I wanted so badly not to write about this until it was over. I was sooo excited to package up a tidy post about anxiety and being brave and fighting through your doubts. Sorry, guys. Pride gets in the way. Surprise of all surprises, this phase has haunted me for longer than I bargained, and I don’t have the clarity of retrospection. But I might need to write through it anyway.
I used to toss the word ‘anxiety’ around casually, never knowing how heavy it really is. I used it as a synonym for stress. I thought people who got truly anxious were…weak. Well. I know now how unfair that is. We’re all weak, all walking around with chinks in our armor. And anxiety is so much more than stress; it’s paralyzing and frightening and infuriating.
Without going into gory or boring detail, I haven’t been well. For about 98% of my life I’ve felt strong, capable, and high-achieving. I got what I worked for. I would see something materialize in the future and then I would move toward it steadily, never doubting my trajectory or losing footing. Certainty in my own control built up like plaque in my veins, fortifying the illusion that I was strong and frankly, without need. (A misperception so extreme that it might be funny, if it didn't make me feel so shitty.) Not believing in your own need is a dangerous thing when you follow Christ. And if there’s anything that’s grown out of these past 4-plus months (and, um, still counting) it’s the truth that I am SO FAR from self-sufficient.
I would like to say, friends, be careful what you pray for. Because about six months ago I prayed this: God, let me desire You and not Your comfort. I had been scraping and searching for the comfiest circumstances, which left me feeling vaguely dull. So I sat down and asked God very seriously to teach me about Himself so that I wouldn’t just chase a comfortable life. Should I be surprised that He answered? (And would you be surprised to learn I’m starting to regret my prayer?)
For you who have felt anxiety or fear or doubt, I GET IT. And it’s been the biggest comfort of all to hear people say to me, I get it too. What I might be learning right now – still too early to tell for sure – is that God hears the prayers I keep flinging skyward, hoping something will stick. He’s inviting me into a way deeper trust than I’ve ever had, because I never knew my own need. My reliance on Him actually feels as essential as it is. From the trenches I just want to confirm that yes, this is painful place to be. But I’m starting to know God in a way I never have. This hasn’t quite equipped me to feel joyful in these circumstances. But I know Him better. Maybe the joy will follow.
I heard a quote last night that shook me. Peter Rollins writes, “What if Christ does not fill the empty cup we bring to Him but rather smashes it to pieces, bringing freedom not from our darkness and dissatisfaction but freedom from our felt need to escape it?”
What if? What if during our times of war we need freedom from our own selves that tell us endlessly we need to flee the pain? What if, in dissatisfying situations, we might still find freedom? Even in a job you hate. Even in the uncertainty of a lonely year. Even when you feel trapped and misunderstood and broken. Maybe there's still freedom.
May I suggest a few things to keep your head on straight when you feel frantic? These have been deep breaths to me lately:
- This post, to remind you that darkness ALWAYS PASSES and your darkness is no different. Dawn breaks, people. That hope will keep you afloat.
- Tow’rs music. For the heavy hearted, this music is healing and the lyrics are just straight poetry (“We’ll wear your grace like skin, taking us where veils are thin.” I meaaaan c’mon. So good.)
- That lovely majestic place called the outdoors also known as put down your phone and your Instagram and your computer screen and leave the house. Running outside has been my fix lately (because it’s January and I no longer live in New England, holla!) but any time you get off a screen and outside heals the soul a bit, in my opinion.
This is an ongoing catharsis. There will more posts in this vein. And I would love to engage with you if you’re reading and resonating. Leave a comment, shoot me an email. xo