It’s 5:00 am and I can’t sleep because I am overwhelmed by my thoughts. A lot of the reason that I can’t sleep at night is that I can’t stop thinking. It isn’t even necessarily about anything bad; I just often lack the ability to “turn my mind off” and just rest in the moment. My eyes are tired but I just can’t seem to fall back asleep. This is probably the last thing that I should be doing right now but… I might as well do something worth while if I am awake:) Praise God that I have a few more days to take 2 hours naps & rest before school starts back up!
I have struggled off and on with anxiety since the beginning of high school. Anxiety runs in my family, & it is something that I haven’t ever really been able to have complete victory over. In addition to my struggle with anxiety, I also have irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS. When my anxiety overwhelms me, I am also reminded physically that I am anxious by uncontrollable stomach pain. If I don’t sense my anxiety building up & find a way to cope with it it’s too late. At times it can be crippling, giving me no desire to eat or engage in any social activities with anyone. School, stress, transitions, & lack of sleep seem to exacerbate the condition. There is no question that anxiety and IBS are two factors that contributed to the development of my eating disorder. There are seasons where my anxiety is better, and there are seasons where it is worse; right now it’s a better season.
Well-meaning Christians tried to give me advice about managing my anxiety & honestly it just lead to guilt and shame for the fact that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t “trust God” enough. Here is some of the advice I received:
“Just trust God; the root of anxiety is not trusting God so just trust him more.”
“Just don’t worry you will be okay. The bible says, “Do not be anxious.” So just don’t be anxious; just pray and your anxiety will go away.”
“You just have to take every thought captive and you will be good.”
(First of all, I didn’t know how the heck I was supposed to take my thoughts captive..it seemed so abstract. Anyways, I will save that for the next post :))
I studied and meditated on the word, I prayed and asked God to take away my anxiety for years, and it just didn’t happen. I tried to memorize scripture and take thoughts captive, but it just didn’t seem to do the trick. I wanted my anxiety to be gone forever…& if I am honest there are many days where I still have that desire. It felt like I was failing as a Christian, and that I wasn’t trying hard enough. God HAS shown me a lot of victory over anxiety and deliverance in stressful situations, but my anxiety never goes away completely. It is a constant, day-by-day battle. The enemy tried to run with the words of others and twist their meaning so that I would own anxiety as my identity. Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). As my pastor would say, “The devil is a lying devil; whenever he is talking, he is lying.” He would bombard me, telling me that I will always be “the anxious christian”, never attaining victory or freedom from the bondage that can seem so overwhelming.
In the beginning of this summer I started getting therapy & it really has been life changing. I remember at our first session I talked about how I just felt so worthless because everyone else I knew could trust God more than I could and that even when my anxiety got better, it never, ever went away. The physical effects would come and go in different seasons. My anxiety would dip and fall depending on a variety of different things.
Sarah, (my completely awesome Christian therapist) encouraged me to look at my anxiety in a whole new way. She pointed out to me that anxiety is an emotion just like anger, fear, excitement, joy, sadness, boredom, etc. No matter how hard a person might pray, medicate, read their bible, listen to music, etc, the emotion will never completely go away…but it will go away eventually. When we are bored, it doesn’t last. When we are sad, it doesn’t last. When we are happy & on top of the world, it doesn’t last. Nothing lasts forever. As my sweet friend Ellen Dooley once said to me, “The great thing about this world is that everything is beautifully temporary, & nothing lasts forever.” I am learning to run to God with my anxiety and not asking him to take it away, but to be my sustainer and my strength in the midst of my anxiety. Having anxiety isn’t a sin…let me repeat that: Having anxiety isn’t a sin. It wasn’t until this summer that I believed that there is nothing wrong with the way God made me. The most important thing is NOT that we are not anxious, but what we do with the anxiety we are feeling. That’s where most of us seem to get in trouble. In the past I did everything in my power to completely get rid of my anxiety; as one might imagine, this was counter-productive. Rather than just riding out the wave of emotion, I looked to exercise, people, food, TV, studying, & just about everything in between to ease my pain. I spent a lot of time with God and crying out in prayer, but I often got frustrated because I didn’t always see immediate deliverance. Naturally, I quickly ran to anything and everything that had the potential to deliver me. As Sarah would say, “I was struggling to have patience in a season of waiting.” The problem is that nothing in this world is meant to do what only Jesus can do.
