I had this article all written two weeks ago, ready to post on Monday - a list of all the ways I've "conquered" my near-lifelong battle with worry, anxiety, and fear. I thought myself qualified, maybe, to share some expertise, and hopefully help others in the same fight.
Then, in the space of three days, I received two sets of very unexpected and very bad news. And suddenly I didn't feel like an expert anymore.
I hate the unexpected, so I try to expect everything. In so doing, I can easily have just one worrisome thought and instantly spiral into full-on anxiety, panicking that everything I want or love or think I need is about to be destroyed, and mourning for losses I haven't even yet experienced. I can lie awake at night for hours with my mind still spinning and my heart still sick over things I can't fix or can't prevent or can't change.
But somehow, despite my best efforts to expect the worst, I was not at all prepared to get those two phone calls. And even if I had been, it couldn't have changed the shock or the terror that I've been walking through since.
C. S. Lewis said, "No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear."
So, thus humbled, I am trying again. But this time, I'm not writing as any sort of authority on the subject. I'm just writing as a worrier, as one whose faith keeps buckling under the weight of fear, as one who feels swallowed by the many strange faces of grief.
I have found - in all of my life as a worry-wart, but especially in the last two weeks - that there is a tiny but nonetheless powerful space that exists between that first anxious thought and the emotional tailspin it so often sets off. That space contains a choice.
I can react to that thought (and surrender to fear) or I can respond to it (and take back authority over my mind).
I don't always choose well. But I think I have, slowly but surely, been learning some simple truths that make the choice a little easier . . .
Sleep is a spiritual discipline.
Emotions are hard and complex things, and they only seem to become more so in grief and anxiety. But even so, it seems like my ability (or inability) to withstand them is sharply impacted by how tired I am. (As my favorite band has written, "It probably happens at night, right?")
The idea of sleep as a spiritual discipline used to seem strange to me. But I have spent a lot of nights tossing in anxious turmoil, and it has begun to make sense: It is, after all, an act of trust to lie down and sleep when we are afraid - incredible trust.
It requires us to go limp, both physically and spiritually - to let go, and leave everything in the hands of God while we accept His gift of rest. We are made utterly vulnerable and powerless, and must confront some of our deepest questions: Is God good? Can He be trusted?
But I think when we ask those questions honestly, and then give God the space to answer, He will prove Himself both good and trustworthy. And that is healing and faith-building for my fearful heart.
Pain demands to be felt.
At the same time, I can't always shut down my mind for sleep - and sometimes, I don't think I should.
Irrational, self-focused worry is one thing. Those thoughts must be taken hold of and rebuked, for - I know from experience - if you give an inch, they'll take a mile.
But grief, pain, fear that is much too real - these can't be stuffed away, compartmentalized, or ignored. They must be felt. And I don't think that's distrust, if done right.
The largest book in the Bible is devoted, in large part, to the genuine feeling of pain. To sitting with it, knowing it, living it - to laying it out before God, asking Him why, begging for release, and declaring it honestly. To feeling it, and letting its sting be part of the healing.
And then, when the pain has been felt, so can God's presence be - as Jeremiah wrote.
My soul has been rejected from peace; I have forgotten happiness. So I say, "My strength has perished, and so has my hope from the Lord."
. . . This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. "The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I have hope in Him."
Lamentations 3:17-18, 21-24
The truth will make us free.
Our Enemy is the Father of Lies, so it's little wonder that even when my worries feel most legitimate, they're often built on lies and half-truths - lies and half-truths that sound, in the height of anxious emotion, very convincing.
And I know that the only effective weapon against Satan's lies is God's truth.
The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Even when I'm in the grip of fear, I can recognize this Psalm as infallible truth. I must speak it to myself as fact and pray it aloud in surrender - I must drown out the lies.
My God cares for me, provides for me, protects me, guides me, and helps me. He knows my name, and I know His voice. Even death's valley and the threats of my enemies aren't scary when He's with me. And He doesn't offer me the bare minimum - no, my cup overflows with His goodness! All of this is true - objectively, infallibly true, no matter how I feel or what I fear.
But what I crave more even than speaking the truth myself is to hear someone else speak it in my hearing - not just for reassurance, but because I long to be set free.
Sometimes I ask my husband to pray for me aloud, because there is no describing the peace that comes when I can hear a voice outside of myself interceding on my behalf.
But even when I'm all alone, even when no one is there to pray or speak the truth for me, I go to John 17, and Jesus Himself does. I am led into the valley of Kidron at dusk, to the hour before Jesus' betrayal, and I am privy to His prayer for His disciples and "all who will believe through their word" - for me.
And the Enemy's power disintegrates in the presence of my Intercessor and Advocate.
And the victory is at hand.
I have been trying, even in the middle of the hardest days, to bring my broken heart to Jesus, to silence the lies with the Truth, and to rest in who God is. And when I do - even if it's just for a moment - I find that my vision clears, and I can see the horizon of eternity ahead, far beyond the clouds of today's pain. I can see the victory.
And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
How small and petty even my biggest fears look when held up against the silhouette of the coming-soon King. Surely this Faithful and True conqueror, this Lamb who was slain, The Word of God Himself who will strike down nations with just His voice, is big enough and trustworthy enough to hold my little world in His hands.