Anxious But Blessed

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Once again, laryngitis has prevented me from recording today’s podcast.  Thanks for your understanding.     
Anxious But Blessed
Steve Young is one of those guys who just seems to have it all. 
Blessed with a 6-foot-2-inch frame, a powerful left arm, and deceptive speed, he played pro quarterback for 15 seasons, twice being named Most Valuable Player of the NFL.  In 1994 he was MVP of Super Bowl XXIX, leading the San Francisco 49ers to a victory in which he threw a record six touchdown passes. 
He had the perfect pedigree to star as quarterback at Brigham Young University, where he became a unanimous All-American in 1983.  Young happens to be one of the great-grandsons of Mormon pioneer Brigham Young.
Blessed with good looks and a gracious spirit, he was widely considered one of the most eligible bachelors in America.  He was overwhelmed with proposals from female admirers.  During an actual NFL game, one of the officials called time out and asked to have a private conference with Young.  What could this be about?  He reported that his daughter was a student at BYU.  Would Young like to go out with her?  Later in the game Young was sacked, ending a long drive.  The same official threw a flag for roughing the passer, even though it was obvious no foul had been committed.  He leaned down to Young and said quietly, “She likes Italian.”
Yes, some guys seem to have it all.
In Young’s case, that includes a crippling sense of anxiety that has tormented him his entire life. 
As he reveals in his autobiography QB: My Life Behind the Spiral, he was terrified to leave home as a child.  He was petrified of the possibility of failure.  He could hardly endure circumstances in which he had to be alone with his thoughts, worries, and fears.
His anxiety was a carefully guarded secret.  It’s hard to fathom, but until the day he went to college he had spent only one night away from home.  That was for a tonsillectomy.  He never spent a single night at the home of a friend, nor a single night on a camping trip or retreat.  He always managed to make excuses.
When he signed his first major contract as a pro ballplayer, he couldn’t imagine walking into the press conference.  His agent had to take him by the hand and lead him before the cameras. 
Did things get better over the course of his spectacular career?  On the night before his record-setting Super Bowl, he couldn’t bear to be alone in his hotel room.  He asked security to enter the room of his friend and teammate Bert Jones and to relocate Bert’s bed to his own room. 
It didn’t help that Young, destined to enter the pro football Hall of Fame, spent four years on the 49ers bench sitting behind the great quarterback Joe Montana, also destined to be a Hall of Famer.   The Montanas once invited Steve to their home for Christmas.  Joe’s three-year-old daughter stood alongside her dad, pointed at Young and said, “Daddy, is this the one we hate?” 
Steve gradually came to understand something that changed everything. 
His anxiety was not a moral failure.  It was not a character flaw.  It was not his parents’ fault nor God’s fault nor his own fault. 
Here we need to pause and acknowledge that we must not confuse theology and humanity.  There are good reasons to step back from significant aspects of Mormon teaching.  But depression, fearfulness, and anxiety cut across the entire human spectrum.  They aren’t automatically associated with personal convictions about the Trinity, sacred texts, or the meaning of the cross.  For his part, Steve Young has cultivated a lifelong trust in God, and has allowed his hard-earned reputation as a “strong man” to be more than balanced by transparency about what many consider to be a weakness. 
Millions of people have had similar struggles. 
Abraham Lincoln never carried a knife in his pocket.  He was too afraid that he might be overcome by melancholy and use it on himself.   
Does God have a word for those who feel crippled by such chronic anxieties?    
Many who have turned to God in the hope of being delivered from the darkness in their lives have wondered if it’s possible to be simultaneously blessed and depressed.  Faith seems to promise so much.  Love, joy, and peace – the three greatest hungers of the human heart – happen to be the first three fruits of the Holy Spirit that St. Paul mentions in the book of Galatians. 
But what if, even though my theological ducks are all in a row, my life feels burdened by anxiousness?  What if everyone else but me “feels the joy”?  The sadness only deepens whenever a spiritual community demands production or perfection from its members.  Those who feel lost or depressed or fearful are made to feel as if they have only themselves to blame.
When it comes to God and human frailties, there’s a difference between the hope and the hype. 
The hype is that a God-trusting person should never feel anxious or down.  Don’t believe it.  Consider the exceedingly broken people to whom God has been more than willing to entrust his mission and his message.  The list of luminaries includes Moses, Elijah, Gideon, Jeremiah, Jonah, and Peter.  Nor should we overlook Jesus’ cry of supreme desperation on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
So where is our hope?
Hope springs from the fact that the meaning of life doesn’t come down to production, perfection, or how we happen to be feeling on any particular day.  Otherwise we would all be lost.
Hope can be found in those wonderful but all-too-rare spiritual communities where real people can rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 
Pursue such a community.  Seek someone who is able to hear your darkest fears without judging you, and walk alongside you when all you see is fog.  Gratefully accept, as from God himself, the miracle of prescription meds that in our own lifetimes have eased the burdens of so many sufferers.   
And hope comes from abandoning ourselves to the God who by virtue of our creation gives us a never-ending reason to live confidently, who stands with us even in our lowest moments, and who says, “Never will I leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrew 13:5).
When we make that promise our own, we’re aligning ourselves with the One who really does “have it all.”