Anxiety and Stress and Fear, Oh My!
Last week, my anxiety hit a high that I haven't seen in a while. I think it was a culmination of a lot of things — the stress of continued isolation from quarantining, working from home with a toddler, the tiredness and exhaustion that seems to be constant, and a whole host of other things. It can be exhausting, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.
We have been walking in a heightened state of ambiguity over the past two months since the arrival of COVID-19. And normalcy, at least the normal we remember, doesn't seem to be arriving any time soon. I find myself often allowing my thoughts to go on fabricated rabbit trails that lead my heart to panic. All of the mind racing questions and 'what-ifs' keep me up at night.
But where is my heart going for comfort and rest? Am I looking to the world or myself for relief instead of running to Christ? Often, I can look at how my anxiety fleshes itself out in my daily life, and usually, the answer will closely follow.
MY ANXIETY MADE ME DO WHAT?
There have been many occasions over the past two months where my reactions to daily life have left me dumbfounded, dead in my tracks, asking "What in the world just happened?" I have never felt more exposed, my sin so clearly on display. Minor mishaps ruin my day, leaving me angry that my own self-made, independent kingdom is being thwarted. I have never felt my emotions so quickly unraveling.
Much of my sinful actions are a response to a false truth I believe about myself, and more importantly, a lie that I believe about God. I know that He is the only one who is self-existent, self-sufficient, and sovereign, but I often operate in a way as if I believe the same about myself.
My anxiety can often display itself in the same way in my life. Even though I know I don't control and hold all things together, my actions and feelings speak otherwise.
· When a hard situation comes up at home or work, instead of praying and trusting God, I worry, pray a little and then run a million different outcomes and scenarios in my head.
· When an unexpected bill arises and creates financial strain, the worrisome thoughts keep me up at night, instead of prayerfully submitting my life to God, who has always been faithful.
· When a conversation with my husband goes differently than I planned, my fear of man causes me to pick apart the conversation and rehearse it over and over again in my head, instead of lovingly going to him and asking for clarification.
I could list at least fifty other examples of how anxiety presents itself daily; I'm sure you could, too. Worry and anxiety is something that all of us struggle with to some degree, but it looks different for everyone. The good news is that because of Christ, we no longer have to be ruled by our fears.
A passage that is familiar to many in regards to trusting God with our worries is found in Luke 12. Luke 12:22-31 says,
"22 And he said to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you."
These verses have been a comfort to my weary soul in times of trouble throughout my life. But I would be lying if I didn't also bring up the fact that sometimes this passage frustrates me. Not worrying feels impossible at times. I believe with all of my soul that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30), but yet, my heart is so heavy that it neglects to remember the truth of God's Word. I don't have all the answers as to why my heart does this. I probably never will this side of heaven, but one reason I'm sure of is this — I’m a forgetful person. No, I'm not talking about the type of forgetful where I lose my keys and double book my appointments (which I totally do, by the way, just ask my husband). I fail to remember the faithfulness of God. One moment my heart is filled with gratitude and thankfulness, then a wave of hardship or trial hits, and I'm like the Israelites wishing they were still enslaved in Egypt. My heart just forgets. And then, I unexpectedly find myself navel-gazing, relying on my strength and then suddenly spiraling out of control.
As Christ followers, the purpose of our sufferings and hardships isn't to make us anxious or to create worrywarts, but to drive us to the side of Christ in dependence! We are not created to be self-reliant or to bear the weight of the world on our shoulders. He's the God who provides and sustains all things. He finds joy in being our God!
GOSPEL HOPE FOR OUR ANXIETY
When anxious thoughts come rushing in, it's easy to feel like there's no way out. But as Christians, we have true and lasting gospel hope to help us fight against our anxiety and fear. Because of Jesus's perfect life, death, and resurrection, we have been reconciled back to God (2 Cor. 5:18) and given new life (2 Cor. 5:17). This new life isn't without hardship and trial, but it gives purpose to our sufferings and reminds us that we aren't aimlessly floating in a chaotic world. We are held in the safe and loving arms of Christ.
One thing I have learned to do when I experience overwhelming anxiety is to ponder on the promises of God. This helps reorient my mind off of my troubles and on to what is true and lasting — His Word.
· God is our defender, shield, and hiding place; our ever-present help in times of trouble. He goes before us and fights my battles. (Ps. 28:7, 46:1, 91:2, 119:14)
· The Lord will never leave or forsake us. (Deut. 31:6)
· The Lord's love never ceases, and His mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:21-23, Rom. 8:39)
· Christ has taken on my sin and become a living sacrifice on my behalf. (Heb. 10:12-14)
· Jesus has cast our sin as far as the East is from the West. (Ps. 103:12)
· God's perfecting, electing, and faithful love will continually hold all believers. (Rom. 8:28-30)
· God is bringing about and using all things for our good and His glory (Rom. 8:28)
· God is the one who is continually sanctifying and equipping us. He will continue to do so until we go home to glory. (Phil. 1:6, 4:19)
· This world is not our home — our citizenship is in heaven. God has made us co-heirs with Christ. (Phil. 3:20, Rom. 8:17)
· Our sufferings are light and momentary when compared to the glory that awaits in heaven. (2 Cor. 4:17-18, Rom. 8:18)
· One day, Christ will return in all of His glory and defeat sin, death, and Satan forever. Tears and sadness will be no more. (Rev. 6:2, 19:20, 21:4)
His promises for Christians are not rhetorical or abstract — they are real, reliable, and tangible. His Word is the only thing in the world that remains true forever. It never loses its value or fades, nor does it return void (Is. 55:11). His promises stand faithful always.
MY ANXIETY TOOLBOX: PRACTICAL QUESTIONS TO ASK
Another tool that has been extremely helpful for me when battling anxiety is asking myself these two questions:
1. How have I been spending my time?
2. Have I talked with someone I trust about my worries, or am I bottling them up inside?
The answers to these questions are often very telling. If I have been spending a lot of time on Instagram, Facebook, or binge-watching Netflix, I see spikes in my anxiety. The comparison issues, discontentment, guilt, and bitterness that social media often leaves are stealthy and sly until it becomes a full-blown monster. Have someone you trust to keep you accountable for how you spend your time online. Spend more time outside with your family — the sunshine will do you good! Go for a walk, run, or bike ride. Read a book, call (or facetime!) a friend. Be creative with your ideas!
The answer to number two's question often reveals my own sin with self-reliance and lack of humility. I would rather stuff all my insecurity and worry inside, then to reach out and ask for help. But God has told us that it's not good for man to be alone; He created us to need one another! If you are feeling anxious or afraid, call one of your pastors, a trusted friend, or mentor. Ask them to read you God's Word, remind you of His promises, and to pray for you. Reach out to your doctor, if need be, or make an appointment with a counselor. Don't suffer in silence and solitude. Allow the body of Christ to lovingly point you back to Jesus.
OUR EVER PRESENT COMFORT
Anxiety and fear often feel like a dragon ready to set ablaze our life. But as Christ followers, we're not left defenseless in the battle. Through the transforming power of His Word and the through the work of the Holy Spirit, we'll be prepared to fight the good fight against anxiety when it arises in our lives. Hold tight to the comforting and faithful promises of God. Through the fiery storms of anxiety and worry, we can rest knowing that God is not only our ruling and reigning king but also our comforter and friend.
Oh, what a friend we have in Jesus!
Photo by Niklas Hamann from UnSplash