In the middle of the night, a nagging thought can grab hold of my sweet sleep and bring me bolt upright to wakefulness. My first response is to “get on that pony and ride.” “What if this happens?” or “What if I do this?” or “What if I just say it this way?” or “What if I had just done ____”? The “What ifs” accelerate. Before I know it, I’m out of the starting gate and racing into a full blown Obsession Session.
Obsession is massaging and rehashing the same thought over and over again. It initially makes me feel smart. I’m dealing with a perceived problem and using the scientific method to consider all of the outcomes and possibilities. What I’m obsessing about, however, is often out of my control and sometimes not my business—my children, the church, the future, what people think of me. Obsession is about the fear and powerlessness I feel. It is my frantic effort to be in control or at least to not be blind-sided by future surprises.
Obsession, however, mostly makes me crazy. It makes me lose sleep and serenity with nothing to show for it. All I’m left with is a headful of looping movies clips of an endless chase scene on a tortuous road on top of a cliff above the ocean. Nighttime obsessions are the worst. I can’t escape the darkness and I don’t want to wake my husband or call a friend at 2AM for reassurance.
I’m not sure who first said this: “My mind is a dangerous neighborhood and I try not to go there alone,” but it is wisdom I often forget when I enter into an obsessive rant. Well before dawn this morning, a brain typhoon began and my current obsession blew to the surface. At the same time, I heard the warning: “Don’t go into that neighborhood alone.” With no conscious thought I heard myself inviting a friend to go with me: “Come quickly, Lord Jesus, come”! I recited this Advent acclamation over and over. Jesus had entered the “hood” with me. The obsessive thoughts skittered to the sidelines of the town square as we walked together. They didn’t disappear, but I knew I was no longer alone. A great light shined in that dark neighborhood and I fell back to sleep, less afraid.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2 NRSV)