My husband and I sat side-by-side in the counselor’s office. I had scheduled the appointment to get some guidance about a nagging concern I had for one of our kids.
Kurt agreed to go, even though he didn’t really feel my same level of concern - which is pretty much the story of our marriage. He’s “Mr. chill and laid back”; and me, well, I worry enough for the both of us.
When I first met Kurt, he might as well have come with a tag that says “100% maintenance & worry-free”, while my tag would have read “Fragile - handle with extreme care”. This is why I tell people I got the way better end of the deal.
With tears in my eyes, I poured my heart out to the therapist, a heart gripped by fear and anxiety.
After I was done, she looked at me with a compassionate smile and said, “Jenny, I can assure you that your greatest fear in this particular situation is not going to happen.” Her tone was calm yet emphatic, as she explained her reasoning.
I'm sure Kurt was mumbling under his breath "I told you so".
Then the counselor looked at me quizzically and said, “Jenny, have you ever noticed a difference in the way you and Kurt view the same situations?” Kurt and I both laughed, because of course we were all too familiar with this dynamic in our marriage and parenting.
This wise counselor, whom I had seen off and on since I was 22, knew my history well. She knew my dad died tragically when I was young. Because of that traumatic experience, she gently began to explain that I probably struggle with something called “catastrophic thinking”.
Now, let’s be honest here - I had never heard the term catastrophic thinking in my life, and initially I wasn’t the least bit thrilled about this new “diagnosis”. Little did I know, Kurt was breathing a secret sigh of utter relief to finally have a name for what he had been dealing with in his wife for all these years!
The crazy thing is, deep down I felt relief too.
The truth may tick us off at first, but ultimately, it sets us on the path to freedom. (Jn. 8:32)
I learned that day what catastrophic thinking is: projecting the worst case scenario onto a situation. And those of us most inclined to “project worst case scenarios” do so, because we have lived worst case scenarios in our own lives. For us, our greatest fear - or worst nightmare - actually happened.
These worst case scenarios can include traumas of every kind, including death, divorce, abuse, addiction, abandonment, unfaithfulness, an accident, natural disaster, crime, war, terrorism, etc. These “catastrophes” can involve a horror we personally experienced ourselves, or a horror we watched happen to someone else.
Until that counseling session, I never saw this catastrophic thinking in myself.
And until this past week, I never saw it in the disciples either.
It had never occurred to me that Jesus’ disciples - who followed him all the way to Calvary, witnessed one of the greatest horrors in all of human history.
How could they not also have been traumatized? Why wouldn’t they too be plagued by catastrophic thoughts?
This realization struck me as I read a meditation last Tuesday, just two days after Easter:
“Despite the miraculous apparition of two angels sitting in the tomb… Mary Magdalene remains unmoved, consumed only by her grief.
Two times heaven has to ask her (once via the angels, the second time by the Risen Lord himself), ‘Woman, why are you weeping?
She has come to her own fatalistic conclusion about what happened to Christ -- ‘They have taken my Lord,
and I don’t know where they laid him’ -- and it’s from this pessimism that she must be converted.”
As she wept in the tomb, consumed by her own catastrophic thoughts, Mary lost all hope.
Jesus was no longer in that empty tomb Mary had confined herself to; nor is He in the empty fears and lies we enslaves ourselves to. He has risen, and He calls out to us to do the same...
“When the Risen Jesus speaks her name -- ‘Mary!’ -- (she) was ‘cut to the heart’. The Risen Christ’s command to ‘stop holding on’ pertains to our preconceptions and our stubbornness as well. Something Greater than our sorrow is now at work in the world.” (Magnificat, April 3, 2018)
A few years ago, Jesus cut to my heart too - my fragile mama’s heart - urging me to stop holding on to all the burdens I carried for myself and my family. Something Greater is at work. If I surrendered myself, my marriage and my children to His greater work, I could live in hope and power instead of worry and fear!
Just as Jesus walked along beside Mary Magdalene and His beloved disciples - He walks beside each one us, His beloved children.
Just as He called out Mary’s name in her despair, Peter’s name in his fear, and Thomas’s name in his doubt - our Risen Lord calls out our name - with the same hope-filled words, “Do not be afraid!” (Mt. 28:5)
Jesus offers us something greater - than our greatest fear.
Unlike Mary, Thomas and Peter, I haven’t seen the Risen Lord with my own eyes, or touched his wounds with my own hands, or embraced him with my own arms. And yet I have seen Him, I have touched Him, and I do run into His arms - through the powerful gift of prayer.
I still struggle with catastrophic thoughts, and my husband calls me out on them every time. But I’ve also learned to recognize these thoughts on my own. I’m able to catch them when they take hold of me - the fears, the worries, the lies - and surrender them to the Lord.
And each time I surrender those thoughts, I also entrust myself, my husband, or my child to Jesus. His presence and His Word give me a sure hope of something greater, as I cling to Him and His promises.
That day with Kurt in the therapist’s office, my counselor assured me that the worst case scenario I had projected onto my child wasn’t going to happen. But there have been other days sitting in that same office, as I poured out my heart about other situations - when she offered me no assurance. Instead, she asked the painfully hard question, “So Jenny, what if it does happen?”
Then she’d have me play out my worst case scenario as if it were actually to take place - reminding me that God doesn’t promise us a life without them. After all, He didn’t even promise His own Son.
Jesus had to face his own greatest nightmare - torture and death by crucifixion. He was so terrorized by the thought of it, he sweat blood, as He begged God to spare him from it.
But from His greatest fear came something greater.
This is why my counselor also reminded me that even if we do have to live through one of our greatest nightmares, we can and we will live through it - because Someone else will be living through it with us, because He already lived through it before us.
And that Someone else will always offer us Something Greater.
Mary Magdalene needed to be converted from her pessimism. So did all of Jesus’ followers. And so do we. What converts pessimism? HOPE. Who converts pessimism? Hope Himself, who proved by His rising that there is always Something Greater than our greatest fear.
“Something Greater than our sorrow is now at work in the world. It is the reason why, even in our weeping, we bend over and peer into the tomb, full of expectation.” (Magnificat, April 3, 2018)