One of my favorite books of all time is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. When I first read this novel back in high school, I was charmed by its intelligent sense of humor and wry take on life. My fellow nerds familiar with the book will remember that the famed hitchhiker’s reference guide referred to in the title supposedly outsells its competitor for two main reasons:
First, it is slightly cheaper; and second, it has the words DON’T PANIC inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.
I feel like Douglas Adams captured a lot about human nature in just those two sentences. We like a deal, and we like to be reassured. “Don’t panic.” What is it about those two words that are so appealing and calming?
I thought of this reference a lot this past weekend. Last Friday night, I ended a full and busy week feeling exhausted and utterly spent. I felt like I was getting sick and in need of more than just normal rejuvenation: I needed extended rest and repair.
As I looked back over my week to determine why I was in such bad shape, I realized that several times I had acted in panic. Twice I got behind schedule and didn't think I could finish what I needed to in the time I had. Once I took a wrong turn off of the freeway and thought I’d be late for an appointment. Another time, while in a hurry, I knocked the driver’s side mirror off of my car. In each of these situations, instead of stopping to gain perspective or ask for help, I freaked out, tensed up and tried to fix everything by myself with what little personal resources I had.
Panic is a terrible feeling. It’s a sudden fear that makes us think or act irrationally. It engages our animalistic fight-or-flight response. We panic because we feel we are in immediate danger, and we must act quickly to protect ourselves.
When I shared about my recent times of panic with my spiritual director, she asked me the classic spiritual direction question: where was God in those situations when I panicked? The “Sunday school” answer is that He was present, of course. But my personal experience was that my feelings pushed out any sense or remembrance of God. From my perspective, there’s simply no room for God when I panic.
My director invited me to look at the situations that led me to panic and determine why I felt so vulnerable in the first place. It turns out that if I don’t believe God will help me, provide for me, or be okay with me when I fail, then I’m more apt to panic.
Sunday morning, as I stepped out of the shower to dress for church, I suddenly realized that I had miscalculated the time (again!) and was running late. I felt the panic rising within me. But this time, instead of letting panic take over, I stopped and ask God for help. I felt Him assuring me that I didn't need to be afraid, that He was perfectly fine with me being late to church, that everything was going to be okay, and that maybe I needed even more rest and time alone with Him.
But you Israel my servant…fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. - Isaiah 41:8-10 ESV