The Answer is: None of the Above

As a kid, I really liked taking tests. I was very good at looking at a page of notes, memorizing what was on the page, and regurgitating the information on the test. I remember feeling so proud when one of my friends would show me a study sheet, I'd look at it for 2 minutes, and then repeat back to them everything that was on it. I loved taking a test, crossing out the obviously wrong answers, and coming to the conclusion. Aha! This - this is the right answer. I shall receive a 100% for choosing correctly!



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Back then, I lived in a very black and white world. It was wrong to be mean, so I tried my best not to be. It was right to stand up for Jesus, so I did. And I was filled to the brim with anxiety when I wasn't sure where I landed on a certain issue. "What do I do if two groups of friends want to play with me? Is there a right and a wrong in this situation?" I was the kid who told on myself when I did something wrong out of complete fear of making a mistake, of not living perfectly.


Internally, though, I was an anxious disaster. I wanted to do what was right so desperately that I often lost myself in the process. In second grade, I wrote my mom a note to tell her that I was afraid I had accidentally stuck up my middle finger while raising my hand to answer a question in class. I lived in constant fear of the gray, of accidents, of mistakes.


As I grew up, my anxiety didn't go away, it just shifted. My middle school journals are riddled with questions, begging God to forgive me for seeking the people's approval over His approval. I desperately wanted to feel seen and heard, and the enemy used Christianity to convince me that it was wrong to have that desire. It was an evil, conniving twist of the truth, and I believed it. In high school, my anxiety showed up as a self-critical voice in my head. It often asked me why I couldn't get a boyfriend or why I wasn't as good at math as all my (super-smart) friends. It ate at me when I just couldn't seem to finish the simple task of cleaning my room. The voice paralyzed me pretty regularly, but I believed that I was lazy or just flat-out not good enough, leading to more crippling self-criticism.


Fast forward to my teaching years, and my anxiety had me running a people-pleasing machine of a high school Spanish classroom. I had teenagers angry with me for the activities I assigned, the kind of voices I used, and the grades I gave. I made sure that every one of my students enjoyed my class, and when some of them inevitably didn't, I was crushed. I would get up the next day, determined to make them like it (to like me?) Often, I missed out on developing relationships with kids that did love my class in order to gain the approval of the few who didn't.


My anxiety took the fast track, though, when I became a mom. I was so confident about becoming a foster mom. I knew exactly the kind of home and environment of safety I wanted to provide for them. I knew that I could make macaroni and cheese and have a warm bed waiting for them. I could play with them and hug them and restore to joy what had been so deeply broken within them.


But when it actually happened - when those kids arrived - and I had to set boundaries, have tough conversations, calm their nervous system, and calm my own anxious nervous system? When my life felt out of control and my world was in complete chaos? When a hug or a quick chat didn't work because their brains were wired for danger (not safety) and their logical brain was not functioning? I was at a loss, and my anxiety was at an all-time high.




My own brain was entering into survival mode at this point, and I had surpassed my own window of tolerance, but I didn't know it. I googled information about controlling and manipulating behaviors, begging to hear from other parents who had experienced similar things in their parenting. I wanted an answer for how to deal with it. Instead, every time all I could find was this Karyn Purvis video. I've probably watched this video 10+ times.



Karyn Purvis' response to control and manipulation? She recognizes the behavior as a prior method of survival. She believes appropriate levels of control and predictability, as well as felt safety, will provide children with the tools they need to no longer need control and manipulation. These were not the prescriptive answers I wanted; it was what I already knew.


Every single time, I would weep at her kindness - not just toward my kids, but also toward me. I was smack dab in the middle of chaos, which is probably similar to what my children were feeling. In trying to find a "one size fits all" answer, I was doing the same thing as they were - trying to control my environment to make it less scary and decrease my own anxiety.


I was living with heightened anxiety for months, perhaps years, but I believed that I was shutting down because I wasn't able to handle it. I wanted to give up - many, many times. But I kept pressing on because I did fully feel the presence of God and the work of his hand in our situation. I just wish I had recognized my own pain and struggle in the midst of it.


I still try to find answers when our home feels out of control, when I feel like I've lost it, and when I don't know how to respond. But now I can recognize this behavior as a symptom of anxiety. Instead of trying to find the answer (hint: there isn't one), I try to show myself compassion and love by calming my own nervous system. I remind myself of God's truth and center myself in His love and grace.


Then, once I am centered and grounded in God, I remind myself of this:


God started this work in me. He will finish it. (Philippians 1:6)


God has already walked here and prepared this work for me. I just need to follow him there. (Ephesians 2:10)


I can be strong and confident in what the Lord has called me to because I have a strong and confident God. (1 Corinthians 16:13)


If I suffer for doing good, I'm doing Kingdom work (literally all of 1st Peter).


Anxiety doesn't just disappear by wishing it away, but when I can feel it diminishing, I can feel God restoring me to confidence. I can feel new strength rise up within me - a strength born from weakness, a strength that is not my own, but God's strength residing in me. There is no answer key, especially when it comes to trauma. But when we can move past the obstacles getting in the way of Jesus, we can more clearly see the One who is the answer, the One who gives us the strength and confidence to come up with our own answers.




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