Because we are broken people living in a broken world, we all experience anxiety to some extent at some point in our lives. I think God wired me with an anxious temperament to draw me closer to him. As much as I hate it, God has used my anxiety to draw me closer to him than I ever would have been without it. My anxiety has taught me to start each day on my hands and knees asking God to be my daily bread, & for his power to work within me. It has helped me recognize my desperate need for him…without it, I don’t think I would truly understand how weak I am without Jesus. I think my anxiety has kept me from being a complacent Christian, coasting through life while depending on my own power to make it through each day. I struggle with the desire to be self-sufficient, & my anxiety sure does remind me that I am nothing apart from Christ. We are all nothing apart from Him. Sarah has taught me to come to Jesus openly and honestly, constantly acknowledging my need for him.
The apostle Paul has this advice to the church in Philippi & Christians everywhere: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
-Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV).
I always stopped at “Do not be anxious.” I thought well, great. I’m anxious so I am already failing…what in the world, why am I so bad at not being anxious? I am not a bible scholar, I don’t attend a Christian university, & I probably should know more about God’s word than I do after being a Christian for 9+ years. However, I really do feel the holy spirit telling me that Paul’s purpose was not to guilt & shame fellow believers for feeling anxious. The book of Philippians was written to encourage & uplift, not to condemn. I think Paul (who was in prison while writing this letter) knew how easy it would be to be completely discouraged by the anxieties of this world. His encouragement to his brothers and sisters was/is to run to JESUS with our anxiety, worries, & fears. He urges us all to simply being honest and vulnerable, while thanking him for who he is, & how he has worked in the past and will continue to work in our lives & the lives of others.
My prayer used to be, “God, please take away my anxiety. I hate this. Why can’t I not be anxious? Help me be calm like other people. This is so hard. Why did you make me like this?”
Do you sense the feelings of guilt and shame? These feelings are not from God. Romans 8 clearly tells us that there is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, & that no one can bring a charge against God’s elect.
My prayer now is, “Father, right now I am feeling anxious. I know that you didn’t create me to live in constant fear and anxiety. I know that this feeling isn’t going to last forever, and it will probably go away within a few minutes or hours. Please help me to do your will despite my anxious feelings. I’m coming to you with my anxiety because I know that you are good, you are my creator, & you are the only thing that will enable me to walk through this. I praise you that today I have recognized my need for you, because I know that your grace is sufficient, and your power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9). I praise you because you are the prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6); & your son, Jesus, is my peace (Ephesians 2:14) This type of prayer is what have caused me to experience the most victory in coping with my anxiety. Not taking it away, but allowing me the freedom of living out each day knowing that Jesus is in control and he can carry the burden of my anxiety more than any other thing in this world (See Matt. 11:28-30).
The Lord has shown me incredible victory over test anxiety, social anxiety, future-oriented anxiety, & a lot more. As slow as the process is, he is making a way for me in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:18-19).
If you struggle with anxiety, you are not alone, & God didn’t mess up when he made you. I don’t know why some people are more vulnerable to anxiety than other people. I wish it wasn’t that way. However, I do know that God works ALL things for the good of those who love him (that seems to be a theme lately). I want to encourage you to ask God how he can use your anxious feelings for good. Rather than running from him, draw near to him. I know it’s a lot easier said than done. It’s a lot easier to distract yourself and try to push down your anxiety. It’s a lot easier to run to other things before running to the throne of God. It’s harder to fight, but it’s worth it. It’s always worth it.
I now know that my identity isn’t in my anxiety. I am no longer, “The Anxious Christian”. I am Emily, and I am a righteous child of God. My anxiety no longer defines who I am, and it doesn’t have to define you either.
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)
“In this world you will go through pain, trials, anxiety, hardships, & things that you could never handle on your own. If you haven’t already, you will; it’s a part of living in this broken world. Do not be discouraged, do not lose heart, & do not lose hope, because JESUS has overcome the world.” (John 16:33, Emily version)
I think it’s about time to go back to sleep…thank you Jesus for allowing me to share this part of my story. 🙂
Until next time,