Do you have anxiety?

OK, maybe that’s not the right question. EVERYONE has anxiety from time to time. Even the strongest, richest, most successful people among us.

Anxiety is defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.

Anxiety is different than, but related to, stress. Stress can cause anxiety, but anxiety can appear completely out of the blue, with or without stress.

Everyone has anxiety SOMETIMES. But some people have anxiety ALL the time, to the point that it affects their day to day life, influences the choices they make, and hinders them from enjoying life to the full. That kind of anxiety (I’m learning) is NOT normal.

Growing up, my parents dismissed my anxiety…
You have an overactive imagination. Stop over-reacting. Get over it. 

When I got married, my husband dismissed my anxiety…
There’s nothing to fear. It will all be OK. Here, let me cast that demon out of you. (Yes, we’re still married, but that was an ugly, ugly fight.)

My church condemned my anxiety…
If you’ll just pray more, and get closer to Jesus, you won’t have anxiety. Anxiety is just a symptom of fear, and fear is a sin. Repent, sinner!

My children ignored my anxiety…
“What mom doesn’t know won’t hurt her.” 

And yet, despite all that encouragement, input, pressure, the anxiety remained. It ebbed and flowed, but it was always there, and I always felt ashamed and condemned and weak. If I just had enough faith, you see, I wouldn’t be anxious anymore. If I was just stronger, I wouldn’t be anxious anymore. Really? REALLY?

This year I’m reading very slowly through the Psalms. One per day. I’m trying to glean from these ancient writings what God would say to me through them. Last week I bumbled into Psalm 55 for probably the hundredth time in my life and suddenly recognized a kindred spirit in David…

Yes, I said David. King David. Forerunner (and ancestor) of Jesus. He’s really never been one of my favorite Bible characters… He kind of fell off my radar after the Goliath thing. And the Bathsheba scandal.

But now I think David knew anxiety, intimately, and that puts us in the same boat.

“My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught at the voice of the enemy;
at the stares of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering upon me and revile me in their anger.
My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death assail me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest—I would flee far away
and stay in the desert.” 

(Psalm 55: 2b-7)

If that doesn’t describe a panic attack I don’t know what does.
And yet, God called David “a man after His own heart.” God didn’t condemn David for his anxiety, who do we think we are to condemn one another?

Now, we know David had real enemies. He was literally running for his life for years. Most of us will never know that experience, thank God, but that doesn’t mean our reaction to the situations that cause us to be afraid, to feel distress, or to dread, is any different. Our anxiety triggers may be different, but they produce the same response, and we can still learn from David’s journey and emulate his example.

1. He recognizes that his soul (mind, will, and emotions) has a life of its own, and he frequently addresses his OWN soul… “Why so downcast, O my soul?” Throughout Psalms, David talks to himself, something that’s admittedly hard to do when anxiety has it’s grip on you, but a necessary paradigm shift. You are NOT your anxiety.

2. He acknowledges what he’s feeling, what he’s experiencing, without condemning himself. This is huge, especially for those who have been told if they just had more faith, they wouldn’t have anxiety anymore. Sorry, denying anxiety’s existence doesn’t make it go away. I know, I’ve tried.

3. He looks to God NOT to solve his anxiety, but to sustain him in his anxiety. There’s a difference. If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you know waiting for someone or something—even a medication—to swoop in and rescue you is the worst kind of hell. Knowing, instead, that you can endure the anxiety while trusting God to bring you through to the other side, knowing that it won’t last forever, is a hope not often offered. We know anxiety won’t kill us (though it tries to convince us otherwise), but in truth, anxiety is just a feeling. It will pass. Just like grief, infatuation, sadness, and joy. This, too, shall pass.

I don’t want to minimize it, anymore than I would try to minimize grief or joy. Anxiety is real. It’s rough. I’m living it along with many of you. But there’s hope, and that’s what I want you to take away from this post… anxiety doesn’t make you less of a person.

Anxiety is not the end of my story or yours. It may be part of our story, but it’s not the main character.

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