For my 35th birthday my dear friend Susan gave me a beautiful old copy of Streams in the Desert, a 19th century devotional book. A week later my twins were born. One of them was in critical condition at death’s door. His lungs kept collapsing, and he had to be ambulanced to Seattle Children’s Hospital. As I lay in bed, weary from labor and delivery, and helpless to help my baby, I picked up the book Susan had given me a week before and opened to the day’s reading. The words could not have been more perfectly timed:

“No matter what the source of the evil, if you are in God and surrounded by Him as by an atmosphere, all evil has to pass through Him before it comes to you.”

That image was deeply comforting to me in those dark, scary days, when we were not sure if Ben would live or die. Looking back, I see that it was true: God surrounded us and strengthened us. We could have been so much more frightened than we were. With babies in two different hospitals and two young children at home, we were stretched thin, but we found strength to endure the days of uncertainty and copious driving from hospital to hospital to home.

Ben lived, thanks be to God (and to the dedicated doctors at Children’s!), and I never forgot that image of God as atmosphere, buffering the hardship and difficulty that comes into my life, not unlike the way earth’s atmosphere burns up meteors. But it took five years before I began to appropriate the truth of it and actually live as though it were true.

Two summers ago, Susan and I were talking about how life hits me so raw, about how I so often found myself in the middle of a reaction before I’d had time to contemplate how I wanted to respond. It had been a few months since my aha! discovery that the important thing about minding the gap was minding it, not where it was. Still, it was exhausting, all that anxiety and anger and fear coursing through my veins and me running to catch up with it and stop it in its tracks.

Susan said, “Cast a circle, Kimberlee. Take your reaction and put it back outside yourself. Create space between you and your reaction so you can see it.” She stretched her hands arms-length in from of her, palms out, like a double palm strike to block whatever was flying at her. “Make a shield,” she said, “and put the reaction you don’t like on the other side of the shield.”

Her words and the image of God as an atmosphere that I’d carried with me since the day of the twins’ birth clicked together in my mind. God is the shield around me, and everything that reaches me goes through Him first. If I feel I can’t handle it—if it’s making me super anxious, say—I can grab it and place it outside what I have come to call my Jesus-shield.

And so I began to intentionally inhabit the image of God as atmosphere. I imagined—and I continue to imagine—Jesus surrounding me. I imagine myself standing in the circle of His love. I remind myself that whatever comes to me comes through Him.

When I feel anxious or afraid, I no longer run or get busy or freak out or even try to figure out why I feel anxious (anxiety will create a reason for itself, and the reason is almost always a lie or a blind, so it’s usually counterproductive to ask why). Instead, I acknowledge it: “Wow. I’m feeling super anxious right now. That’s interesting.” And then I listen to my body: I notice where the anxiety is—usually it’s in my chest, sitting on my heart like a weight, but sometimes it’s in my gut and sometimes in my throat or on the top of my head—and I touch that part of my body and imagine I am grabbing hold of the anxiety and lifting it out of myself.

Then I stretch out my hand as Susan showed me and, imagining Jesus standing before me (because He is!), I place the anxiety in His hands. “Lord, I don’t want this, but I seem unable to get rid of it, so I’m giving it to you. Would please burn it up in the fire of Your holy love?”

In the beginning, I had to do this a lot—sometimes I did it many times a minute. I will be honest: at first, it was exhausting. But within a month, I noticed I wasn’t having to grab the anxiety nearly as often, and by the end of a year, I could go whole days without feeling the least bit anxious!

This is not to say I’m never anxious—I still am, sometimes—but I found that (over time) the more I gave the anxiety to God, the less anxiety I felt. And when I do feel anxious these days, it doesn’t hound me the way it used to—ramping me up, keeping me busy and moving, anything to try to get rid of the horrible feeling that plagued me and insisted something catastrophic was about to happen. Giving that awful, overwhelming feeling to God over and over and over again robbed it of its power. When it comes, it’s far less overwhelming than it used to be, far more manageable. I am no longer at its mercy because I know what to do with it. I know Whom to give it to—and I know that He is trustworthy and will do far more to help me than I can ask or imagine. I know this, because He has, and does.

That’s habit two: cast the circle. Imagine Jesus standing before you, surrounding you like an atmosphere—because He is! Make the motion if it helps: hold your arms straight out in front of you, palms turned outward. Then move your arms out to your sides, as if you’re creating a barrier an arm’s length away from your face and body. Let this motion remind you that Jesus is standing about you as a hedge of protection, and that everything that comes to you passes through Him first.

{Last week you practiced minding the gap—that place where you have the freedom to choose your response. Now, when you get to the gap, and you realize you’re feeling anxious, grab the anxiety and place it outside your Jesus shield—as often as you have to. When we live in the circle of God’s love, we know peace and joy like we’ve never known before. But don’t take my word for it. Cast the circle for yourself and see.}

Photo by Claudia Heidelberger, Creative Commons via Flickr.