Anxiety and the Christian
Christians are supposed to be calm, self-assured, and fearless. Pretty sure that was in the Methodist Hymnal I used growing up in Ohio.
Confession: While I believe in God and trust Him with my eternal salvation, I still suffer from moments and even half-hours of anxiety from time to time.
Even though I wrote a book about recovery from anxiety (Sabbatical of the Mind: The Journey from Anxiety to Peace), I still feel anxious when put under extreme stress by high places. That's my not so secret Kryptonite. I get scared and sometimes have to push through the fear to accomplish a higher purpose.
As a Christian author, travel is an important part of getting out the messages of my books. While I believe God can supernaturally get my books into the hands of whoever needs them, He chooses to use me to do this task. Perhaps there is something about my physical presence, my teaching classes/seminars, my goofy sense of humor, that encourages others to buy and benefit from the things God gave me to put into my books.
Throughout my life, acrophobia has been an issue. Although I saw a therapist, prayed, believed, quoted Scripture, etc., I still have a fear of high places - including most large bridges, high buildings, and riding on the shoulders of NBA players. (Okay, the last one doesn't come up very often.)
When I drive, 99.9% of the time, I feel fine and react like everyone else on the highway. My problem rears it's ugly head when I encounter certain large bridges and ridiculously high flyovers where the engineers decided it was a contest to see just how high they could make cars go just to get over two or three other roads.
How Does That Make Me Feel?
When anxiety strikes. some chemical floods my brain telling me I am in extreme danger. No matter how much the rational side of me tries to convince the panic-stricken side of me, my hands sweat, my head swims, and my heart/lungs act up.
It's worst when I don't really know where I'm going or what to expect. On a recent trip, I came upon an unexpected bridge that seemed to appear out of nowhere. It wasn't the largest I've ever driven across, but I was already tired from driving 10+ hours the day before and four hours that morning. God helped me get across, but saying that I was uncomfortable is hardly adequate to describe how freaked out I felt.
After such an upset, I feel tired and stay on edge for a while. In this case, my destination remained about 90 minutes away. At the next opportunity, I stopped at a rest area, gathered myself and prayed.
No amount of taking authority, quoting Scripture or trusting God seems to fix this problem. This leads me to question God's plan in having me drive around doing conferences, etc. I even doubt his care for me sometimes when I have one thing after another happen such as a bridge, followed by vast rock quarries dug out on either side of the road, followed by a mandatory flyover that I can't avoid. It leaves me exhausted and feeling vulnerable.
What does it mean when God lets us go through our fears, instead of rescuing us from situations that cause us anxiety? After many years dealing with this challenge, I've learned a few things about how God cares for me.
"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7). First, God isn't the one who sends us fear. He doesn't want us to be afraid. Love and faith can go a long way toward relieving our fears, but sometimes, biological factors cause us to feel irrational fear. Although God didn't send it, I know He wants to help me through it and care for me afterward.
God wants us to have faith, even when things don't look or feel right. Although it is with difficulty, I know God is honored when I conquer my fears and show up at these speaking engagements. He rewards our commitment to believe in Him even when we feel afraid. Courage is not the absence of fear, but going ahead and overcoming even when we do feel scared.
On my way home from my latest trip, God let me experience a picture of His care for me. It happened when a young man begged me for gas money at a service station. Although probably in his twenties, this guy's face looked scarred from all life had thrown at him and his bad choices in response. Some of his teeth were missing, and he sported two or three days of beard growth. His voice was raspy. A young girl, also looking disheveled, acted as his traveling companion. Their car was beat up, and rusty.
Sometimes, I don't give to those who ask, but this time, I felt God tug at my heart. I gave the young man a few dollars and a copy of my book. He asked if it had Scripture in it. I replied that it did and that I hoped he would read it.
After going inside the store, I learned the clerk had seen what happened. (The young man raced into the store with the money I'd given him and immediately bought gas.) All I selected was a diet soda. but the clerk wouldn't let me pay for it. He wanted to reward my kindness to the panhandler somehow. When I returned to my car, I was almost in tears. I felt my Father in Heaven's affirmation that I'd done the right thing, in spite of my fears, in spite of my past mistakes, and in spite of my shortcomings. Getting to this point in my three-day trip, though warn out mentally - I could feel the Father's strong embrace and love for me.
Do you know what it feels like to be embraced by God? It's the best feeling in the world. In spite of fear, even with anxiety, God loves us. He sees past our momentary lack of faith to the beauty of our redeemed self in Christ. Until that day when we completely overcome by shedding this earthly body, keep trusting in Jesus. He is the only Way, Truth and Life - in spite of our fears.