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Comfort Food

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

2 Timothy 1:7

At 27 weeks Baby Chris’s retinas are now mature, making him more sensitive to light. His thumb-sucking is no longer random but is intentional self-soothing.

We’ve all seen young children sucking their thumbs when they are tired, bored, hungry or scared. But Why would a baby in the womb need to self-soothe? He’s not hungry, wet, frightened or in pain. But thumb-sucking is seen in plenty of ultrasound images, so we know it’s innate – it’s not a learned behavior. By the time we grow to adolescence and adulthood, we continue to self-sooth by replacing thumb-sucking with other coping mechanisms ranging from eating “comfort food,” shopping, overwork or over-exercising, to gambling, alcohol and drug abuse.

We tend to treat anxiety as a problem – and certainly, runaway anxiety can be disabling. But it seems that anxiety is part of the universal human condition. What if anxiety is a gift in the same way that pain is a gift? Pain helps us learn to be careful around real things that will actually harm us if we encounter them, like hot burners, sharp points and street traffic. Pain and suffering also remind us of our weakened humanity. Pain forces us to allow others to minister to us in more intimate ways and allows others to exercise compassion. Both pain and anxiety can be problematic, but they can also be positive and productive.

So, if anxiety is a gift, how does it function? Similar to pain, anxiety functions as a reminder of what might harm us – but in a way that is different from physical pain, overwhelming anxiety magnifies not only the possibility but the expectation of pain that is often – at least in the moment – a non-existent threat. Unlike what we learn from physical pain, with anxiety we can’t modify our behavior to protect us from the real thing that could actually harm us (e.g., don’t touch, look both ways). Anxiety only allows us to become hyper-vigilant in anticipation of a pain that we can’t measure or prevent, from an unknown source, at a time we can’t predict. Physical pain is usually specific, but with anxiety the possibilities are limitless! No wonder it’s so easy for worry to expand into a suffocating blanket of depression. Doesn’t seem very gift-like to me.

But more than 500 times - Scripture reminds us to “be not afraid.”[1] The Psalms, the prophets, all the Gospels and the epistles remind us to trust in the Lord (Ps. 3:5-6; 34:4; 55:22), trust the future to the Lord because God is with us (Isaiah 40:31; Jeremiah 29:11), and the battle is the Lord’s (Deut. 3:22). Are you concerned about your family and livelihood? God will provide for all our needs (Psalm 145:16; Matthew 6:28-29; Philippians 4:19). Do you fear sickness and death? God will never leave you alone (Psalm 23; Psalm 91).

Perhaps the worst worry that assails even the strongest Believer from time-to-time is the fear that we might not, after all, be acceptable in God’s sight. The knowledge of our past and current sins can overwhelm our faith and leave us wavering. It may be that it is at this point where the gift of anxiety shines brightest in the words of St. Paul: “…I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” (Romans 8:38-39)

The place where we collapse under the weight of the anxiety and worry over the people and things we can’t control, is the place where anxiety becomes a gift: when the only place left to turn - our only hope - is God. The God who made all things (John 1:3), the God who is in control of all things (Matthew 10:29; Revelation 1:17), the God who holds all things together (Colossians 1:17), is the One to whom the gift of anxiety points.

A mother’s womb should be the safest place we will ever know this side of eternity, yet in our upside-down times it has become one of the most perilous places: a place where the smallest and weakest among us lie helplessly as their lives are held in the shaky trust of others – anxious and fearful men and women - unwilling parents who may see the child as the source of the anxiety they long to escape.

Thank God the preborn have no anxious expectation that they might be targeted for elimination. Thank God that He has them in His care. Thank God that He has given human beings anxiety from the womb, so that as we go through life we might become conscious of our need for God’s grace and mercy.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Isaiah 40:31

[1] The Scripture citations that follow are only examples – the references are too numerous to mention.

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