Posts

When God Doesn’t Take Away Your Anxiety

A question I’m often asked is, “How did you stop having anxiety?”

I haven’t.

Then comes the inevitable follow up: “You mean, you still feel anxious?”

Every now and then, yes.

“You mean, God hasn’t healed you from it?”

These questions are not uncommon to me and I imagine they’re not uncommon to others in the church.

The giant chasm which exists between faith and mental health would suggest that this will always be a difficult topic to discuss. Many Christians, including myself, do not understand how these two things, God and GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), could possibly co-exist.

I’ve had numerous conversations with people who ask me about my faith and its role in regards to how I cope with anxiety. Where does God fit in?

They might expect me to give them cookie-cutter” answers like “Because I’m a Christian, I don’t struggle with my anxiety.” Or “trusting in God removes all anxiety.”

But as someone who has suffered from anxiety and is still affected by it at times, I can only tell you that there are no simple answers.

Instead, let me offer you five things to keep in mind if you’re a Christian struggling with anxiety.

 

1. God can heal us from anything, even anxiety.

As a Christian, I believe that God can do anything. Nothing is impossible for him (Luke 1:37). Does this include healing people from illnesses, including mental illness? Yes.

I know people who have personally experienced God’s healing from different neurological or psychological disorders.

Yet for me, and perhaps to others, the question remains: is there room for God amidst an anxiety disorder when He hasn’t taken it away? Where is God when the breakthrough hasn’t happened yet?

The answer is not so black and white.

 

2. Having anxiety is not a reflection of your lack of faith.

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard well-meaning churchgoers tell me, “You just need to pray about it more; you really need to go before the Lord.”

Let me tell you about my going before the Lord.

As someone who dealt with panic attacks and anxiety disorder throughout college, I can say that I wasn’t only just going before the Lord, but I was face-down-lying-on-the-bathroom-floor going before Him.

If you have been there before, you will know what I mean. Our body meets the end of ourselves. All dignity is pushed aside, and we beg and plead, often on our knees. Or in my case, on my hands and my knees.

Take this from me, God. I cannot do this anymore. It’s just too much.

 

3. Healing comes in many forms.

The night that I lay face down on the bathroom floor of my apartment, God did not take away my anxiety disorder. He did not miraculously heal me from my anxiety in one instant act of extraordinary intervention. I didn’t automatically stop having panic attacks. I still had to catch my breath and count to 10 in the middle of a work meeting to avoid a potential breakdown.

My experience wasn’t one of immediate relief. It wasn’t a miraculous healing that some encounter in church pews. Instead, managing my anxiety was a long and drawn-out process.

It was the result of many months of intense counselling sessions and emotional energy. But in that process, I found relief. And I experienced some healing.

It all started by going to speak to a complete stranger about my fears. She taught me tools to help stop the onset of a panic attack. I slowly learned how to manage overpowering feelings of anxiety.

As I accepted the fact that I struggled with a disorder, I also began the frightening process of opening up to my family and friends. I took a step back and observed the bad habits I needed to break, and I even had to say goodbye to some unhealthy relationships. The process was anything but easy or formulaic, but it allowed me to slowly regain that peace of mind that Philippians talks about.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

So did God heal me? Did I achieve breakthrough?

Not in the way you would think. Not in one heavenly instant.

I have no shame in admitting to you that my prayers didn’t result in the end of my disorder. Healing takes place in many different ways. Sometimes, it’s the immediate relief from anxiety during a worship service, and sometimes it’s ongoing treatment from a doctor.

What I can attest to is that God gave me the peace and determination to manage those days where anxiety was too close for comfort. And through that, I found grace, and ultimately, freedom.

 

 4. We are not alone in our anxiety.

It’s important to recognize that God does not promise we will never experience hardship.

I would still feel a sense of nervousness from time to time, even after attending a counselling session. I still had the occasional random panic attack in the supermarket (bless the dear woman who consoled me in the freezer aisle). We will never live a life free of adversity.

