Cornerstone

“No matter the context, anxiety attacks steal your joy and your ability to function.”

I still vividly remember the morning I woke up during the earthquake. I emerged from sleep to the trembling of the bed, startled and wondering if I should take cover and how. But as my eyes darted around the room, I noticed something strange: nothing else in the room was moving. After a minute it dawned on me that this was no earthquake. I had awoken to an anxiety attack, my body shaking so hard that the bed itself shook with me.

To say that anxiety attacks are humbling is a great understatement. Sometimes it means waking up in the morning to a mind that is racing furiously and a body that is completely paralyzed. Sometimes it means locking yourself in your car for an hour because the rest of the world is too overwhelming. Sometimes it means sitting in the back corner of a room full of people, focusing all your effort to try to breathe normally and keep your heart rate down. But no matter the context, anxiety attacks steal your joy and your ability to function.

It is no little thing to be a full-grown adult, living on your own and supporting yourself, only to wake up one morning and be literally unable to get out of bed. For those who haven’t experienced it, it can be difficult to comprehend. What do you mean you “can’t” get out of bed? Just get up and go! In fact that was my thought, too, when I started having them. What’s wrong with me? I’m an adult, I should be able to take care of myself! Why do I feel so helpless?

Recently I wrote about the dangers of not addressing sin and its effects, and looking back I see how it applied to my anxiety. I was living in LA and outwardly doing all the things I thought I was supposed to do. I was involved in my church, working a steady job, and trying to have a social life. But upon closer inspection, there were cracks in every foundational area. I was involved in my church, yes - but far too overextended. My people-pleasing heart had never learned to say “no” to any opportunity, and I realized that I’d been committed to five different ministries, several of which were high-demand in their own right. I was working full-time, but the over-achiever in me hadn’t wanted to admit to my boss that the workload was getting to be too much. And no matter how many people I spent time with, I never felt like it was enough. All in all, my pride had created a destructive inertia in my life, propelling me forward like a wrecking ball under the lie of my own invincibility. And I had finally hit a wall that hit back.

Though we don’t say it out loud, I think many Christians think something along the lines of, “Well, Jesus never said no to anyone. He always had time for people. He poured himself out, so I should, too.” While this is true, there’s an arguably more important underlying truth that we forget: Jesus is God, and I am not. God, in his infinite mercy, has made us finite. And it is a loving thing for him to remind us of that finitude, because it opens the door for us to trust him with our limitations, wherever they may lie. We are meant to strive in Him and with Him, not because we can do everything perfectly like He did, but precisely because we can’t.

It took a long time to pry my fingers off of the unrealistic expectations that I had for myself. As I refocused from five ministries to one, I saw God continue to sustain his church without my prideful heart running itself ragged, and my community be blessed by his appointing other people in my place. As I confessed to my boss the reason why I’d been calling in sick, I experienced a graciousness in the workplace that I didn’t think existed, and God provided an opportunity to connect with coworkers who understood my anxiety because they had experienced it, too. And as I scheduled time with friends more intentionally, I found that those fewer relationships were stronger as a result. As I offloaded responsibility from my shoulders onto God’s, the truth of Jesus’s words in Matthew 11:29-30 hit my heart powerfully:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Over time the anxiety attacks faded, but the temptation to take on more than I am capable of is a battle I still fight to this day. If that’s something that you struggle with, too, know that you are not alone, and be encouraged that we worship a God who is strong enough to carry all of our burdens, all of the time. And he will never grow weary in doing so.

 

For more on this topic, we encourage you to listen to audio from our Pursuing Peace Conference, where we talked about applying the Gospel to anxiety, fear, and worry.

Ashley Ross

Ashley is a member of Cornerstone and serves as a Web Content Editor.

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