I planned constantly. My mind was always at work. I never truly rested. It was impossible to live fully in any moment. I was overwhelmed with the good and the bad. I always felt tired. From day to day, life felt like too much, more than I could handle. This was how I lived for nearly 20 years. I thought it was just the way things were. I had no idea these were symptoms for a problem with a name.
The first clue was my freshman year in college when a serious case of procrastination led to panic. The assignment was due. I hadn’t even begun! I could not get out of bed, literally. I called my mom. She called the school. My Residence Director came to my room and talked to me. Then it was over. Nothing more. I lived 18 more years oblivious to the presence of anxiety in my life.
When I married, it got worse. When I became a mother, it escalated even more. I was a stay-at-home mom with three young children. My husband had come home for lunch, then it was time for him to go. I panicked. I had been at home with the kids for six years, and suddenly it was just too much. I couldn’t feel my face. My arms went numb. My breathing became labored. My husband called 9-1-1. I left my home in an ambulance. The ER doctor explained that what I had experienced was an anxiety attack. He prescribed medication that I did not want. On the way home, I began to panic over getting dinner on the table in a timely manner. I knew then that I had to fill the prescription, or I would end up back in the hospital before bedtime.
When I took that pill, the mental racing stopped. I lived in the moment. Over the next days and weeks, I was no longer overwhelmed. I began to feel rested. I had suffered from anxiety for years in complete ignorance. Finally aware of the power anxiety had held in my life and its impact on my family, I begged God for healing. He invited me instead on a journey through the valley of the shadow . . .
I did not follow a 1-2-3 plan out of anxiety. I was led by God on a journey of being made new as I soaked in the truth of Scriptures I had never truly embraced before.
“In my weakness, His strength is made known.”
“Cast all your fears on Him because He cares for you.”
“Truly God orders our days.”
I began to ask God to order my days, every part of my day, the great and small. I still made plans, but I held them loosely and experienced His care for my responsibilities in tender and rich ways.
I prayed for eyes to see my heart, my fear, and for freedom to live under the rule of Christ alone. I confessed the fears I began to see, offered them to Christ, and rested in His love.
I walked out, slowly but surely, from under the shame of anxiety, and found His name lifted high in the light of my weakness. I was not enough. Life was too much, but the day-to-day no longer shook me. Life events like cancer, more babies, moving, building a house—they did not leave me vulnerable. They exposed the new me. I stood made new because I finally lived in the gospel of grace. It is not by my efforts that all is well. It is only by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and His reign in me as Lord that it is well with my soul. In that humble posture, I found the freedom to live beyond anxiety. I learned to live hidden in Christ.
It has been nearly four years since I took that first pill for anxiety. I have been off medication the last three years due to pregnancies and nursing. We took the risk of life with anxiety for nine months, and found a whole new life of freedom. There are still moments when I am tempted to live in my old ways, to control my circumstances or the people around me, to react instead of respond. I have learned to stop, breathe, and acknowledge that those reactions and behaviors no longer define who I am. In that moment, I am overwhelmed by the grace of God to see me through the valley of the shadow and on to still waters.
Brothers and sisters who suffer in anxiety, take heart. He holds you in His right hand. He will lead you through the valley of the shadow. His rod and staff will comfort you. Rest in Him. It is the only way through, and He wants to lead you through. Still waters are on the other side.