But God does promise that He will be right there with us when we go through those difficult times.

How comforting it is to know that I am not alone in those moments of darkness! I have the companionship of one who has already overcome anxiety. He’s been there, done that.

In Matthew, it says that Jesus overcame the world. He knew what it was like to feel overwhelmed. To feel anxious. He knew pain and suffering. I don’t know about you, but that’s a huge relief to know I am not isolated in this fight.

 

 5. The road to recovery can be slow and messy.

I’ll be honest with you: today, I still struggle with anxiety from time to time. I still have those moments of uncertainty. My faith does not remove the voice of negative self-talk.

But I do have confidence in one thing: God meets me where I am. He has been with me every step of the way, from diagnosis to recovery. And looking back, I can certainly attest that I am not the same person I was several years ago as I sat in the doctor’s office discussing different side effects of anti-depressants. I can confidently say that the worst is behind me.

When I hear that there is no room for God in the whole “mental health” debate, I want to remind those people of one of the key issues at the centre of this whole conversation: God loves people in their humanity and we are to do the same of one another. Despite our perceived “weakness” and our human tendency to fear and to feel insecure—God still uses us to inspire, to lead and to love others. He uses anxious people.

I am the most peaceful I probably have ever been on my journey, but every now and then, I still feel a little off. But it’s encouraging to know that I don’t have to be perfect.

I don’t have to feel perfectly. I can just be. And that’s perfectly okay.

My Antidote to Panic Attacks: Worship

I’ll never forget the first time I had a panic attack. It was in my second year of university and I was doing what any normal 19-year-old American girl would do on a Thursday evening—buying a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream at the local supermarket.

It hit me as I was scanning the freezers. As a surge of adrenaline rushed throughout my body, I had to stop and catch my breath. My fingertips began to tingle. My palms and feet started to go numb. The room started to turn. “What’s happening to me?”

My heart started to beat a thousand times a minute. My legs began to feel weak, and I felt as though I would collapse at any moment. Gasping for air, I leant against a freezer door. “Deep breaths, Rachel. Breathe in and out. In and out. Just breathe.”

Next thing I knew, I was sitting on the floor of aisle 9 with my back against the freezer doors, framed by tubs of Haagen Daz ice-cream and berry-red popsicles. Hysterical, curled into a ball, and with tears streaming down my face, I must have looked a pitiful sight.

“What’s happening to me?” I cried. My knees were pushed into my chest, my head was bowed, and my shoulders rose and fell with every sob. “What is going on?”

With every second that ticked by, I could feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins, shooting up and down my arms like an electric shock. Like waves on a seashore, the first wave swept through, then drew back for a moment—giving a sheer second of relief—only to be swallowed up by another pounding wave of dread.

At that moment, I felt a tap on my shoulder. “Are you okay, dear?” The voice of an older woman broke into my whirlwind of chaos. With bloodshot eyes and mascara running down my cheeks, I looked back at a woman in her mid-50s. Holding a box of Cheerios in one hand and a bottle of Windex cleaner in the other, she was looking at me with a concerned expression on her face.  “Are you okay, dear? Can I help you?” she asked again. “No, I’m not okay.” I replied with a muffled voice, “I don’t think I’m okay.”

What I said next was one of the most important declarations I had ever made. It was the turning point. “But I haven’t told anyone that yet. I need to tell someone. I think something’s wrong. Really wrong.”

Since the age of 19, I have suffered from anxiety. I’m one of the millions of people who struggle with this mental health disorder. In college, while other 20-somethings were busy worrying about what to wear out on a Friday night, I would retreat to my dorm room googling my latest symptoms and thinking that I had some form of cancer (stage III, most likely). Otherwise, I would be frantically checking my phone every two seconds to see if my friend had replied to my message. “Of course she won’t. She’s seen the real me. And she’s decided I’m not worth it.”

