I have always been anxious. I came from a family of worriers. Both parents were hyper-vigilant and one parent had an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. To soothe their anxiety, the home environment was controlling and perfectionistic having everything in its place. Outside the home, I had experiences of school bullying, the stalking of a stranger in the neighborhood, bad weather threats and scary snake events….. The worse trauma for me was being sexually abused at an early age and living in silence with shame and confusion. The world did not seem safe.
I became anxious about being anxious! In my early adulthood, I thought if I had enough faith my fears and anxiety should leave. They didn’t – compounding more shame on my anxiety. This anxiety kept me behind a wall of avoidance and fear of imperfection. It impacted me emotionally as I lived with consistent fear, mentally with repeated toxic thinking , physically with intestinal issues and sleepless nights, and spiritually as I lived in shame, unable to fully embrace the love of the Father. I was stuck living a diminished version of myself unable to freely embrace my talents, abilities and status as God’s daughter, limiting the fruitfulness of my life.
In my middle age, I was led to equip myself to journey with others in their emotional and spiritual healing. This process expanded my understanding of anxiety and I discovered a healthier relationship with the affliction of anxiety.
The facts are, there is an anxiety gene. In other words, a specific gene has been identified that is activated under certain environmental stress causing an anxiety response. It has even been proven that anxiety can be a benefit for a depressed person, improving their ability to focus. Chronic worry along with depression can motivate that person to seek help for the depression, improving their chances for recovery. Anxiety is not a curse, it can have purpose. It is not my fault! I need to have compassion for my struggle with anxiety rather than shame.
Life is an unpredictable place and a little anxiety is necessary and natural as we navigate life. Any time there is a new situation, new tasks or skills to be learned, the edge of anxiety can help the process of growth. It is when the anxiety is over stimulated, causing panic or chronic worry, that the quality of life is effected. The affliction of anxiety is not a defect that renders you ineffective. Spiritually, when we are weak, it gives the spirit of God opportunity to make us strong as we trust in Him.
Recently I read a devotional by Scott Sauls, author of Jesus Outside the Line, and I was reminded of examples of defective people in the Bible who were vitally effective in God’s kingdom.
Hannah was in anguish over her infertility.
Elijah felt so defeated that he asked God to take his life.
Job and Jeremiah wished that they had never been born.
David asked repeatedly in Psalms why his soul was so downcast.
Even Jesus, the son of God, expressed a great sadness over the death of a friend and the impact it was having on the family.
These souls and lovers of God effectively demonstrated the power of God through their affliction, not in spite of the condition.
In modern times the following people have effectively led a life that has been strong confirmation of God’s grace empowering them through their affliction of anxiety and depression.
Charles Spurgeon – a tremendous preacher and writer, was afflicted with depression during many of his best ministry years.
William Cowper – a prolific and effective hymn writer, had crippling anxiety for most of his adult life.
Van Gough – created some of his best paintings after he had checked himself into an insane asylum.
C.S. Lewis – emotionally decomposed after loosing his wife to cancer.
Joni Eareckson Tada – after a tragic accident she became paralyzed as a teenager and, for a time, became deeply depressed.
Lives who light the way to the power of God’s grace, messengers of His love, give voice to His power, truth and the gift of peace in suffering. On a personal note, I know that my affliction of anxiety has made me a more effective therapist and lover of souls as I have leaned in on God’s provision, trusting His grace to empower me to not be defined by my anxiety.
Paul speaks of his own afflictions that led him to desire more affliction so he could be a stronger instrument of God’s grace to the world. His affliction was aspiring him to trust in the reality of the peace of God. Our lives should be about God’s glory not our own. When we stop focusing on the anxiety and focus on trusting God, He gives a gift of divine provision to effectively respond through our defect, sharing His grace and love to others.
Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (MSG)
To “quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift” is a choice. I use a 4 step process that helps redirect (refocus) my brain to a different perspective and response. It is a way to release the emotional brain of it’s control and activate my mind to be more aware of the presence of God’s truths in my life.
THE FOUR STEPS
Step 1: Say what you feel.
Step 2: Say what you Do.
Step 3: Say the truth.
Step 4: Say what you will do differently.
This is what I say as I do my four steps, accepting and having compassion for my anxiety and refocusing my mind:
- I am feeling not good enough and inadequate, when I feel this way
- I will get anxious and become overly responsible and perfectionistic. (there is good reason why I am activated to be anxious, that is how my brain is wired – but I do not have to let the anxiety control me)
- However, the truth about me is that I am competent, empowered and strengthened by God, Who never leaves me or forsakes me and values me in spite of my imperfections. So –
- I will choose to stay present in the moment (for example: focus on my breath and notice my senses and environment), be thankful for how He has strengthened me in the past, to let go of my negative thoughts, be flexible with my actions and open with my feelings.
These steps reroute the neuro-pathways in my brain and allows me to calm my anxious thoughts and responses. It ultimately points me towards relaxing in the peace of God, trusting in His provision and grace. Our new identity as God’s child is profound. As we live in that identity and accept our weakness, we share His grace and love.
This process is wonderfully described by the words in the following song Exhale; “Oh God We breathe in your grace, We breathe in your grace And exhale, Oh God we do not exist for us But to share Your grace and love”