“How are you, Tiffany?”
It came from one of those rare people who sincerely mean it–the kind of person whose important to-do list fades to nothing every time your face comes into focus.
We had just emerged from the soft darkness of a sanctuary, standing together blinking away Sunday’s blinding sun as her question lingered in the air. I took a leap of faith and answered honestly:
“I’m okay, but I have some anxiety.”
“Oh” was all she managed, but her eyes gushed sympathy. Immediately, she began flipping through her extensive mental files of scripture and Biblical principles on worry.
“What’s your anxiety about?”
I could just see the tip of her pencil pressed against the blank paper on her clipboard.
“I don’t know why I’m anxious. That’s why it’s so hard to get over. I’m not really worried about anything. My body just feels anxious.”
I braced myself for awkward silence that always ensues. Or worse, Christian platitudes: “Lay your worries on Him.” “Just give it to the Lord.” “He cares for the sparrows…”
Thankfully it was silence. But in it, perplexity was abuzz.
Could it be? Could anxiety exist without worry? And if so, then what is left of “anxiety”?
I wanted her to understand, but in that moment, what more could either of us say?
Then BAM! Sexy-time music swirled through my brain, and viola–this essay was conceived! Bow-chicka-bow-woooow.
First, a word on “worry.” It’s inevitable–especially in the midst of life’s stormier seasons: crumbling relationships, high-stakes exams, biopsies, dwindling bank accounts, parenting teenagers, being a teenager… the worry brings distant believers back to prayer and tempts atheists to hope in Providence. For those of us stepping through life with Jesus, worry typically triggers a slew of Bible verses that remind us to “lay our burdens on Him,” because in the midst of any hardship, He is always a good and loving father. One such passage is Philippians 4:6-7:
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
So that’s the Christian cure for anxiety. Whatever life throws at us, we are to tell God what we want and need, give thanks, and then He provides us with profound peace that transcends circumstances. I have been experiencing that process my entire life and I know it is true. Therefore I should not be anxious, right?
Wrong. And that’s where it gets weird. I represent the 3% of Americans diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). It’s been my experience that the church doesn’t quite *get* us yet. I hope that changes. But because “hope is not a strategy,” I’m writing this (Sue Mirkovich). All I want to do the next time a sister or brother adorably cocks their baffled head sideways in response to my anxiety disorder is to give them this URL and drop the mic. #writerdreams
To be honest, saying “Be anxious for nothing” to a girl like me with GAD is equivalent to telling someone with Major Depressive Disorder to just “Cheer up,” or demanding a sister with Schizophrenia to “Just stop *seeing* things.” I’m thankful for the “but” in that Philippians passage: BUT in every thing— In every terrifying test result, in every devastating job loss, in every injury sustained or dealt–be honest with God and tell Him everything you’re anxious about…
But what if you don’t know what you’re anxious about? What if I’m chilling by myself at the beach to reconnect with God, and then BAM! I’m anxious, and hit so hard with the physical symptoms of anxiety that I have no clue what triggered me? How do I “give it to God” if I don’t know what “it” is?
Physiology, not circumstances is at the root of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and GAD does not discriminate between the religious and irreligious. It threatens to hijack the peace of rational thought at any time in any place: at the grocery store, at work, in mid-conversation on a coffee date, at my best friend’s house, driving solo–it doesn’t give an eff. The symptoms vary for each of us, but in my case the monster lets its presence known by tightening my throat or turning my skin red hot. Within a couple minutes, my breaths are shallow, muscles tensed, and on I’m edge with adrenaline gone haywire. That’s Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It’s fight or flight out of context, and it’s exhausting.
It does not indicate a lack of trust in God. It is not worry: there is no concern on the forefront of my mind except the fact that I’m an anxious wreck, and I’m stuck. So, I do what Philippeans says. I plea to Jesus, “Take away my anxiety. Restore Truth to its throne.” It is a prayer for healing, not for a circumstance I’m not trusting God with.
This is obviously not to say that I have flawless faith. It’s just to say be careful with advice. My friend is awesome. She didn’t just throw Bible verses at me: she asked what I was anxious about. She gave me the opportunity to be understood. Neither of us knew what to follow my response (“I don’t know”) with, though. Maybe next time I’ll have words because I learned a lot through writing these things and stuff. And maybe you’ll have words–or not–because you read this. ❤
Much love to you. To you who suffer with anxiety, and especially to you who took the time to read because you want to love others better.<33