I’ve struggled most of my life with anxiety. I’ve researched and learned it’s a natural consequence of living the kind of childhood I did. I always thought that it was sinful and that there was something fundamentally wrong with me because I experience episodes of overwhelming and debilitating anxiety.
In his infinite tenderness, God has been teaching me that anxiety in and of itself is not a sin, it’s what you do with it. Do you give in and allow it to overtake you, overshadowing your view and relationship with God, or do you take it to Him?
I’ve always viewed anxiety as an immense burden. I picture it like a backpack that is stuffed to the seams. I find that I’ll carry the backpack around far longer than I really need to. I forget that I have a savior who already carried that burden to the cross.
I am set free.
But for some reason I choose to walk in burden. Very recently, however, I’ve started to see the beautiful blessing in the anxiety I have experienced.
Last weekend I went to a conference for work. On the flight home, I sat next to a young woman around my age. The captain came on the overhead, “We’re expecting some pretty heavy turbulence so, unfortunately, we won’t have the in-flight service. I’ve asked the flight attendants to stay seated for their safety and yours.”
Normally this is when I would start spiraling. Flying is a huge anxiety trigger for me. I feel completely and utterly out of control and there’s no way out. But this day, I noticed the woman next to me took a deep breath, shut her eyes, and her leg immediately started bouncing. I recognized her reaction. It was like looking in a mirror. She was anxious.
“I’m sorry. I’m a nervous flier,” she said to me completely ashamed.
I assured her that she was in good company and had absolutely nothing to be sorry for. As the plane took off, it didn’t take long before the small aircraft was being tossed around like a ship on the high seas. I tried to distract her with conversation, but I could tell she was already in flight-or-fight, her brain couldn’t handle this level of thought right now. She was in I-need-to-get-out-of-here-right-now mode.
I asked if I could hold her hand and the look of relief on her face was all the confirmation I needed. I began to explain what was happening in her body that was causing her to feel so terrified. I was able to explain the fight-or-flight response in a way that wasn’t cold and medical, because I had personally lived it.
I then walked her through a series of calming exercises focused on increasing peace rather than trying to fight down anxiety. She was amazed. We did these exercises the whole flight. She told me how she had sat next to many people who looked at her as if something was fundamentally wrong with her.
I was able to share how anxiety is a human experience, some just experience it to greater levels than others. She is not helpless and she has the power to choose peace. It’s very hard and it seems impossible at first, but it is absolutely doable. How do I know? Because I’ve lived it. I’ve lived it over and over.
I’m still thanking God for this incredible opportunity. Instead of being focused on myself, I was able to use something that I’ve allowed to terrorize me to bring someone else closer to peace.
I know without a doubt that God was laying the foundation for this sweet woman to know him. Jesus met her that day right in the midst of her storm.
Maybe there’s something that you’ve struggled with and the enemy has used it to burden and beat you down. Take heart sweet friend. What the enemy means for evil God can use for good. How do I know?
Because I’ve lived it. I’ve lived it over and over.
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
Genesis 50:20 ESV