A letter to an anxious teenager
I felt a bit sorry for you when your grandma dragged you down to see me this week. "I want her to talk to someone about her fears," grandma said, and I knew immediately that being 12, there would be almost nothing more embarrassing that talking to a strange woman you've never met about your problems just because your grandma told you to.
But you were wonderful, and open, and mature and sensible and honest. It was a pleasure to talk to you and I've had our conversation running around in our head all week.
You told me that you had trouble getting to sleep because your thoughts whirr around your head and your worries and fears play on your mind. You're scared of bad things happening; you can't even listen to the news on the radio because it makes you anxious. For you, life is scary, and you are terrified that something's going to happen to your parents, or to yourself.
B, I have too much respect for you to treat you like a child and tell you silly cliches like 'everything's going to be alright' or 'you shouldn't worry - just be positive.' In fact, I think you have a healthy sense of reality.
Life is scary. Bad things do happen.
Just this week I heard that two people I know have cancer. It's likely they will die - or at least be extremely unwell for a long period. I went to a funeral of a baby who never got a chance to look at her mother and father; never got to blow raspberries back to her three year old brother. The worst thing about it, as if it wasn't bad enough, was that the same family lost a baby two years ago as well. They've had two funerals in two years. It's unbelievably tragic.
My own son has a life-long neurological condition that stops him relating well to people and will probably limit what he can do in the future. It's meant lots of heartache and hard work in our family. I've cried many tears over many years. My neighbour down the road has a child with even more severe difficulties.
You see, the world is broken. While there are lots of good things and plenty of fun and light and laughter and love in this world, there's also a whole lot of darkness, pain and trauma, and it's pointless to to try to pretend that it doesn't exist.
The big problem is; how do you deal with that? How do you face the possibility - no, the probability that something bad will happen to you? How do you make sense of it?
Lots of people try to escape pain and hardship. You can do it a few different ways. One is to stay busy and feel like you've got a lot of important things to do. Another way is to pretend the bad stuff doesn't exist by shoving it into the back of your brain and never letting it out. You could overdose on funny TV or puppy videos on the internet. Or, when you get older, you could get drunk - a lot - because it makes you feel better. Some people eat cake when they feel sad or bad or scared. Some people don't eat at all. Some people let their fears overtake them and try to control what happens around them by creating rituals that they have to follow at all costs - kind of like a good luck charm.
When pain does happen - and believe me, it will - people will do anything to not feel bad. They'll say that it's unfair, that it shouldn't happen to them, that it's someone else's fault, that it's God's fault, that they can't understand what's going on.
The Bible says that when God made this world (and you can argue there might be different ways he made it), he made it good. It was when people started trying to run things themselves that things began to get stuffed up. And when you think about it, a lot of the bad stuff that happens is pretty much directly because of human behaviour and mistakes.
The world is broken. Pain happens. No one escapes bad things happening, because we live in a broken world. But God has created an escape plan - one that actually works. He doesn't necessarily fix situations right now (although often he'll step in and help) because really, to get to the bottom of the actual problem, he'd have to scrap the whole thing and start again.
His escape plan is different from what you'd expect. He made a way for us to have a relationship with him now, and he has promised heaven for those who want to live his way. It all revolves around what Jesus did by dying on the cross.
Basically, it means that he's going to be with us in the hard times and the difficulties and the pain.
When you were little, just a toddler, learning to walk, you fell over a lot. Often you would have bumped your head or your knees, or skinned your hands. It's a big deal, learning to walk, and it can be pretty hazardous. That's why you always see hovering parents, chasing their children around, standing over them, shielding their foreheads from sharp kitchen benches and holding their hands. Good parents allow their children to do the hard work of learning, and let them fall sometimes so they can learn what it is to get up again. But good parents are always there, watching and helping and waiting as their children learn and try.
God is good, and as we go through this life, he's like that good parent, standing next to his children, helping them learn, being with them in the hard times and giving them a kiss on their ouchies when it hurts. and in the future, he'll take us to a better place and things will be okay.
I showed you a verse in the Bible that my husband read when he was 18, and which changed his life. It's where Jesus promises 'rest' for people who follow him. It's a beautiful verse. But it doesn't mean that life doesn't have its challenges, or its burdens. What it means is that we don't have to carry all those challenges and burdens on our own shoulders.
You don't have to carry all your worries and fears on your own shoulders. You can give them to Jesus and ask him to be like that good parent and be with you so that you don't have to go through life alone and scared.
Dear B, I really hope you ask God for his help. I know that if you ask, he'll answer. He wants to be your friend so much. He loves you. And did you know that love is the opposite of fear? Where there is love, there is no fear. (That's also from the Bible.)
Come back and see me sometime. I'd love to talk further.