A few weeks ago, I confessed the anxiety I’d endured during this past summer and fall, a strange and overwhelming paranoia that choked the life out of me. It turned out my dismal thinking patterns were partly to blame, as was my insistence on ignoring my inner life. I honestly didn’t know if I would make it out of that season, or if it would always feel like a vice grip was pressing against my rib cage.
During these weeks and months, I had so many conversations with God, panicky prayers that tried to make sense of what I felt: a massive sense of doom.
I say it felt strange, but it wasn’t really. It was just more of the same. I guess I’d always felt that sense of something scary this way comes. I remember as a child, driving in the back seat of my parents’ Buick station wagon, and I secretly believed it would break down at some inopportune time and we would be stranded. I think it broke down maybe once. It wasn’t a valid fear.
I also worried our family would run out of money – that never happened. Nevertheless, the feeling that something bad was always just around the corner loomed in the periphery of my mind.
If you’d asked me if I were a pessimist or optimist, I’d have said optimist. I never thought of myself as a doomsday prophet. But when the cards stacked against me, I walked away without a second glance. In my depths, I believed the worst. That I would never get married, even though I wanted to. That I would have children long before our marriage was ready for them. That I wouldn’t be able to have children biologically after all. That God would take away my children to teach me some kind of lesson.
Yep, I’m always bracing myself for the bad and the worst. Maybe you didn’t know this about me. I didn’t know it. All the despair and faintheartedness was tucked down so deep I didn’t know it was there. I convinced myself it didn’t exist. After all, I write and speak inspirationally. I work in a community mental health clinic. I’m here to charge people up with life, to shout to them of the value of their calling. To breathe out life.
But after months of not feeding or acknowledging my soul, I was a skin and bones on the inside. I could no longer defend myself or God against the onslaught of bad and worse news. It was now inevitable.
I wrestled and argued and fought with God, and like Israel, I ended up with a limp and a new perspective.
God shifted my thinking little by excruciating little, and at times, it didn’t seem his point of view could even touch the fear and panic. But slowly and surely he anchored me with his wisdom and his aerial view.
One of the ways he did this was often during my morning commute. My mind would wander to worst-case scenarios, and I’d tell God how bad it was getting in the world, and how I mad I was at him for taking away my future. If I gave him a moment, though, he’d cut in with these incredible one-liners that totally shut up my anxiety. And for a few hours, or days, I would use his words as a soothing balm.
Other times, truth appeared to me during times of reflection, surfacing up in my consciousness, blurry at first, then clear, a general lesson or something to hang onto.
I realized I had all these message of hope and faith, antidotes for my panic, just sitting in the soup of my brain, so I started to write them down. I wanted to write a blog post about each of them, or come up with a clever way to share them, but this is all I could do at this point, just spill them here with a little explanation. So for the times when you find yourself a little more anxious or paranoid than normal, or maybe anxious and paranoid is your normal, and you’ve been ready for the life raft for years now, maybe one of these will be it for you.
Here’s my Post-Anxiety Top 10, if I may be so flippant, complete with the little Tweet icon for my favorite one-liners, in case you are inclined to share them:
1. God’s goodness is not dependent upon my circumstances. God does not owe me perfect circumstances in order to prove his goodness and his character. He doesn’t have to prove anything. If my life is predictable, and I feel happy and in control, God is not better or nicer than when my life is unpredictable and I feel out of control. God is who he is. It’s my choice to believe it.
2. Lies feel like truth. That’s why we believe them. God’s word, what Scripture says, will always be the highest truth to which I must compare any messages I receive. Once I hear and know God’s truth, I have to fight to align myself in believing it.
3. God values faith more than guessing right. Acting out of fear cannot please God, and it cannot improve our circumstances in the long run. Trying to hear God and acting on what we sense him saying, even if we hear him wrong, is better than guessing he didn’t say this or that and doing nothing.
4. Soul care is essential. Nature abhors a vacuum. If I put nothing in my soul and never visit or care for it, it won’t stay empty. My soul will just grow weeds instead of flowers. I am fragile and in need of compassion and constant care, and that’s okay.
5. I used to think I could manipulate God into promising me nothing bad would ever happen to me with this verse: “You will not fear the terror of night nor the arrow that flies by day.” But this fall, I finally realized what this really said. Life is scary and bad things happen. Jesus promised it when he said, “In this world, you will have trouble.” But the promise of this Psalm is that when bad things come, anxiety and panic are not a guarantee. Even though there is a terror in the night or an arrow in the day, I won’t be afraid of them. This verse is not a promise of total safety but of fearlessness. And isn’t that what we really want, to be done with fear?
6. Satan means “accuser”, and that’s pretty much all he does. Anything negative I hear about God or myself is just him talking. If it’s not building me up or making me think highly of God, it’s him, and I need to get suspicious.
7. Anxiety is imagining a future without God. But since God said he would never leave or forsake me, anxiety is a liar. God added to this, “Stop imagining the future without me. That future doesn’t exist.”
8. Whatever you pay attention to grows in power and influence in your life. I will always notice whatever I am looking for, and it will become more important and powerful to me when it is in my sight.
10. Stop trying to figure it out. You don’t know what’s going on.
Those are some of my favorites, lessons and lines I return to when I’m feeling off. What’s a perspective that you use to anchor you when you’re anxious or off-kilter?
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