I’m sure I’ve mentioned my struggle with anxiety and/or depression on this blog before. The depression has launched a couple of major campaigns against my sanity in both high school and college, and we’ve had several skirmishes in between. Anxiety has been my constant companion since earlier on, I just didn’t have a word for it until a couple of years ago.
I hate giving either much of a spotlight in my writing because 1) who wants to listen to me whine? and 2) how do I put this… I don’t want to glorify a struggle. I’ve noticed a trend in social media in which public vulnerability is highly praised. People then turn whatever “struggle” they’re having into an epic narrative. They talk about it a lot. It generates attention. And that’s not a trend I want to follow.
But almost every time someone tells me they deal with anxiety, I’m a little shocked. “Really? You? But you act so… normal. You seem to have your life together most of the time.” And in a lot of cases, I think, “But you reach out to other people all the time. You’re so bold/successful/amazing. How can it look like this?” And because of that, I believe there’s value in publishing God’s work in my life. Because mostly, anxiety is an internal dialogue that doesn’t get addressed. No one knows to say, “Yeah, me too! But God is bringing me through it day by day.” No one even thinks to, because so many of us aren’t good at maintaining healthy honesty with our real-life friends. (That’s a topic for another post).
Well, here’s the deal: I, too, wrestle with anxiety. (Or it wrestles with me?) Some days I can almost forget about it. When it is present, at best it’s like having a loud voice at my elbow, interrupting my thoughts every few minutes with “helpful” things like, “Hey, hey you. Hey, yes, you. You said that wrong. You’re kinda a worthless human being.” And at worst, it’s a constant dread of I-don’t-know-what/all-of-it to the extent that I won’t leave the house and may literally curl up in a fetal position on the floor and pull my hair until the feeling passes. Again, speaking quite literally with no humor intended. Folks, it sucks. It’s not something you can logic your way out of or ignore.
But God is bringing me through it day by day. The worst days are further and fewer between – it’s actually been months (6 maybe?) since I dealt with anything like that. I’ve learned about my triggers, some helpful things I can do when it hits, and that a consistent, healthy routine works wonders to prevent meltdowns in the first place. And I’ve also learned a few things about how it works in light of my Christian walk. (In order from least to most important. If you don’t have a lot of time or a long attention span, skip to #3).
- Don’t fuel your anxiety with guilt. There’s a couple of verses that used to crush me with guilt, because of the way I’d try to apply them to my situation. One is Philippians 4:6-7. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” But I’ve found that rather than looking at this as a command that I’m screwing up, my loving Savior intends it as a promise to claim. That is, a strong prayer life brings peace – and I can rest in that, not beat myself over it. (Because Romans 8:1, and also 1 John 3:20).
- Isolation is not helpful or healthy. There’s a reason Scripture says “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10) Additionally, Galatians 6:2 instructs us “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Enlisting the support of prayer warriors in my life has been invaluable. No less important has been the love and understanding of both my husband and my family. Don’t let anxiety keep you from reaching out to other Christians.
- Intimate talks with my Heavenly Father are paramount. Which might be paraphrased as “do your devos” – but I mean it in a much more relational way. Psalm 62:8 says to “Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah.” Selah = pause to ponder that. Meditate on it. Soak it up. And don’t writhe in guilt because this hasn’t been the case (see #1) – that isn’t the point. God is a refuge for us; claim that truth in your prayer life, even if you don’t feel it (I talked about that in a previous post, here). And pour out your heart to Him. He is a personal, relational God and He is also an omniscient, omnipotent God – which is to say, He can handle our personal, relational problems.
- God is using anxiety as a tool in my life to draw me into His embrace. I had a late night anxiety attack a few weeks ago, and used what little sense I had in the wee hours of the morning to crack open my Bible. It opened to 2 Corinthians 12, where Paul writes about his “thorn in the flesh”, presumably a physical malady which he says he’s given so that he isn’t “exhalted above measure” – in other words, full of himself. He says he asked the Lord to remove it from him three times, but God answered, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (verse 9) And Paul’s response? “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Wow. First of all, wow that God spoke to my heart like that, because that’s always wow. And second of all, wow, what a Spirit-filled response from Paul. I’ve kept wanting to be “better” or “fixed” – especially last year when I found out that our family would be growing. I don’t want David to grow up with a mom who comes unglued for seemingly no reason… but I do want him to grow up with parents who fall worshipfully before the Lord because they cannot do it on their own. And if anxiety is the thing that draws me close to Him? Praise the Lord. God knows, there are many trials to be faced in this life with the purpose of strengthening our relationship with Him – and although not easy, I’d venture a guess that it’s a lot easier than some of the others.
Anxiety in light of Christ is this: “we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us…neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39, emphasis mine) Ladies and gentleman, that is a comforting thought when your head is not a comfortable place to be. Actually, you need encouragement tonight? Go back and read that whole chapter. Out loud. Soak that in. Pour out your heart to God (see #2).
One more word on the matter. I personally have not seen a counselor for my anxiety. So far, I don’t think it’s tampered with my life to the extent that I need to pursue that. But eventually, it may be the course of action that’s necessary. I don’t know, but I’m not inherently opposed to it because I believe God uses heart surgeons, x-ray technicians, and yes, professional counselors and therapists as well, to help heal broken humans in a fallen world. So if anxiety is robbing you of joy, interfering with your ability to serve God, or putting severe strain on your relationships, please don’t be afraid to seek professional help. But always, always seek out the prayer of trusted Christian friends and Biblical counsel right along with it.
Dearheart, whoever you are, Christ died to redeem you. If you’ve placed your trust in Him “…you did not receive a spirit of slavery that returns you to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!'” (Romans 8:15) And if you haven’t? “It is just as the Scripture says: ‘Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Greek: The same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich to all who call on Him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'” (Romans 10:11-13) Cry out to the Lord. I know from experience, He will sustain you minute to minute because His grace is sufficient and His strength is made perfect in weakness.