Now, at 26 years old, I want so badly to declare that I have conquered all this stuff, that I have overcome all the complexities of this disorder. I wish I could say that my anxiety is a thing of the past, that it is no longer knocking on my door to wake me up in the morning or leaning over my bed to watch as I toss and turn at night. But I haven’t conquered it, and it’s not a thing of the past.

Perhaps the most discouraging thing about anxiety is dealing with it as a Christian. In many parts of evangelical America, admitting you have anxiety is kind of like admitting you have a problem with alcohol. Or drugs. Or one-night stands. Or eating a Big Mac in your dorm room at 2.a.m. It’s a sinful “habit” and it will sweep you to the margins, out of sight and out of mind of middle-class American churchgoers.

Or at least, this is how some churches have often made me feel. A deep and all-consuming guilt was all packaged, gift wrapped and hand-delivered to me each and every morning I stepped inside a church building. And while I don’t believe for a second that the church will ever be perfect, I had expected a more loving and accepting response than the ones that I had received.

Since that humiliating incident in the supermarket, I have been navigating my identity as a Christian with anxiety. I have had to embark on the painfully slow process of finding that “thing” that brings me rest and respite from the isolation and exhaustion that comes from anxiety.

Worship, I have discovered, is that special space where I open up to the Father and receive His peace—the kind of supernatural peace that Paul talks about in Philippians 4. Here’s why worship has become my antidote to moments of anxiety.

1. Worship is a peaceful state of mind

Worship is a state of mind, not just a supernatural high on Sunday mornings. Initially, I saw Sunday worship sessions as the only time I could receive God’s peace. However, I realized that worship isn’t just meant for large gatherings or small group settings. Worshipping the Father is a constant state of mind, an ever-present mindfulness of His goodness and grace in my life. Practicing a heart of worship—whether praying during my work commute or listening to a Bethel music playlist as I clean my apartment—has been an integral part of my healing journey from anxiety.

 

2. Worship is a safe space

Getting a handle on my anxiety has meant that I’ve needed to get real with God. And that means getting up close and personal, divulging all of my doubts and secrets to Him like you would to your bestie over a cup of coffee. Creating a safe space where I can speak to the Father has been an instrumental part of my road to recovery—particularly picking up my guitar and singing Scriptures over myself and my family. I believe that there is power in declaring words of life to change the mess in our lives. Worship is a powerful weapon against worry.

 

3. Worship paves a direct path to God

I love the quote by American author John Paul Jackson: “Peace is the potting soil of revelation.” I find that it is often in those moments of fear, that the channel of communication between me and God is most fuzzy. But I also know that it’s in those moments when I feel at my weakest, that worship ought to be the next bullet-point on my to-do list. Setting aside space for God to speak to us in the midst of fear is a powerful step to leaving our anxiety at the door. It is in those “thin places” where we hear from and speak to God, that faith takes authority over fear.

 

I want to be careful here, as I don’t want for a second to portray to you that I have this all figured out. Navigating anxiety can at times feel nearly impossible. More often than not, it feels like treading water in the deep end of the pool—when you have never taken a single swimming lesson in your life. And there is no one around to throw you a life jacket the minute you start to go under.

God has so much more in store for us than a daily battle with fear. I pray that as we cultivate a lifestyle of worship, we may find ourselves free from the chains of anxiety that have kept us from stepping into the thing that God has called us to do.

ODJ: come to me

November 21, 2015 

READ: Matthew 11:25-30 


Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest (v.28). 

I remember being deeply upset and stressed out because of mounting medical bills after we had our third daughter. I couldn’t sleep for several nights as I was trying to figure out how we’d pay the bills. My muscles were tense. I was exhausted. The stress was getting to me. And so I cried out to God.

Stress, worry and anxiety are linked to many illnesses—heart attacks, digestive problems and depression, to name a few. Medical professionals tell us that to combat stress and worry we need to get plenty of rest, eat right and exercise. But Jesus tells us about something else that provides true peace and rest in a world where we experience “many trials and sorrows” (John 16:33). That ‘something else’ is exactly what I chose to do when anxiety threatened to overwhelm me.

