It honestly happened overnight. One day I went about my routine as usual, in a pattern of quiet complacency, and the next day I began to experience swells of dread and panic for no particular reason. I tried to shrug it off as an off day, and blamed a poor diet and a disconnect in my daily quiet time with the Lord; I had experienced some depression and anxiety before, but something seemed off about having those feelings grip my heart for most of my day. The feelings actually frightened me so much that waking up the next morning, I began to dread their return. This dread planted a seed of fear that quickly sprouted and took root in my mind until soon after, for the first time in my life, my days were dominated by anxiety.
One of the first pieces of Scripture I came across while searching for relief, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, reminds us to “pray continually”, and continual prayer became a desperate habit for me. It seemed every hour I paused dozens of times – at breakfast, on my bus ride in to work, while typing out an email – to beg God to stop these terrible feelings I was having. “Heal me!” I would beg, and then furiously focus my attention on something, anything else to avoid another wave of meaningless panic. I constantly cycled between frantically attempting to occupy my own mind, filling my schedule to stay distracted, and fearing the next attack.
I confided in my dad after a few days of this dysfunctional rhythm, as I knew he had struggled with anxiety at my age, and his first piece of advice was encouraging me to turn to the Lord. Secondly, he offered suggestions on lifestyle changes he had made years ago that may help heal my mind and body, if they were contributing to the problem in any way. I clung to the advice like a lifeline, and my control-freak nature rejoiced at the tangible solutions I had been offered. Surely religiously monitoring my diet and exercise would heal my mind and free me from the chains of my constant anxiety. Almost as an afterthought, I continued to beg God for relief.
It wasn’t until a few weeks later, when I told my dad that I wasn’t feeling better enough and not feeling confident that things would ever get better, that he helped me to see the root of my ongoing struggle: a lack of trust in the Lord’s ability and willingness to heal me. I was praying empty prayers. I had been asking the Lord to heal me, and then, driven by fear, immediately busied my mind and controlled my lifestyle in order to heal myself.
“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”
My dad also helped me to realize that the fact that I was only experiencing the feelings of dread and hopelessness when my mind became idle meant that much of my anxiety likely stemmed from a spiritual attack from the enemy, who was taking advantage of the perfect opportunity to strike. I had put so much trust and faith in my control over my own mind, but I have an opponent who has the power to plant thoughts into my head that I know aren’t from me and certainly aren’t from God. We are powerless against attack on our own, but with the Lord’s strength, we can prevail.
“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
– Eph. 6:10-12
These revelations had an immediate and life-changing effect on my prayer life and my state of mind. First, I had to change the conversation between God and myself. My prayer shifted to acknowledge both my own weakness and inability to control even my own mind, and God’s incredible and unimaginable strength. I asked Him to take control of my mind and to fight off the terrible feelings I had been having that did not align with His word or His will for my life. I told God that I knew He alone had the power to heal me, and that I knew He would if it was His will. Even if not, I knew He had a plan and would work my life for His ultimate purpose, and I would surrender to it.
Second, I trained myself to stop feeding the fear monster living inside my brain. My habit of fearing the next attack, noting the pattern of “good days” and “bad days” in my week to try to predict the next battle, and dreading the days to come created footholds for Satan. In my relationship with the Lord, those huge spaces of fear created gaps for the enemy to squeeze in and speak lies into my heart and mind, preventing me from surrendering the situation info my Father’s hands. I had to stop dreading the next episode of anxiety and start living in the precise moment I was in, not fearing the next. If I felt fear starting to creep in, I refused to acknowledge or dwell in it; instead, I prayed prayers of thankfulness for everything else in my life and preached God’s word to my own heart.
“ For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”
2 Tim. 1:7
Now just a few months after I began experiencing anxiety, I feel like my normal self again, and that self feels like a completely different being. While anxiety can take different forms in each of us, and we all may continue to struggle from time to time, Scripture tells us that “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17), and I now understand to the deepest, most intimate layer of my being what that truly means. God restores each and every one of us, through our trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, to His original vision, will and plan for our lives, no matter how we have failed and fallen short in our weakness. We are made right, and the Lord uses our struggle to encourage those still in the storm. We are far more in Him that we are outside of Him. Without Him, the world and the enemy find ways to pry into our minds and make us feel defeated. But the vulnerability of our human nature is perhaps the most beautiful piece of God’s creation, because through it, His unimaginable strength is magnified and glorified.