Imagine that you built a dream home on a gorgeous but remote Greek island. The setting was magical, on a hill above town of whitewashed houses with pale blue domes clinging to the rocky outcroppings above the grape-juice blue waters of the Mediterranean. It was a dreamer’s fantasy long fulfilled. But there were a few blemishes to threaten an otherwise utopian realization.
While the scenery was world-class the workmanship was a bit third world, or so it seemed to you. After the construction crew had left you noticed that your new whitewashed concrete home overlooking the sea had a few imperfections, some of them that really bugged you. The most noticeable one was a nasty piece of one inch thick rebar sticking out about sixteen inches from one of the supporting post beside the front door. It was more than an eyesore. Because it curved towards the door it was in the way. Each time you entered or left your home, that piece of irritating metal would scrape the door, making it difficult to open or close it. Once you had it open you had had to duck or for certain you would hit your head on the sharp, rough iron.
So you called the builders several times to come and fix it. They promised each time to come “the next morning.” But being a boat ride away, they seemed to have dropped off the ends of the earth once they had been paid for the original construction. Each day as you entered and left your house you would sustain a nasty scrap on your forehead or temple. You finally decide to take matters into your own hands. You search for metal cut off saw to get rid of the rebar once and for all . . . but there were none in your quaint fishing village. So, you decided to find just a simple old hacksaw and use elbow grease to take off the rebar. To your dismay there wasn’t even a hacksaw to be found.
For a while you resorted to just living with the rebar, but it was a constant thorn in your flesh, almost literally, enough so, it was about to ruin your dream. One day in frustration you try your best to bend it out of your way by pushing with all your might . . . but it didn’t budge. Then you beat it with a large rock but it didn’t compromise its stiff resilience. Despite a whole morning’s effort the rebar still stuck out from the post precisely at seventy-five degrees, towards and right in the way of the door.
Next you consider just living with it, as your proverbial albatross but it didn’t take long before you reached the limits of your patience. You picked up a bigger rock and pounded away with all your might and pent-up frustration.
About that time, an old, retired fisherman was making his way up the mountain on his bicycle and paused to watch this strange foreigner beating the side of his house with a small boulder, held in both hands above his head, more like a mad man than Vulcan.
“What do you want?” You yelled out in anguish.
“Oh . . . nothing. Just a bit courious,” replied the old man.
“Well . . . do you have any better ideas?”
The old man stroked his gray chin beard as he paused for a few minutes then answered, “Actually I do.”
“Then show me!” you shout back at him.
He walked up to the house and studied the piece of rebar. He pulled on it a bit. “Hmm . . . that is a sturdy iron. That means your house is built very, very good. It will withstand the earthquakes that we have here. You had very good builders.”
“But the damn thing keeps hitting me in the head! I’ve about broken my door as I have to kick it open to just leave the house.”
“Oh, I see. But we can fix that . . . but you must be patient. This house is built to last for generations, like all of our homes, so it takes a little time to fix its errors because they are equally strong.”
So the old fisherman studied the rebar a bit more. Then he looked at the olive tree which stood just a meter to the side of the door. He scratched his head and walked over to his bike. Meanwhile you just sit on the dusty ground to watch in exasperation. He flipped his bike over and removed one of his wheels. Then he took off the tire. Once the tire is off, he pulled the inner tube out of it and walked back towards the house. He took out his old knife and cut through a two-inch limb of the olive tree just at the right spot. Then he looped the inner tube over the stubbed limb. He walked backwards from the tree, towards the door of the house, pulling and stretching the inner tube with all his might. Then he looped the other end over the very tip of the rebar. “There.”
“There what? That didn’t do a thing. If me pushing it with a hundred pounds of force didn’t move it, certainly a piece of rubber pulling fifty pounds against it isn’t going to move it.”
“Of course it will,” said the old man. He took off his wool, black, Greek fisherman’s hat and wiped his brow. “But you have to be patient. Persistent and patient.”
You grab your protractor and hold it up with the rebar at the center. “Look. It is still at seventy-five degrees!”
“Of course,” said the old man. “I will be back one week from today then you will measure it again. On that day, I will tighten the rubber a little more.”
A week passed and you try to ignore the metal bar, but you still scrape your head a couple of times. You did notice towards the end of the week that the door was a bit easier to open. On Saturday morning, just as he promised, the old sailor climbed the hill on his bike with an apparently mended wheel. He smiled and asked for the protractor. You pulled it out and measured the rebar exactly as you had the week before. Now its lean towards the door was seventy-eight degrees. “Hmm,” you say. “I guess it did move a bit. But that’s still not a lot of difference.”
The fisherman smiles, “Three degrees in one week, that’s pretty darn good. That means in just five weeks the rod will be sticking straight out and not in the way of the door. Give it about thirty weeks and it will point away from your door, clearly out of your way, and at just about the right angle to make a beautiful place to hang a lantern or a basket of flowers from it. Then your problem will be solved. All you have to do is to keep the force against the rod and give it time. This is much better than pound on it for months with nothing to show for it.” He then put a stick in the middle of the stretched out inner tube and tightened it by twisting it a few turns. Then he tied the stick in place with a string. “I will be back in one week.”
When it comes to anxiety disorders, the cure is the same. It involves persistence and a constant pressure away from it’s defective position. The reason is anxiety, depression, OCD and you can name many other mental disorders are based in the concrete structure of the brain. It can be the result of inborn errors, echoes of the great fall, or it can be learned. But learning it, through traumatic experiences or just being taught to be anxious , changes the actual structure of the brain, neurons actually grow new dendrites and axons. The very complex chemical messaging system also changes. These are very real changes, based in the real, three dimensional world. So it is not a spirit that can change on a dime by simple will. Repentance does not change the structure of the brain instantly.
Some of these structural changes can never be fully unraveled in this world save a miracle that works against the way that God has created nature. It would be a miracle on the order of a thirty year old man, who was born without legs, growing both legs over night. Maybe God dose things like this, but it is rare.
But virtually all people can do better than they are. That improvement (or repentance), is a commitment to turn the tube and tighten the force against the disorder day after day after day. The results are not immediate.
So, this is getting long and I will pause. I will come back to describe how this “turning of the tube” works on in anxiety disorders. It can come under the heading of cognitive therapy, or . . . as the Bible says . . . renewing of your mind.