Anyone who gardens probably knows about zones. Zones for plants are primarily based on latitude. The zones then run primarily east to west. Plants are fairly picky about the climate where they grow. But altitude can affect the zone too. Despite being in a fairly southern zone, we live in a high desert mountain valley. Up in this altitude we have Joshua Trees. In the picture, there is a tree with spiky leaves. That’s a Joshua Tree. They thrive at altitudes around 3,000′ to 4,000′.
Arizona is known of course for the Saguaro, also in this picture. Although they can grow up to 4,000′ they thrive closer to 2,000′ altitude. The two just don’t naturally mix. There is normally a very wide line between them. And yet, there is a small area along Arizona’s Highway 93 that just happens to be at the right altitude where they do mix quite happily. For someone who has lived in high desert mountain valleys most of my life, this is always a joy to see when we drive back and forth to Phoenix from our home.
The point of interest here is plants that not only almost never mix, but grow in completely different areas. Yet there are strange occurrences where that wide broad line completely disappears.
As a counselor, I’m all too aware that the vast majority of people live with a high level of anxiety they may not even be aware of. As in, we become so accustomed to carrying a high level of anxiety that we end up considering it to be our norm.
When I work with people on changing what they think about (we’re told in Philippians 4:8 to think about things that are true, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise) they often come back with a list of very real concerns. Bills, getting along with other people, problems at work or school, and many more.
I often talk about how to change our thinking, but today I want to talk about lines. None of our worries fit the description of the things we’re supposed to think about. But, many of them are very real.
There are appropriate times to sit down with our bills and a calculator and figure out which ones we can pay Friday and which ones have to wait. Then it’s likely appropriate to call and make arrangements for the ones we won’t pay. During this process, our thoughts are naturally very close to the issues that cause anxiety. So feeling a little anxiety is normal and acceptable. (There should be some relief when you finish the planning session though, because you accomplished something!) So, at that point our thought lives and the troubles lurking out there are coexisting like the Saguaro and Joshua Tree in the picture above. While planning or dealing with a situation it makes sense to think about it.
Where most of us need to make a change is realizing that under normal conditions, there should be a big fat line between potential worries and our thought lives. If I’m in the middle of my duties at work or maybe spending time with family and friends, then dwelling on my finances may be our norm. But it isn’t helpful. If my mind is supposed to be on a work task, but I’m fretting about my rent or car payment, then I’m not doing right by my employer or myself. These are not times when I can do anything about it. So, we adjust our focus to doing our job well, or enjoying the people we love. Then at the appropriate time (after we get off work on payday for example) we can take action on the plans we made. Again, the line can get a little narrower.
If we can learn to do that, only focus on potential worries when we are planning or taking action, then we can create a separation between the two. As we get better at practicing that new skill (yes, it takes practice and you won’t always get it right) then life’s troubles and our thought lives will become as separate as the Saguaro and the Joshua Tree except for the very specific and brief times when they appropriately coexist.
Give it a shot. But, if you can’t beat it on your own or there are other issues like a negative self-image that complicate things, don’t be afraid to reach out to myself or someone you can trust. Your mental, emotional, and spiritual health is just as important as your physical health!