Anxiety. We’re an anxious people, an anxious culture. I had my first panic attack when I was a senior in college. I was in the middle of class. I couldn’t think. I thought I was dying – I was sure my throat was closing. I called my parents and my dad met me at the E.R. It’s never really fun when someone (especially a doctor) breaks it to you that the feeling that you’re dying is all in your head and a part of your nervous system betraying you.
I never really realized that my thought patterns could be that negative until then. I was a psychology major for goodness sake, I should know what panic attacks look like and I should realize when anxious thoughts take over. However, they have a way of sneaking up on you and distorting reality.
Last year, as I was completing my wedding season and leaving a message for a friend, I came back to an old realization – I was on edge most of the time. I am by nature an anxious person. I was always thinking of something I must do (I know kind of laugh at how I literally thought it was a must). I was treating my inbox as if I would die if I didn’t answer e-mails on time, editing photos as if brides would combust not receiving their images in 10 days and obsessing over whether or not I was blogging enough, my website was good enough or my Instagram grid flowed beautifully. The mistake that I made however, was believing that it was my business and not my sin that was the main problem.
Here I am again, though I am still in business, I have found healthier patterns of doing business. I’m taking it at a slower pace, putting less of myself into marketing and obsessions, going to bed instead of staying up late hours catching up on blogging and getting things in order. Surprisingly (lol) there are still plenty of other things to worry about, plenty of things to raise my heart rate and keep me from a good night’s sleep.
It would seem fitting that on the night before my husband speaks and teaches on the hallmark anxiety passage in the Gospels that I would be struggling with anxiety.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:25-34
The hardest things that I’ve had to understand in faith always eventually come to a head in a single question: Will I choose to believe the Word of God [that my God is good and that He will ultimately work what is best for those who love Him (Romans 8:28)] or will I choose to look at my circumstances and let those dictate my thoughts, feelings and worry?
It’s the same question that Abraham had to consider when the Lord told him that he and his very old wife would start a family that would eventually give rise to a nation. Would he believe his own circumstances or the word of God?
Will I choose to read Matthew six and relish each word, celebrating it as the cure to my aches? In my anxiety – will I rehearse it, pour over it, pray it, and cry out to God? Or will I just worry – going over every negative scenario related to whatever is upsetting me, obsessing over work, running finances in my head, imaging escape routes, and googling every piece of information related to the stressor out there?
My nature wants to do the latter – it seems so much easier and feels better in the moment. Though God’s Word tells us that worrying doesn’t add a second to our lives, worrying somehow makes me think that maybe if I think about the problem or stressor enough that I’ll come up with a solution, maybe somehow in my puny little brain and abilities, I’ll be able to fix it. I’ll gain control or gain a perceived control over the item in question. However, my mind (through wisdom the Holy Spirit gives) knows all of those things are empty. They won’t add an hour to my life. They won’t bring control to the situation – they’ll ultimately just raise my heart rate and hurt me in the long run.
Have you ever had someone tell you what you needed to hear, but you just didn’t want to hear it? I’ve been anxious for the past couple of days, and this morning – Matthew 6 came right into my inbox through a electronic devotional that I regularly read. Matthew 6 is also the source of the teaching that Scott and I have planned for our students at summer bible study tomorrow evening. Scripture is all around me – but my evil heart just doesn’t want to believe it and ultimately wants to be in control of the situation.
I wish the battle with anxiety was in the flipping of a switch after reading scripture, but I know that after dealing with sin for many years that it doesn’t really work that way. Battling the anxiety, and any sin really, is a daily commitment. It’s a moment-by-moment commitment. It’s in inward recognition that my way of doing this isn’t working, and I’m going to instead look to what the Lord says about my struggle.
So, here I find myself – after an exhausting few days of letting my circumstances dictate my thoughts and feelings, I’m going to try to give up control and choose to believe the Word of God and immerse myself in it; praying for the peace of God which transcends all understanding. I am not yet well, but I’m running to the only one that I know brings true peace.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:6-7
Footnote: This entry is a thought process about anxiety in the most general sense. I have not been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, nor am I pretending or believing that I have the answer to curing it. I am a whole-hearted believer in mental health professionals, counseling and medication when it is needed. If you think you might have GAD, I highly recommend finding a certified therapist and talking to your care provider about the options available to you.