I looked desperately at my husband and weakly uttered the phrase for what seemed like the hundredth time in the past several weeks: “You have to tell me that there will be a day when I wake up and I don’t feel like this.”
Here I found myself, hopeless and broken, in the middle of an unexpected, acute, and severe season of anxiety. The anxiety was a relentless tenant in my mind and body, reducing me to only a shadow of myself – just a whisper of the oft-joyful and energetic person that I used to be. I remember multiple times sitting alone in my office, surrounded by panic, wondering if I could will my mind and body to get through another day.
Yet it was here in this season where God met me, walked beside me, and healed me. In His sweet and steadfast way, He freed me – not only from the anxiety, but from my ill-conceived, self-imposed, and completely unrealistic ownership over my own life.
(If we’re being real, let’s call that what it is: Being a control freak. Raise of hands?)
Anxiety has a way of leaving its mark in every area of your life, whether it’s invited or not. It starts out small; sneaky, even. Yet with each moment it remains, it grows. It acts as a haunting, swirling heavily in the air around you as you move through each space of your life.
I tried everything that I could to escape from the anxiety – controlling my diet, meditating on Scripture, increasing my hours of sleep (anybody who’s experienced anxiety, you can laugh with me at that one), memorizing new Bible verses, reading the books and listening to the podcasts, plastering Scriptural truths on every wall space that I could, and instituting new sensory and breathing strategies into my day. I even tried naming my anxiety (Annie Anxiety, if you’re wondering), with the hope that adding a little humor might take away its strength.
My best earthly efforts were well-intended, well-informed, and even Biblical in nature. They provided momentary relief and a hopeful future. But all of this I held myself, squeezed rigidly in my own two hands with fists clenched so tightly they left nail marks in my palms. I was a wife and a mother, after all, and any care that I needed to receive would take away from the care that I needed to give. And my job and ministry left people coming to me for comfort and guidance during their own trials and circumstances. How was I to serve well, when I was not well?
So I unintentionally held tightly to the anxiety, partially out of survival and mostly out of sheer desperation.
Release did not come from my many attempts to control the anxiety; rather, in complete surrender to my Father. Once I thrust the darkness of my circumstances into the light – through conversations with fellow believers, eager pleas for prayer, and soul-satisfying sacrifice of my own will – God proclaimed victory over what was already His: My mind.
Instead of trying to actively combat the anxiety, I started to actively seek the hope of Jesus.
I turned my worry into worship (2 Timothy 1:7) and commanded control over the thoughts of my mind (2 Corinthians 10:5). I intentionally recognized God’s goodness around me (Psalm 27:13) and proclaimed His defeat against the enemy’s schemes (Exodus 15:6). I reminded myself that just moments after our Savior’s arrival as a baby, angels proclaimed peace – of all things – over His followers here on earth (Luke 2:14) and that He was given to us as our Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).
My most cherished moments of restoration were engaging in what I dubbed “Worship Walks” – strolling around the campus where I teach and silently praising God for each thing around me that He made good. It was in these precious moments where the God who created the universe met me, step for step, and reminded me that He calls me by name.
I stepped into the following months a bit wounded, but healing. In my full surrender – hands open and outstretched – God mercifully displayed His faithfulness. He began to reveal “the why” of this season to me. (You know, the proverbial “why” that we loudly request in His direction when we don’t quite understand?) Though He didn’t need to, He clearly articulated to me why my suffering was needed: for my surrender and for the suffering of others.
Just months into my battle with anxiety, nearly 40% of my 150 students individually reported their personal struggle with anxiety to me. One student had such crippling anxiety that many days he struggled to make it out of his bedroom, yet he consistently came to our class because, he stated, he “felt safe and understood.”
I was able to pray over another student as she had a full-on panic attack in the middle of class. Yet another student was prayed for in my office, another invited to church, and another connected to our campus’s local ministry.
God was working in other arenas of my life, as well. The daughter of a long-time friend had to begin seeking clinical counsel for her anxiety, and I was able to share some of my insight with my friend who couldn’t understand what her daughter was feeling. I was able to recommend Biblically-based books to a relative of mine who was battling her own raging anxiety. I even began relating more compassionately to my own daughter in her moments of confused emotions. The list goes on for miles.
With new perspective and empathy beyond what my human mind could muster, I was able to serve others in my life in ways that only God could have prepared me for and in moments only God could have ordained. God, and God alone, sustained me through these months of my life. Not only this, but He showed His favor by providing new opportunities that I never would have thought to seek out. Our trustworthy God of hope guided my heart and mind to realize that joy and peace are not found in circumstances or state of mind and body, but in Him alone (Romans 15:13).
Through a complete lack of my own efforts, God’s power prevailed.
In full surrender, He brought me a hope greater than anxiety.