The Lord is at hand
As a reminder, I will not have access to Facebook or any other social media site when I am in Antarctica. The only updates I expect to make will be through the email mailing list. If you are reading this on the website or from a forwarded email and are not currently a member, you can join the list here: https://timothymark.com/email-signup/
“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:5b-7, ESV.)
The clock is ticking, and the day of departure for Antarctica is only a few weeks away. Recently, I reviewed my journal of this journey over the past few months, and I noticed a disturbing trend. Again and again, I wrote about the anxiety I was feeling through the process of getting the job and preparing to leave. A sense of anxiety seems to be on repeat play. Throughout this season, there have been many moments when I felt anxious. The dream is so big and challenging to attain. It is a rare handful of people who get the opportunity I have sought. Now, feeling so close to the finish line, I feel stressed instead of at peace.
For several years, I have felt overwhelmed by my responsibilities with the ministry, work outside of the ministry, owning a home, owning a vehicle, and sailboat, all of which need attention and focus. Now, with deploying to Antarctica on the horizon, I feel like I am driving a car 100 miles per hour, trying to bring it to a complete stop before I leave. I am standing on the brake as hard as I can, but it feels like I am locked up and in a slide out of control. The perception has filled me with anxiety over and over again.
I can give many logical reasons why I should not feel anxious. But anxiety doesn’t respond to logic. Instead, anxiety glares at me, demanding my attention. When I lay down to sleep, it awakens, prodding me, imposing itself, stealing slumber and rest. Instead of shutting off, my brain turns on, trying to settle anxious thoughts that have rested in the background all day. The only way to break the cycle is to get up and read a book or watch TV until I finally feel able to go to sleep. This cycle happened to me in the process of getting the Primary position at McMurdo. And I find it happening to me again as the days tick down to deploying in September.
I’ve worked hard to check things off my list as I close down my life here for the time being. I’ve purchased all the items required, and my bags are still a few pounds under the allowed weight. But one essential thing remains unresolved – what to do with my sailboat.
In Florida, the winter months are the best months for sailing and living aboard the vessel. Most sailboat owners put their boats into safe storage for the summer hurricane season. It does not make sense to keep the sailboat since I will likely be working in Antarctica for the next few winters (i.e., the best time to live aboard and sail). So, I decided to sell it.
During this time, writing the book has been my primary focus. After that, I focused on preparing for a week of meetings at the end of last month. Now, with just five weeks away from the expected departure, I am finally getting around to listing the boat for sale. Once again, a sense of panic settled in. I began to feel anxious about it. Logically, I know I can just put it in storage and manage it next year. But again, my anxiety does not respond to logic.
Anxiety gnawed at my gut. At the height of my concern, the Father reminded me of a verse I learned as a child. It says, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:-7, ESV.)
I looked up the verses on my laptop. I noticed an odd thing. In the English Standard Version, the phrase, “do not be anxious about anything…” begins in the lower case, implying it is in the middle of a thought or sentence. Curious, I looked up the whole passage to consider the context. There it was. The preceding phrase says, “The Lord is at hand;” Read together it says this: “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything….”
I looked into the original language for the phrase “The Lord is at hand.” For the word “Lord,” Strong’s Concordance describes it this way: he to whom a person or thing belongs, about which he has the power of deciding; master, Lord or the possessor and disposer of a thing.
I was taken aback. The answer to my anxiety appeared in a straightforward phrase. “He to whom a person or thing belongs.” Those words exposed the heart of my fear. The glaring truth is that I was attempting to play God. But God alone is Lord. I belong to him.
Further, everything in my care belongs to him. I am merely the steward. I take care of his things the best I can. Even my body is his. I cannot change myself. I cannot control whether or not I get Covid before I depart for McMurdo. I cannot change my circumstances. I can only surrender, yielding my rights of ownership, yielding control, giving up the right of deciding what is best for me or my possessions. I belong to him. My home belongs to him. My car belongs to him. My sailboat belongs to him. It all belongs to him, and he alone has the power of deciding how to use it or even dispose of it. I say again. He alone has the power of deciding how to use it or even dispose of it.
For days I had tried to discipline myself not to be anxious. But trying harder to overcome my anxiety did not work. Surrender did. Appalled, I confessed to the Father how I have attempted to control my situation with getting the job in Antarctica. Same with taking care of the sailboat before I leave. I have tried to figure it out on my own instead of resting in the knowledge that my Father is the only owner of the vessel. He alone has the power of deciding what is best and how to dispose of it if necessary. If he doesn’t want to sell it, it won’t sell. If he wants to store it, he will store it. It is not my decision to make. So I wait for him to tell me what he wants me to do with his things.
Further, the Bible says, “The Lord is at hand.” He is not some faraway God, unconcerned with our day-to-day lives. He is near. He is with us. The one who owns all things and has the authority to decide what is best is close. He is aware. It is not as if he is somehow preoccupied somewhere far away in the universe. He is here! With us!
According to this passage, my sole responsibility is to bring all my requests to the Father, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving. I spent an hour talking with the Father, surrendering anew and afresh, letting go of my desire to control, yielding fully, finally resting in his embrace. My prayer had little to do with going to Antarctica and even less to do with a sailboat. It had everything to do with emptying my heart. The one thing that actually matters to my Father. My heart.
For me, the key to overcoming anxiety is not trying harder. It is surrender. And so I do not ask for relief; I ask for conformity. The Father pulls, stretches, slowly conforms me to the image of Jesus. Jesus, the son who trusted his Father fully even to the point of laying down his life. When we are aware of the presence of the Lord with us, we do not need to be anxious about anything. He is at hand. He is near. He is with us. Because of that, we let go of our anxious thoughts.
At that moment, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. When I surrendered control to my Father, I found a fresh perspective and peace. Options for storing the boat became clear, negating the pressure to make a quick sale before departure. Peace settled in where anxiety had ruled. And most importantly, my Father realigned my heart with his.