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Everything feels like a bit of a scramble right now. That’s not a complaint, simply an observation. It’s definitely not all bad; in fact, some things are quite good. And it’s not even that I’m particularly overwhelmed right now, I believe I’m getting it all done. It’s just — a lot, an emotional lot.

And careening through the changes and bustle and big feelings of it all, I can’t quite tell if I’m anxious or excited or what. Both, I guess. Both and then some.

I looked for the right expression to describe these feelings (and the right title for this week’s talk), the perfect idiom to express this combination of eager anticipation, fear, risk, thrill, and delight. Under consideration were “hot and bothered,” “bundle of nerves,” “wit’s end,” and “tearing one’s hair out.”

I rather liked the image conjured by “wit’s end.” I picture a misty coastal outcropping from which one might swan dive — beyond strategy and intelligence, beyond the ability to figure things out — into a vast unknown. But Wit’s End also sounds sort of like the setting of a gothic murder mystery, so I decided not to use it.

“Butterflies in the stomach” has a nicer, lighter, more wholesome ring. Life is giving me butterflies. You give me butterflies.

I’ve heard it said that the difference between anxiety and excitement is breath. This reassurance sometimes gets offered before someone has to step on stage — breathe into your nerves and transform the adrenaline rush from terror to dynamism. We can turn the butterflies from a feeling of queasy skin-crawling dread into a flickering fire that will light up the room.

I looked it up, and it is true that our brain chemistry is pretty much the same whether our exhilaration is positive or negative. Anxiety and excitement spark our central nervous system in similar patterns. I’m not entirely certain that it’s really breath that changes things. I mean, for sure, breathing helps. But I suspect that the real difference — what the breath makes room for — is intention. Remembering our intention, our choice, our courage.

The butterfly feeling is caused by a combination of hormones and neurotransmitters that the body releases when we encounter a threat, something new, or something arousing. It’s a stimulated readiness for flight or fight (or public speaking, or a first date, or whatever). It sets us up for action. Too much of it is too much, of course — unmanaged, willy-nilly butterflies can lead to panic and paralysis. But generally, they’re there to give us a little juice, some extra oomph.

As those butterflies flip and flutter around inside, we breathe deeply with them. And we create some space to remember our commitments — what we’re up to… what we hope to create… what we stand for… why we’ve stepped up to this unfamiliar precipice at our wit’s end…

We breathe, remember, and recommit. Then, perhaps, these wings can tickle and inspire us to lift-off.

T.S. Eliot said, “Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity.”

I tend to think of anxiety as something wrong, something inhibiting, something to be overcome. Breathe, for heaven’s sake, and turn it into excitement instead. We talk about anxiety as a disorder; there are lots of medicines for it. And, obviously, it can be a problem if extreme and unchecked.

But maybe, also, it would be helpful for us to think of anxiety not only as a pathology, but also as the very same neurochemical impulse that has us do anything, create anything. We might remember that anxiety is a very natural response to the world, even a useful one. Whether or not we reframe and rename it as “excitement” — (I mean, go for it if that helps it to move) — it’s the same thing, and it is the impetus for all problem-solving, discovery, invention, growth, self-expression, and cooperation.

I read a piece by self-help author Brianna Wiest this week, who points out that our brains and bodies aren’t really designed for what we might call “happiness.” We didn’t evolve to be peaceful, contented, and grateful. We evolved to worry and solve problems.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t experience peace, contentment gratitude, and happiness.  It just means that we aren’t really built for them as a perpetual state of being.  It’s not like, we’ll know we’re on the right track or we’ve succeeded or we’ve made it once we’re relaxed and happy.  We won’t fall or drift into happiness naturally and effortlessly when circumstances finally align just right.  We have to choose it, again and again.  We can create it, again and again, action by action, moment by moment.  And while our worry and anxiety may seem like the antithesis of everything we want, truly it’s just our brains inviting us to the creativity for which we’re made.

The world does give me butterflies. You give me butterflies. I’m usually scared of something, half-convinced most of the time that I’ve already messed everything up before I’ve even gotten started. It doesn’t matter how much evidence I’ve got to the contrary, I’m usually fairly certain that I’m not up to any of the tasks before me. Whether that’s preparing a Sunday sermon, or leading our community through a change, or being a good friend, or stepping onto a stage.

One thing I’ve learned, though, is that doing it anyway — stepping forth anyway — is the only way through the fear. And it’s not about pretending the fear isn’t there, and not even really about transforming the fear into love or into excitement. It’s about letting the fear and the love and excitement and all of it coexist. Letting it all inform me and inspire me. I don’t have to overcome it, or overcome myself. I just have to let myself be. And then choose. Then create. Thank you, butterflies.

I can’t wait to be with you this Sunday, May 26, 10am, at our NEW LOCATION — q-Staff Theatre at 400 Broadway Blvd SE. That’s on the southeast corner of Broadway and Lead in East Downtown. There’s plenty of parking up and down Broadway, with several spaces reserved right in front of the theater. If you don’t mind a little stroll and want to leave those rockstar spots for folks who really need them, you can also find lots of free street parking just east on Arno. XO, Drew

©2024 Drew Groves

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