Although I should be sleeping like a baby, I’m wide awake. The projection clock shines 3 am on the ceiling. Still too early to start the day. The house is quiet, but my insides are starting to race.
I try to calm my thoughts, stop them from whirling, but it’s as if anxiety read the manual on my brain and decided to push the panic button. I’m trying to keep my breathing slow and steady, but the more I try, the more impossible it feels.
10 minutes have passed. Only 10 and the slowness of time passing is like gasoline on a smoldering fire. I’m not sure how long I can keep myself calm. I need it to be morning.
Soon I won’t be able to catch my breath, I’ll gulp for air until my throat is on fire. I’ll want to cry and scream and run all at the same time. I’ll try to be quiet, but he’ll hear me. He’ll wake up and hold me and whisper everything is fine. My head will believe him, but heart will continue to race. The inner tug of war will leave me in a puddle of tears, limp in his strong arms.
This frenzied unfolding has happened several times in the past year. It’s why I sold my business; it’s why I decline invitations and keep an open calendar. It’s why I journal and go for long walks. It’s why “self-care” is a familiar word in our home and my family shields me from news and problems and struggles that can trigger my adrenals to kick into overdrive. And yes, adrenals and cortisol and fight or flight are words we use often.
It’s now 3:20 am. I really thought slowing down meant no more panic attacks. I thought anxiety would get tired of my boring schedule and go find someone else to mess with.
Anxiety is more complex than I thought.
I’ve shared my struggle with some and also kept it from some. Honestly, I don’t have the strength to process opinions, especially ones that are formed by someone who assumes that a person of faith, a Bible study girl, a Christian, should be able to battle the anxiety monster and win.
These are the same people who will say things like, “You can do all things through Christ,” “Take all your thoughts captive,” and “Be anxious for nothing.” I understand the intention. I know it comes from a desire to help. But it can feel like judgment; the words seem to be wrapped in an assumption that I haven’t considered those verses or tried to apply them.
Now I’m hoping my last comment didn’t come across as bitter or ungrateful. I love the life and hope and freedom I have found in Scripture. I study it, memorize it, embrace it, and I cling to it now at 3:30 am in the morning. But I do want to be real, I know I am loved and I know God is big but I still can’t breathe.
I think we all hope that big problems can be solved with tidy responses. If it were true, we would all feel safer, steadier. We could cover problems as if we were icing a cake and just spread the sweet stuff right over all the cracks and crumbs. We could feel we helped another and then rest knowing that any problem we face will be easily overcome. But when tidy phrases seem powerless in the looming presence of messy problems, what’s left?
And this is the danger of only addressing anxiety through the lens of faith. When I memorize the verses, pray the prayers, and am still awake in the middle of the night gulping for air and trembling with fear, I am left holding nothing. I am left feeling hopeless and wondering why God isn’t there for me.
But there is also a danger of not considering a struggle with anxiety through the lens of faith. Our faith, or our belief about who God is, touches every part of our life. When struggling with anxiety, we must consider our lifestyle; we must ask questions about our bodies and personalities and how we are wired. And we need to know it’s a good thing to get help from others, see doctors, and take medicine if it is needed. However, it is also necessary to acknowledge that faith plays a role in how we choose to live, how we see the world and our place in it, and how we process the demands and turmoil surrounding us.
Because if we are getting real, how we navigate or struggle to navigate through anxiety is multi-faceted. Faith doesn’t play the only role, but it does play a role. And because it touches all aspects of our lives, it could be the ingredient that helps to bring all of our worthwhile efforts into a cohesive and effective whole. [To hear more about how grit, grace, strength, and faith exist together and how these are the foundation of a strong woman’s life, check out this episode of This Grit and Grace Life: Grit and Grace, but What About God? – 105]
Again, totally transparent here, I think we sometimes shy away from faith when dealing with anxiety because we have placed a cause and effect model on the two. We can wrongly conclude that if I’m struggling with anxiety then I am also failing in my faith walk. Somehow, we have come to believe that faith means no struggle with anxiety and a struggle with anxiety means no faith. No wonder we like to keep them separate. No one needs a big dose of guilt or feelings of inadequacy when battling a panic attack.
Faith Meets Every Aspect of Life – Even Anxiety
But what if we acknowledge that faith doesn’t exclude us from this struggle or from any struggle. What if instead of smoothing the icing over the crumbs or clinging to portions of verses like magic potions, we turn toward God right in the middle of the pain? Because the truth, the promise of our faith repeats and highlights, underscores and shouts that God is with us, always, forever, in and through it all. Maybe then we wouldn’t think our struggle with anxiety remains somewhere outside of the reach of our faith or our God.
Then, if anxiety doesn’t disqualify or lessen my faith, maybe it serves as a signal that I am walking through something that needs me to lean into my faith even more. And when I do, when I begin to think about the bigness and goodness of God, when I close my eyes and think of good things and lovely things and peaceful things, when I choose to relax into love and acceptance and abundance, I have allowed anxiety to propel me toward wholeness and wellness.
So, the next time I think of the words found in Philippians 4:6, “be anxious for nothing,” I’ll open my Bible and read all the words. I’ll allow the full meaning of the chapter to seep deep into my being. I’ll remind myself that anxiety isn’t the judge and jury on my faith walk, instead, it’s a reminder for me to let God know what I need, to thank him for his love for me, to think on things that are just, pure, lovely, and good. I’ll shift my thoughts onto things that are virtuous and praise worthy—the good stuff.
As I do that now, as I stack up my worries and compare them to the majesty that is God, I see them as smaller than I first thought. Tonight, my heart starts to slow, my breathing settles, and I begin to drift off to sleep.
Tomorrow, I may feel anxious again. So, I will continue to walk and journal and do all the self-care that is helping me heal. I’ll also choose to embrace my faith, dig deep into the truth of Scripture, and know that my bouts of anxiety do not change who God is or his love for me. And I’ll remind myself that even though life can feel too big and too much, even though it sometimes feels like the sky is falling, even though I’m doing all the right things and making all the right choices and still feel unsettled, my faith is a part of who I am and God is with me through it all.
Struggling with anxiety? Check out:
Ask Dr. Zoe – Coping With Anxiety Biblically
Ask Dr. Zoe – Anxiety, When Is It Beyond Normal?
Overcoming the Waves of Anxiety and Panic Attacks
2 Ways to Help You Conquer Fear
Keeping a Record of This Can Change Your Life
Grit and Grace When You Doubt Your Faith
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100 Things a Grit and Grace Woman Believes
Bible Verses From The Grit and Grace Team on Anxiety
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You’ll love this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: Skillet’s Jen Ledger Shares Her Faith, Her Fear and Her Strength – 044!