On a recent visit home to my parents’ house, I found a stack of papers from my second grade school year. I thumbed through the terrible drawings, misspelled words, and chicken scratch handwriting with tears of laughter streaming down my face, sharing these hilarious memories with my husband who thankfully didn’t know me back then. As I was putting the papers back in their folder, something caught my eye. The form was a small questionnaire my teacher had each student fill out. I’m sure it was meant to be cute and entertaining to look back on like all the other papers we had just howled over, but this one was different. What do you want to be when you grow up? A doctor. What is your favorite food? Pizza. What is your favorite color? Blue. What is your favorite sport? Gymnastics. If you could have one wish come true, what would it be? That my parents won’t die.
As I read my answer to the last question, my heart sunk a little. I remember being terrified to the point of tears anytime I called my parents and they didn’t answer. I was certain they had been in a car accident. I also remember being (unnecessarily) scared that our family was going to run out of money and find ourselves living on the streets. And after September 11th and all of the media attention around terrorism, I avoided opening our mail because I was afraid there might be anthrax in it. Saying these things out loud is a little comical now, but I was paralyzed by fear at the time. We always joked that I was the “family worry wart,” and it wasn’t until years later, after several more serious manifestations, that I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
You’re probably wondering why in the world they asked the woman who obviously has not mastered her anxiety to write the newsletter about that very topic, and I have to admit, I am wondering the same thing! I couldn’t be further from an expert, but I have learned a few things during my years of battling the monster named Anxiety.
1. Trust Jesus.
In Philippians 4, Paul urges, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Our task is pretty clear: Talk to God about whatever it is that causes your anxiety. Paul goes on to say that if you do this, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Jesus is our Good Shepherd which means we can rest in the assurance that He is taking care of us and, according to Romans 8, working all things together for the good of those who love Him. Now, this doesn’t mean things will always go our way or look the way we want them to; it does, however, mean that we can trust God’s infinite knowledge, perfect ways, and steadfast love. When we surrender our anxieties to God, we exchange them for His peace.
2. Watch your thoughts.
While trusting Jesus is the answer, that certainly doesn’t mean it’s easy. On the contrary, it can be very difficult sometimes. It’s human nature to want to handle everything on our own, and it requires intentional action and significant effort to release our business to anyone, let alone someone we cannot see with our earthly eyes. To trust Jesus, you have to watch your thoughts. 2nd Corinthians 10:5 admonishes us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Our sinful minds will never naturally think in a pure and holy manner. They will be inundated with worry over whether we will get the promotion, if our child is fitting in at their new school, if the scans will come back clear this time, if we will be able to cover the rent check this month, and on and on and on. There is no shortage of topics to dwell on if you want to drown in anxiety; that is why we have to be active instead of passive. When your anxious thoughts start creeping – or rushing – in, you must stop them. Recognize the thought, then immediately release it to God.
3. Surround yourself with truth.
This is a very important step in finding freedom from the chains of anxiety. Anxiety tells you lies: This is too small for God to care about. I’ve sinned too much recently for Him to want to help me with this. I can handle this on my own. Saturate your mind with counter-truths from the Bible. Memorize verses that address your specific worries so that when they pop back up, you can dismiss them as foolish. For example, if you consistently feel that your concerns aren’t important enough to bother God with, try memorizing Matthew 6:26: “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?” Additionally, it is very helpful to have a support system who knows what you struggle with and can speak truth in to your life. My husband knows my battles with anxiety, and he has learned how to speak rationality and truth to counter my worries. It has helped me tremendously to hear an audible voice countering the fearful one controlling my mind some days.
Lastly, I want to leave you with some encouragement from one of my favorite books, Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. If you are unfamiliar with the story, Corrie Ten Boom and her sister, Betsie, were arrested for hiding Jews in their Amsterdam home during World War II and sent to endure the horrors of three different Nazi concentration camps. Their story is an inspiring one of faithfulness, forgiveness, and restoration that will convict and challenge you in many ways. As Betsie lay dying in the infamous Ravensbruck concentration camp, she muttered these words to Corrie: “We must tell people what we have learned here. We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.”
This statement has stuck with me since I first read the book ten years ago. There is no doubt that anxiety is consuming. It seizes your mind and holds you hostage. It either freezes you with fear or makes you behave irrationally. It takes only a matter of seconds before you are completely controlled by the apprehension, every decision made through the shadow of this looming darkness. Before long, you will find yourself buried in it, and it will feel inescapable. That is when your heart must echo Betsie’s words: He is always deeper, greater, stronger than the pit that the ruthless dictator, Anxiety, has pulled you in to. He has overcome; therefore, we can too.