things can be.

And I’ve been focused on those storms coming.

Meanwhile, while I keep checking my mental radar, this thirty minutes of life—these dog days of summer filled with sun and swimming pool noodles and kids with no homework or extracurricular activities or back-to-school nights—are quickly slipping past. This is what anxiety does to us.

It robs us of the sunny moments.

We go through stretches of life in which everything is basically okay. The kids are mostly healthy, the bills are paid—for now, your spouse doesn’t mind sleeping next to you at night, your lungs and your body are working for the most part, your job is as stable as a job can be in this day and age, and you have some friends down the street who are happy when you show up.

In other words, life may not be perfect, but it is probably as good as it gets.

We are given respites in life—thirty minutes here and there of sunlight and dancing shadows, thirty minutes to play a little bit, thirty minutes to rest and recover from the hardships of being human—but our anxiety turns even those respites into rigor. It robs us of our rest. It focuses us not on this thirty minutes; rather, it brings the storms that aren’t yet upon us into the present moment, until there are no present moments left to enjoy.

I have only a few more days to enjoy this last summer before my daughter’s second grade year, my son’s fourth grade year, and my oldest son’s last year of middle school. Only a few more days to enjoy this thirty minutes of sunlight that is not always easy, but is certainly not a storm. Sure, a busy autumn is coming, but…

Not for the next thirty minutes.

Recently, I asked someone else how they were planning to spend the remainder of their summer. They answered me by asking me a question:

“Did you know a reed’s only job is to sway?”

I know we human beings are here to do a lot more than sway. But maybe sometimes, on some sunny afternoons, on some dwindling days of summer, our only job is to sway. To stand still in one place and to simply be. To let ourselves be nudged around by the winds of time. To be gently moved by it all.

Maybe, for this next thirty minutes of my life and the lives of my children, I’ll steal the present moment back from my anxiety. And I will do so by repeating this mantra on every breath, “Don’t miss this thirty minutes.”

This isn’t an idea; it’s a practice. And like any practice, if we are faithful to it, it can bend our life to its shape. If we are faithful to it, for just a little while, we may discover the freedom to simply sway.

And then, as we sway, we will begin to trust

when the storms come,

as they likely will,

they will bend us,

but they will not break us,

and eventually they too will pass,

for another thirty minutes or so,

and then we will be free,

once again,

to simply sway.

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In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.