Perhaps you know the feeling: mind running, chest aching, hands and feet numb—anxiety. I have wrestled with anxiety on and off throughout my entire life. There have been seasons where I have spent countless mornings on my hands and knees asking God to heal me and just take it away. I have sat in deep sorrow wondering why he was punishing me, what I could do to fix it, and even angrily telling God that I was done following him because he obviously wasn’t good or kind. It felt like I was being swallowed whole; like I was drowning or being eaten away at. Many well-meaning friends have quoted Scripture about not being anxious to me, and, while those Scriptures are important and a picture of the way God’s people are intended to live, I have felt discouraged and disqualified as I could not seem to live up to them. If you are in this place—or have been there before—you are not alone.
Anxiety has become such a common problem in our world that it seems difficult to find someone who has never struggled with it. In his book My Name is Hope, John Mark Comer states, “Staggering numbers of modern Americans fight anxiety and depression on a daily basis. In 2010, there were 253 million prescriptions for antidepressants in the U.S. alone. That's in a nation of 311 million people.”1 This means significantly more Americans have access to antidepressants than not, yet we are still one of the most depressed countries in the world. There are staggering statistics about anxiety and depression rates increasing rapidly in our modern world due to isolation, social media, lack of overall health, and more. However, this is not a new form of suffering by any means.
Read Psalm 88
There is a common misconception that God’s people don’t struggle, but this is not the picture Scripture paints. Look to the Psalms and you will find many people devoted to God who are at the end of themselves, crying out to the Lord, asking where he is and if he still cares. They are brutally honest in their pain and sometimes even blame God for their suffering. On top of that, some of their written laments end seemingly unresolved. Does this feel familiar to you? Like the psalmists and many others, I have found myself in a pile of ashes, surrounded by the loss of the things like the comfort, joy, and general normalcy I once held so sacred without even realizing it.
There is even an entire book of the Bible, Lamentations, devoted to questioning God in the midst of suffering. In Hebrew, this book is not even called Lamentations. It is called, “How?” It’s the question we all know so well. How did this happen? How will this end? How did I get here? Lamentations is a record of God’s people grieving their sin, demanding answers for the brokenness of the world, and not receiving an answer. Yet, in the climax of this book, we finally see a break in the complaint:
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.
Lamentation 3:19-27 NIV
In our modern, instant gratification-centered world, waiting is almost never the answer we are told. But neither is putting others before ourselves, sacrificing our will, or treating the lowly as the most valuable, and yet we who are followers of Jesus are called to all of these. The concept of waiting on God is scattered abundantly throughout the Bible. So many were told to wait on God and trust him, but took matters into their own hands in a destructive way. This pattern is repeated over and over, beginning with sin’s entrance into this world and meeting us in the present moment. It makes sense, because in a sinful world, waiting feels counterintuitive and more painful than the actual problem. We view it as a passive and lazy approach to fixing problems. But allow me to challenge this commonly held belief: Perhaps God is using the waiting not to crush us, but to heal us. A new life is coming, a new and redeemed world is promised, and we will be healed completely on that day. Sometimes in this life we see glimpses of that complete healing, and sometimes healing doesn’t look like how we want it to. Take heart! He is using the pain to hollow us out and leave room for him to rebuild our view of him and faith in a more accurate, hard-wrung, tested-and-true way.
Waiting on God is the sacred practice of trusting that God will heal and redeem you at the right time. It is “Be still and know that I am God” put into practice.2 And while this is often painful and can even be discouraging, isn’t this exactly what we sign up for when we say yes to Jesus? His life for ours. His decisions. His goodness. Douglas McKelvey puts it best: “If your greatest good is to bear in fuller measure the image of your Lord, then might not his greatest and most holy good to you come cloaked in the guise of defeat and dismay?”3 The world sees waiting in the midst of suffering as a defeat, but this waiting is actually what God honors and uses to bring forth victory. Just as Jesus cried out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”4 to his Father on the cross, and it seemed as though there was no response, God had resurrection planned at the perfect time, three days later. This blessed training of waiting requires perseverance, and perseverance leads to maturity in faith and more trust. But what does perseverance look like in the waiting?