As I prayed I was reminded of Matthew 11:28 where Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” It occurred to me that I hadn’t truly brought this distressing situation to Jesus. Trying to solve the problem for my family on my own, I simply couldn’t do it. Jesus invited me to come to Him in order to gain perspective and real rest.

In the next verse He said, “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (v.29). Our loving Saviour doesn’t scold us for being unable to handle the pressures of life by ourselves. He doesn’t berate us. Instead, He’s humble and gentle of spirit.

—Marlena Graves

365-day-plan: Romans 8:1-18

MORE
Read 1 Peter 5:7 and consider what you’ve been doing with your ‘worries and cares’. 
NEXT
What has caused you to experience anxious thoughts recently? How can you enter into the rest that Jesus alone can provide? 

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)

When Anxiety Gets the Better of Me

Written by Christie Frieg, USA

“The map says it’ll take me 15 minutes to get there? Challenge accepted. I can do it in five.”

(Oh wait, I forgot about stuff like traffic lights and speed limits. Now I’m late.)

Living my life on the edge has brought me a lot of anxiety. I’m usually late, and while on the way, I usually worry about how to get there faster and what those who are waiting will think when I finally arrive.

Life provides daily—sometimes hourly—opportunities for anxiety. Usually, I like to pray during my commute from one place to another. But when I’m anxious about being late, I end up spending the whole time trying to speed up my arrival and getting angry at anything and anyone who gets in the way. Worries like these fill my mind when I could have had joy and meditative prayer instead.

I’ve come to realize that my anxiety comes not only when I’m racing against time; it permeates all aspects of my life. Sometimes the anxiety steals the joy I could have experienced in much bigger things.

When I was going out with my boyfriend (now husband), for example, I worried constantly. Am I capable of making a marriage last forever? Am I too young? Am I really qualified to make this huge decision for the rest of my life? How do I know if God approves? I asked God these questions many times, even though I already knew the answers. I sought every form of counsel, prayed constantly and reflected deeply on the truths in my heart. Deep down, I knew marriage was the right path to embark on. But anxiety—about the unknown, of failure—continued to plague me.

How I wish I had trusted in God then! I could have enjoyed that special time Alex and I had in our dating and engagement period so much more deeply. Anxiety takes away the ability to enjoy our blessings; it occupies space where praise and worship of God should live in our hearts. It strips us of peace and steals our joy. Satan is very good at using anxiety to cripple us.

I felt great anxiety not because an outcome was probable, but because it was terrifying. This, I believe, is a very important distinction. Most of the things we fear will not actually materialize, and of those that do, few are remotely life-changing.

For example, many people worry about dying on a roller coaster. This stops them from enjoying the ride, because the outcome—death—is so severe and so terrifying. Yet the probability of dying on a roller coaster is one in hundreds of millions. If people could convince themselves about their very probable safety, they’d be free to enjoy the exhilarating ride. But their worry keeps them from doing so.

In my case, I had worried about failing at my marriage or making the wrong decision. Yet I know that God’s will is for my marriage to succeed. I can therefore trust Him to show me how to build a lasting and fulfilling marriage.

God has also promised us believers that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth (John 16:13). He has always led me faithfully, and I can trust that He has spoken clearly, in a way I can understand, such that I am able to hear him. God enabled me to overcome my anxiety and marry the man of my dreams.

So how can we overcome anxiety? I believe we cannot simply focus on not being worried. This will just leave a hole in our thoughts where the worry used to be, and it will attract the anxiety back. Instead, we must fill this gap with something else: Faith. “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:17). In order to gain more faith, we must read God’s promises in His word about who He is and what He does. This knowledge will fill the places where the worry once lived, empowering us to live each moment to the fullest, not subject to anxiety or worry—just like He created us to do.

God has given us the gift of prayer—of communicating our worries, anxieties and fears to Him. While we can never eradicate worry from our lives, we can be assured that God knows, and He can give us peace regardless of what happens.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” —Philippians 4:6–7

Photo credit: Gabriel Yum / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA