Rather than my worried, anxious petitions repeating in my head, I now had something I could grab hold of and pray.
By Rachel Anne Ridge, adapted from Walking with Henry: Big Lessons from a Little Donkey on Faith, Friendship, and Finding Your Path
I used to roll my eyes at people who said they experienced anxiety attacks, thinking that all they needed was to pull themselves together. Dear Lord, forgive me for my ignorance.
Anxiety is real.
The very real and intense anxiety-filled moments I experienced were infrequent enough that I didn’t seek medical help. But for some, it should not be taken lightly. The condition can be debilitating, requiring medication and professional assistance.
My anxiety was mostly a low-level, constant hum of What if?
I was anxious not only about Flash but also about all the What ifs? in life.
What if I get sick?
What if something happens to one of our children?
What if something happens and we can’t pay our bills?
What if I have a flat tire on a busy freeway?
What if I choke on a ham sandwich?
What if I get caught in a flash flood? (my ultimate nightmare)
What if the house burns down?
What if my marriage fails?
What if I haven’t read my Bible enough?
What if I haven’t prayed enough?
What if I’ve missed my calling?
What if I’ve missed God?
What if I’m wrong about everything?
It was like a virus had taken hold. With a virus, most of the time you don’t even know you’ve been infected until the symptoms show up.
Worry begins as tiny cells that morph and multiply into mutants running amok in your mind. These mutants tell you every situation in your life is doomed. Anxiety begins to scribble all over everything with a dark, messy crayon, then crumple up the page. What’s the point of even trying? It’s all going to be a disaster.
Anxiety had shoved me into a funk. I’d fought it on and off before, but now it was a full-on battle. What I needed right then—mentally and spiritually—was a heavy-duty vaccination and a quarantine.
I needed new self-talk and soul care. On a practical level, I needed rest. Spiritually, I was bone-dry. Praying felt impossible. I flailed about in Psalms, which didn’t help me; nor did the guilt over my inability to organize my spiritual life when I needed it most. Even in the best of times I’d struggled to maintain a personal devotion time—something that is supposed to be the backbone of a vibrant faith. You’d think I’d have mastered this by now. So not only did the anxiety weigh on me, but my lack of consistency also added to my sense of guilt.
What I needed was a daily liturgy. At the time, I didn’t even know what liturgy meant. Liturgy is literally “a work of the people,” or even better, “a work for the people.” It’s simply an order of worship, laid out long ago, that helps people read, pray, and worship in ways that are constructive and formative.
The Book of Common Prayer gave me something to hang on to. Inside its pages is “The Daily Office,” a set of Scripture readings, prayers, and Creeds. Each day I could enter the stream of worship that already seemed to be flowing with or without me. I could let it carry me. There was nothing I needed to make up on my own. I didn’t have to decide which book or verse to meditate on. Knowing that I was surrounded by millions of other Christians—all reading, breathing, praying the same things—nourished my weary soul.
I treasured the prayers and Scripture I found each day. As I began to read and participate regularly, I discovered online versions that were easy to pull up on my phone and devices. Some aspects of modern life are really nice! In an instant, I could be buoyed by the strength of the worldwide church.
Each day’s reading was a dose of antidote to my anxiety.
With my Bible in one hand and prayer book in the other, I began to do more than simply find a comforting prayer here and there; I began to embrace the discipline of having the morning and evening prayers set out for me like a feast—not instead of my own prayers, but alongside them—to help shape my thoughts and bring me close to the Lord.
Almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day . . .
Simply breathing these words made my thoughts focus on Him, dissipating all the anxiety about tomorrow and what might happen.
THIS new day.
I’m safely here.
Jesus is present today. He has brought me here in safety. All I am being asked to do is live in this moment—in this day—in His presence. Rather than my worried, anxious petitions repeating in my head, I now had something I could grab hold of and pray.
He is present with me today. I am safe. As I began to meditate on the reality of those words, I started to sense his presence everywhere.
Beginning my day with liturgy fenced in my anxiety, keeping my mind free from invading mutant cells. My spirit became girded with truth as I joined the ever-flowing stream of prayers, forcing anxiety to play by itself in a corner. I would peek in on it every now and then, but never disturb it—it always wanted out. I didn’t have to deny the anxious thoughts, just refuse to give them power to overtake me.
Each day, I’d simply pray the day’s prayers, slowly and out loud.
I’d read the daily Scripture readings. Recite the Creeds.
Let them all continue to do their work in my spirit.
One day at a time.
Worry doesn’t always disappear overnight, but how liberating it is to turn our attention only to what is in front of us today. It allows us strength to fight today’s battles, love to fill today’s needs, and courage to be our truest selves now. Today’s thing may be a really hard thing, an “impossible” thing, but in this moment, being present before Christ and “the fulfilling of [His] purpose”—through giving, loving, and simply being—is the best that we can do.
Adapted from Walking with Henry: Big Lessons from a Little Donkey on Faith, Friendship, and Finding Your Path by Rachel Anne Ridge, releasing in March 2019 from Tyndale House Publishers.
Walking with Henry: Big Lessons from a Little Donkey on Faith, Friendship, and Finding Your Path by Rachel Anne Ridge
Just when you think it’s the end of your story . . . grace shows up. Sometimes it arrives as a moment of joy in the middle of despair. Sometimes you find it next to a trusted friend along an old, well-trodden path. And sometimes, grace has fuzzy ears, a bristled mane, and hope for a new start.
Join Rachel Anne Ridge, author of the beloved memoir Flash, in a journey back to the pasture. As she adopts a second rescue donkey as a little brother for Flash—a miniature named Henry—she finds that walking with donkeys has surprising lessons to teach us about prayer, renewing our faith, and connecting to God in fresh ways. Readers all over the world fell in love with Flash and with Rachel’s thoughtful, funny, and poignant stories about what life with a donkey can teach you. Now, meet Henry and join him on a walk that could change everything about how you hope, trust, and move forward from past regrets.