Anxiety

I have struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. I didn’t always have a name for it, but looking back there is no mistaking all of the signs that were there. See, anxiety is a word that gets thrown around a lot and everyone always has advice on how to handle it. The thing is, sometimes anxiety isn’t just simply something to handle.

Anxiety creeps in. I’ve never just out of the blue begun to feel anxious. It builds. This is where anxiety is different from stress. For me, I’m stressed when I need to do something and haven’t. I’m stressed when I am trying to figure out how to balance all of the tasks I need to complete. I was stressed a lot in college but the nice thing about stress is that is goes away. When the tasks are all complete, when the week is over, when I get to sleep in and wake up naturally, the stress dissipates and takes with it all of its nasty symptoms.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is often irrational. It is gradual. Anxiety preys on fears and deeper insecurities. Stress gets me to get my butt in gear and apply for a job that closes tomorrow but anxiety lies right underneath and whispers lies. Anxiety tells me that I am not good enough, that if I don’t get an interview there is something wrong with me. It tells me that I will never get a job, that I am worthless in the working field, and that everyone is disappointed in me because I don’t have a job. Anxiety keeps me up at night by just ever so slightly raising my heart rate and making my thoughts run wild. My body starts pumping out adrenaline and it becomes harder to breathe and everything starts to feel uncomfortably heavy and nothing feels right anymore.

It becomes an itch you just can’t scratch, a knot in your shoulder you just can’t loosen, and a weight that drags you into a tailspin.

Anxiety is every bit physiological as it is psychological. It is a weight in my stomach that makes it hard to eat. I get headaches when I’m anxious and it hurts to keep my eyes open. Anxiety keeps me in bed in the morning. It cripples me and holds me down telling me that I’m not going to be able to get anything done, I’m not going to get a call for an interview, I’m not going to read a book, and in the end I’m going to be a failure.

See, in my rational mind I can look at all of those things and say “oh, that’s just silly,” but anxiety thrives in what is irrational. It is a beast that stalks its victim all through their life. It looks for any chance to break through. It discourages breathing techniques, tells me that self care is overrated and useless, insists that I am ultimately alone and if I share what I’m going through I’ll be labeled a drama queen and a cry baby. It tries to convince me that everything I know about psychology, about God, and about life is completely wrong.

In a lot of ways the Devil is in anxiety.

So I fight it. I cope with it. I wrestle with it. I sit and breathe and count my breaths and check my pulse to see if I’m making any headway in soothing the physiological aspect. I tense and relax various parts of my body to try and trick myself into being calm. I have a beer, watch a funny TV show, and try to convince myself that it will all be okay. I let my rational brain take the reins.

But that’s anxiety, at least for me. Not a cop out, not anything terribly dramatic, just anxiety. 

God is wrecking my life

What is this, a scandalous title? The crazy thing is, it is true…God is wrecking my life.

He’s destroying the life I once lived and giving me a new life in the light of His glory.

Let me break that down for you.

I am shaped by my experiences. I have been shaped by my upbringing, my schooling, my friends, and my interactions with the world. For so long I’ve taken in what the world gives me and have considered it true. I had a less than ideal childhood, so I believed I was worthless. I struggled with depression through middle and high school and I believed that I was broken. I would hurt myself out of this profound sense of brokenness and believed that I would never be okay. From all of these things I carry with me a profound sense of anxiety that is always waiting to strike.

For so long I’ve lived in these things and have allowed them to define me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had little victories. I stopped hurting myself. I got medication for depression. I took all of the outward steps to try and fix myself.

The problem here is in that last phrase: I was trying to fix myself.

I still try to fix myself.

I look to other people to fix me, too. I look to professors for advice, friends to make me feel better, family to make up for what I was given growing up, and while none of these things are inherently bad the focus on was what I could do to fix me. The focus was on the fact that I was trying to control my life, and only once I felt like I had accomplished this or that I could turn to God and say, “now you can love me. Look at how smart I am!”

My life has improved but I’m still fighting to maintain control.

I still walk as the Gentiles do, “in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:17b-18 ESV). I continue to cling to my old self because it is what I am comfortable with. I know how to survive and get by in my old skin. Sure, it is miserable sometimes (most of the time), but at least it is controlled misery. I am a Pharisee, who in the face of Jesus performing miracles and changing the status quo thinks, “No, I’m okay with how things are right now thank you very much. I don’t need any of that.” I’d rather drink old wine and pass on the new, because at least I understand the old wine (Luke 5:39).

God offers me love, grace, and new life but I turn my nose at it because I’d rather be in control.

However, in the past week and a half it has become abundantly clear that when I’m in control things don’t work out very well.

When I’m in control I wake up dreading the day because I expect so much out of my time and know I will never be able to meet my own expectations. I go through my day avoiding relationships and avoiding deeper connections because I’d rather be safe and in control than put myself out there to be hurt. When I’m in control I ignore my needs, ignore God, and live an ultimately shallow life.

I live with a hardened heart.

God has been breaking that hardened heart wide open and I’m overwhelmed by it. I’m scared of it. Everything I’ve clung to is dissolving in the light of God’s healing glory.

God is wrecking my old life, my old expectations, my old status quo…

I’ve been made new. I’ve been created in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

God has offered me a new identity, but it means I have to let go of the old and embrace it.

That’s where it gets hard.

To all you Who Worry – A look at 1st Peter 5:5-7

I am a worrier. Sometimes I don’t even mean to worry, but anxiety creeps up on me and I spend an entire day wrestling with it. The verse that always comes to mind and seems to be on the tip of everyone’s tongues regarding anxiety is 1st Peter 5:6-7: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.” It would be very easy to take these verses to say, “All you have to do is cast your anxiety on God because he cares for you” and leave it at that. However, there is so much more to it.

It is erroneous to ignore the “therefore” in verse six. As we used to say in youth group: What is the “therefore” there for? The term always points back at what has been said leading up to the sentence it has been used in and puts what is being said into the context. Whatever comes after a “therefore” is a conclusion, so it is only right to look above and find the argument. The preceding verses look like this:

“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.”

By looking at verse five, the preceding verses suddenly take on more meaning. Peter, who is writing this letter to the “churches in dispersion,” is not just telling them that God cares about them and wants to help them with the anxiety. He is telling them that part of being humble means that they are willing to give up their worries and concerns. God wants us to relinquish control out of a place of humility and acceptance that we cannot do it on our own and that He will carry us further than we can carry ourselves.

To let go of anxiety is to be humble and admit that we are limited in what we can control.

This must have been especially meaningful to Peter’s audience at the time. They were being persecuted and mocked. Their neighbors talked behind their backs, their homes were probably vandalized, and the “church in dispersion” was living a life in fear because the Roman government did not approve of their faith. They were struggling, they were anxious, and yet even in the midst of persecution they were told to roll with it and to let God handle it.

They were asked to give up their anxieties because they had no control over them anyway.

So when I’m facing down a day like today, riddled with anxiety and worry, I take a deep breath and remember that I cannot control everything. It is ridiculous and arrogant to believe that I can. Some things are out of my control and instead of worrying myself sick over them, I need to admit that I can only control myself and my actions and give everything else up to God.

It is easier said than done, but isn’t that generally how it goes?