Read Psalm 139
While waiting is yielding to God, it doesn’t mean we are to sit and do nothing until everything is buttoned up. We can submit to God and move forward at the same time. In fact, digging deep into why the anxiety and suffering is happening in us is an act of faith—an expectant belief that God will act. It is the belief of Psalm 139 in action—pushing through and exposing the darkest fears and shadows of our hearts simply because God sees every part of you as worthy to know and transform. This is the best news!
Maybe this will look like going to counseling to deconstruct the lies you have been believing for a long time, or practicing self-compassion and patience in the midst of paralyzing anxiety, and maybe being vulnerable with trusted members of your community. Anxiety is oftentimes a symptom of something not being taken care of within you. Your body and soul are intimately intertwined into one being. What you eat, think, breath, and hold onto affects your emotional and physical self. So sometimes anxiety is simply your body telling you it needs regular movement and exercise, better food, and more sleep. Sometimes it’s telling you that the grudge you are holding against your parents is poisoning you and you must “forgive them as Christ forgave you.”5 Sometimes it’s telling you there is unrepented and habitual sin you aren’t bringing to God.6 These things and many more are so damaging to our whole selves. Ask God to reveal what needs to be dealt with right now, then bring it before God and let him heal every part of you.
Taking care of your whole self matters because it sets yourself up for “praying constantly,”7 also referred to as a state of communion with the Father. This is bigger than sitting and praying with your eyes closed all day; it’s a posture of yielding to God and living daily life with him—it’s what we were made for. As we increase in communion with God, we give him more room to pull up to the surface those things which are causing us to suffer so he can heal us.
When we give God the things in our lives that are causing us to suffer in anxiety, we are working with God to bring restoration not only to ourselves but to the world we live in. When we expose and submit all of our anxiety and the things causing it to him, he turns them into love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.8 Those attributes are not necessarily something you feel; they are characteristics of God in you despite the ever-changing emotions you feel. Sometimes submitting to God looks like getting on your knees and telling God you want to trust him and you need his help. Sometimes it looks like continually repeating his truth to yourself throughout the day. Sometimes it means you need to get honest with those around you. Many times it seems like things get worse before they get better, but fear not! He takes what the enemy means for destruction and turns it into the thing that will heal us. This is worth the wait and the work.
I know this may not be what you wanted to hear. I’ve spent a lot of time searching through books and other’s opinions for ways to make the anxiety go away. Slowly, I began to realize that God wants more for us than to just take the symptomatic pain away; he wants to heal our entire selves from the inside out. And, yes, this often feels like you are being burned. But friend, as Elisabeth Elliot once said in the wake of great suffering, know that God’s stories “never end with ashes.”9
While some of you may resonate with these stories and experiences, we understand that no two stories are the same. Our enemy is cunning and knows exactly which lies to whisper in our ear to induce anxiety and crippling fear. The Word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), and we encourage you to wield it as a sword against the lies of the enemy—but don’t do it alone. There are times when we are so weary from battling the lies of the enemy that we don’t have the strength to stand. Ecclesiastes 4:9 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.” Find friends and a community who will speak God’s truth to you and over you. You are not alone in this fight.
In closing, Please take advantage of some of the resources listed below. In his infinite wisdom, God has chosen to work through ordinary people to accomplish his eternal purposes for our good and his glory. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I mentioned Ecclesiastes 4:9 earlier; the very next verse says, “Woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Too often, we wait until we have fallen and have no one to lift us up before we seek help. God can work through organizations and resources like these to provide you with the tools and friends you need to ensure you have help when you need it. And if we can pray with you and for you, we would love to do so. You can submit your prayer request here.
My Name is Hope by John Mark Comer
Get Out of Your Head by Jennie Allen
Winning the War in Your Mind by Craig Groeschel
Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn't Make Sense by Paul David Tripp
The God-Shaped Brain: How Changing Your View of God Transforms Your Life by Timothy R. Jennings
Image Credit: Emilee Carpenter