erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

Anxiety is a difficult thing to shake. It sneaks up on me when the bus headed to camp is ready to go, engine humming, and I realize my wife drove off with my suitcase. It’s there when an administrator takes a seat in my classroom. And it screams at me when my 16-year-old son presses down on the gas because he loves the feeling of acceleration. Like electricity moving through the body, it seizes control, demands complete attention, and sends the heart racing.

I’m ashamed to admit this, but now that I’m getting older, I even feel it watching football. One Saturday morning in the middle of December, I went downstairs to record a game I couldn’t wait to watch. The Colorado Buffaloes were playing Utah. Colorado was undefeated; they were ranked number twenty-one in the country, and a win would mean a bid to the Pac-12 Championship.

But there was a slight problem—my cable company didn’t have Fox.

That’s okay, I thought to myself. I called the company and immediately found myself following a rabbit trail of voice messages that got me nowhere. Gradually, my stomach started to twist into knots. I had to watch that game.

When I found a phone app to watch, there was relief, but instead of having a quiet morning, I had wasted it away in a frenzy of phone calls and frustration.

The game started well. CU’s kick returner scored a touchdown. It was sheer blood-pumping beauty, and I couldn’t contain myself. I was shouting, throwing pillows and leaping in the air.

But the jubilation was short lived.

Early in the second quarter, our star linebacker went down with a ruptured achilleas. I watched him roll around on the ground and knew we were in trouble. After he left, everything fell apart. Utah’s running back cut through our defense like a hot knife through butter.

“Get him down!” I yelled. “Just tackle that guy?!!” but nobody listened.

Deb called from the kitchen, “Erin, time for lunch,” and I paused the game. Our family sat around the table, but I didn’t feel like talking. My heart pounded in my head, and my mind was still on that injured linebacker. Would CU be able to come back in the second half?

Deb asked a few questions of our kids, trying to stir up some conversation, but I wasn’t listening. When my heart should have been there, should have been present and engaged, it was longing to get back to the game.

Lunch ended, and I hurried back to the TV. Nothing got better. CUs offense kept punting, and that Utah running back kept scoring touchdowns, each one sucking the life out of me. The game was the only thing I looked forward to that weekend—pretty pitiful if you ask me—and it ended in misery. The coaches shook hands, and I was a grumpy 40-year-old.

By the time the game was over, the sun was well behind the mountains and snow was starting to fall. With my stomach in knots, I had to get out of the house.

“I’m going in the hot tub!” I yelled to anyone listening.

A few quick barefoot steps across the wet patio, and I was in the hot water. The sun was gone, but somehow the clouds and snow preserved a gentle light. Each snowflake tickled the tops of my bald head and nose as the warm water soothed my tight muscles and racing heart.

Sitting there in the quiet, I looked up at those snowflakes as they floated toward my face. It was a gentle snow, so each one came down softly, and as if all of that didn’t offer enough magic, a couple of owls starting hooting in the trees.

The noise of the game, the tragedy of the loss, my heart racing all seemed to float away like the steam rising from the water. I was caught up in something much more profound than football.

Make no mistake. I’m not saying watching football is a bad idea. I’ve had plenty of great memories watching incredible games with people I love. But there’s something to be said about being still. The contrast of noise inside my house, even inside my heart, with the quiet as I sat in the warm water was just too obvious to miss.

This may seem strange, but I have a tradition in hot tubs. After I get used to the heat, I take a deep breath, put my whole body under water, and recite Psalm 131 in my head:

My heart is not proud, O Lord; my eyes are not haughty.

I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me,

But I have stilled and quieted my soul like a weaned child with its mother.

Like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, both now and forevermore.

A little weird right? I can’t help it. The warm water just triggers the memory of that Psalm. Only this time, after I recited those words and floated to the surface, something happened. Yes, I gasped for air desperately—I’m not exactly in Iron Man shape—but there was more.

The words “hope in the Lord” lingered in my mind, and I realized I let myself get too wrapped up in something that didn’t matter. Watching the game wasn’t the problem; the problem was putting my hope in it. The more I invested my heart in the outcome of that game, the more anxious I became, and the less I paid attention to what mattered around me, like my wife, my kids, and my God.

Someone reading this might be facing noises in life much louder than a football game. Life screams at us through COVID, isolation, our brokenness, our lies. But in the midst of all that noise and the anxiety it stirs up, God longs to quiet our hearts with his love (Zephaniah 3:17).

In the stillness of that evening, sitting in the warm water under those gently falling snowflakes, I felt rescued. The Author of that moment saw me struggling with the noise and settled me in a stillness only He could create. Hope was there—because He was there—and even with a Buff’s loss, I would be okay.

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