Holidays give an excellent occasion to write of anxiety. It is the great equalizer . . . the common denominator of earthlings. What would life be like if we didn’t have the ability to make it complicated? Without anxiety and complication who would be left to purchase the contents on the shelves packed full of sleep and indigestion medicines? He who embraces anxiety hugs a thief who will ruefully strip away your peace, security, and happiness. No one is better off for having invited the vagabond of anxiety for a sleepover. You can't change the past, but you can certainly ruin the present by allowing anxiety to mess with your future.
I quietly chortle to myself when I hear my friends tell me how fortunate I am to have spent so many days of my past thirty years in the “peaceful, laid-back cultures” of Africa, Asia, and Indonesia. They make it sound as if Americans have some sort of exclusive lock-down on the culture of angst, apprehension, and fretful stress. We almost pride ourselves on the perceived exclusivity of frantic, panic, and disquietude. We almost take as truth that no others work as hard as we do, no other culture accomplishes as much as we do, none goes as fast as we go, none deserves to worry as much as we worry, and none works as hard at deserving to wear the badge of anxiety as we do.
However, what I have learned is that the misery of anxiety is universal. It is prevalent in all cultures. Trouble seems to create a capacity to handle the same trouble. In your life you are going to see a lot of anxiety, and you had better be on speaking terms with it. I loved the story Max Lucado told about one fellow who experienced so much anxiety that he decided to hire someone to do his worrying for him. He found a man who agreed to be his hired worrier for a salary of $200,000 per year. After the man accepted the job, his first question to his boss was, "Where are you going to get $200,000 per year?" To which the boss responded, "That's your worry.”
In case you are one of those under the misperception that all foreign cultures are tranquil, composed, and nonchalant, I must tell you I have witnessed some pretty bazaar cases of anxiety in foreign countries. In 2001, I was traveling on one of my earlier trips to Kinshasa, Congo. My host from the ministry of health insisted we travel north out of Kinshasa to the city of Bandundu on the route to Mbandaka. The route runs south of the equator right into the Great Congo River Basin with its virgin tropical rain forests. The road is highly traveled out of Kinshasa, but the quality of the highway deteriorates the closer you get to Bandundu. As we made a sweeping curve, we drove down off a steep plateau to the river basin.
Our driver steered our Land Rover to the side of the road and stopped. We all got out. My hosts pointed out to me the location of a tragic occurrence that had taken place about six months earlier. It had been raining and a portion of the highway had washed out. That was not necessarily unusual in the tropical area, but in the past, should there be a washout in that area, the drivers would simply leave the roadway and steer their cars onto the jungle floor, drive around the washed out area, then back again onto the roadway and continue their travel. However, on that day things did not go as usual.
The first cars pulled off and attempted to drive on the jungle floor, but the rain had softened the stability of the ground and the cars bogged down and were helplessly stuck. Large trucks followed, honking their horns knowing full well that with their driving expertise they could easily get through if they could pass the stuck cars. As they passed the cars, they also became stuck. Now, the cars and trucks just kept coming with their drivers getting less and less patient. The group anxiety began to rise and tempers flared as the drivers of the following vehicles seemed to think that if they would just go a little farther out into the jungle they would find solid ground and be able to pass all the stupid people who had gotten stuck. As they would go farther out in order to pass all the other stalled vehicles, they, too, would get stuck.
The protocol of African highway management does not include such conveniences as detours or patrol officers to direct such situations. Some people tried to turn around and go back, but there was no way to turn around and go back because the traffic just kept coming around the corner and down the steep road off the plateau. The option available to them was to shake their fists and swear at the incompetence of the others ahead of them and try to go out even further to get around the washout. Each driver thought he was the exception and could find a way around either to the left or to the right.
Before long, there were well over 250 large trucks and cars jammed up in that area. No emergency vehicles could get in to help. No one had food. The thirsty people began to drink the contaminated flood water. They became sick with dysentery. Several died of dehydration. Several people died of heart attacks. One pregnant mother went into labor. There were complications with the birth and the mother bled to death and the baby died. A couple of drivers were beaten to death as fights broke out. It took weeks to unscramble the mess and clear out all the vehicles. My hosts explained to me that the vehicles were spread out over a kilometer wide into the jungle, where they had tried to unsuccessfully pass each other. A total of more than twenty people died as a result of the fiasco.
Plato once advised, “Nothing in the affairs of men is worthy of great anxiety.” The unusual consequences of anxiety in the Congo River Basin that day certainly attested to that. As the old preacher, Charles Spurgeon, used to say, “Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths.”
Now that we have been serious . . . let me offer to you another option for handling anxiety for your holiday consideration. I overheard a fellow exhorting some of his friends with what I would call, Wisdom with a Warp:
If you can’t accomplish something all at once, just take it little by little. That way
you only spend a small part of each day not accomplishing anything, and you can
take the rest of the day off!”