“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
Y’all, I have a confession to make: I have anxiety. And I have it bad.
I’d like to say I didn’t always have it, but that’s not exactly true. What is true is that I didn’t always have this particular strain of it. I was always paranoid as a kid, and I have a particular talent for being able to quickly imagine the worst case scenario. Usually, I think of the thing I don’t want to happen, acknowledge that it could happen, and then move on. That used to be as far as the silliness made it.
But lately, it has gotten so much worse. Without getting too personal, something major and terrible has happened in my life in the past year; and now, the worst case scenario doesn’t seem so far away, doesn’t seem so abstract, doesn’t seem so impossible. Now my nightmares might come true. So, naturally, they’ve multiplied. One of the biggest issues with my anxiety is that it doesn’t even seem all that far-fetched. We don’t live in a world where it’s unreasonable to fear fatal car accidents, terrorist attacks, or pulmonary embolisms. In fact, there are so many ridiculous and random ways to die, the fact that any of us make it past six months absolutely astonishes me. These are the thoughts that keep me up at night, attack me in the most inopportune moments, and hang out in the back of my mind every second of every day.
So, how do I reconcile these anxious thoughts and fears with the fact that I’m a Christian? The Bible clearly calls us not to be anxious about anything. Over and over again, it tells us not to fear, and that fear doesn’t come from the Lord. In fact, God clearly promises us a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7)—a promise so important to me, I made it the background on my phone for when these thoughts become too much. He also promises us peace, courage, and refuge. So what do I do when those promises seem so far out of reach?
To tell you the truth, I don’t know. That’s it. I don’t know. Honestly, I am still in the middle of all of this mess, and from where I’m standing right now, sometimes, it seems like this is never going to end. Sometimes, it feels like I’m going to drown in this ocean even though I know how to swim. It feels wrong and disobedient to have fears and doubts when I know I am supposed to be so enamored with Jesus and so entrusting of God’s provision and sovereignty that the world has no room to make me question. But there is some good news.
I know God is using this. I don’t always know how, and I certainly don’t always know why this is what it takes. But I do know that God is so much more powerful and all-knowing than I could ever imagine. And He is on my side. The Lord loves me. He fights with me. He fights for me. I don’t want to lie—I am not thrilled about my current situation. It’s difficult. That’s just the truth of it. And yeah, sometimes this suffering seems so unfair. But who knows suffering better than Jesus? Who understands mental and physical turmoil like the One who was crucified, bearing the sin of every person who has ever lived? When put in that perspective, it doesn’t seem so bad. At the very least, I am reminded that I am not alone. I have a direct line to the Creator, who knows exactly what I’m going through.
As for my anxiety, I don’t know if there will be another day for the rest of my life where I go more than a few minutes without worrying about all the possible things that can go wrong in that very second. I’m nearly one panic attack away from never leaving my house again. But that’s no way to live. How can I go and make disciples if I never actually go anywhere? So I know that I have to keep showing up for my life, even when it’s difficult. But like I said, I’m still in the middle, so it’s difficult. But wait! There’s more good news.
God does His best work in the middle. Charlotte Gambill* has a whole book on this idea, based on the story in Scripture when Jesus walks on the water. In Mark 6:47, the Bible tells us that the disciples were in a boat in the middle of the lake. Then Jesus, walked out to them and revealed Himself to them. But the key is that they were already in the middle when Christ performed a miracle. Another thing of note in this passage: Jesus met them there. He went to them in the middle, and made Himself known.
Jesus is constantly meeting me in my middle. When I am in the throes of a panic attack, crying out to Him for relief from this brand of heartache, I know He hears me. I can feel it. I can also feel it when a friend wraps her arms around me and prays peace over me. And when a student I’m supposed to be mentoring puts his hands on my shoulder, looks me in the eye, and says “I’m praying for your anxiety.” And when my mom listens to me cry and assures me this is all still in God’s hands, even though she has so much to deal with. That’s Jesus, y’all. He didn’t leave me in this alone. He’s all up in this middle with me!
Honestly, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know how long this middle is going to last. But I’m going to keep laying these thoughts and fears at the feet of Jesus for as long as it takes, because He is the only one who knows how to carry them. He’s the only one who knows how God will be glorified through this mess. In the meantime, I’m going to keep showing up. I’m not going to miss out on this miracle just because I was tempted to give up. The Lord promises me power, love, and a sound mind. So I’m going to claim that promise again and again as many times as it takes.
Peace, love, and a sound mind to all of you as well.