As I drove down the interstate during a college break, my mind reflected on what I had just experienced. Moments before, I left the hospital after having blood drawn for a routine tonsillectomy. As I thought about the needle, the blood, and the upcoming surgery, I found myself struggling to breathe. I felt light-headed, dizzy, and queasy. I decided to pull my car onto the shoulder of the road to “collect myself.” But I quickly realized I was on a long bridge – with no shoulder and no way to escape! At that moment, a wave of sheer terror swelled over me like I had never known before. And I dove headfirst into a lifelong battle with fear and anxiety.
Since that momentous day during my junior year of college, my struggle with anxiety has waxed and waned. The latest round surfaced when I began dealing with chronic pain – and this battle was the fiercest. I sought help from every doctor I could find. I tried more medications that I can remember. I explored alternative therapies. Still, the pain in my muscles worsened and my outlook grew darker. I could no longer envision a day without pain – and anxiety seized the opportunity to wreak havoc on my mind and in my heart. But God would use this fierce battle to usher in freedom and blessing.
God graciously led me to seek biblical counseling at BCTM. Unlike secular therapy that had focused merely on symptom relief or “fixing” the situation, biblical counseling helped me to find my identity in Christ – in the midst of circumstances that may or may notchange. God helped me to see that I am living in His story, rather than Him fitting neatly into mine. As He continued sanctifying me, I was honestly shocked to learn that my life does not revolve around me, but around the One who created me and called me to Himself!
As the counseling process continued, the Lord beckoned me to bring my brokenness into the Light of His Son – and into the light of His people. God peeled back the layers of my heart and exposed the pride that had kept me from being transparent about my struggles. I had been so afraid of what people would think that I kept much of my battle hidden – even from the ones who loved me the most. How sinful and depraved my heart is apart from Christ! Yet in His faithfulness, God helped me share my pain and brokenness with others. Rather than rejection and ridicule, I found grace, encouragement, and strength for the battle. And, amazingly, I found that others struggle with fear and anxiety as well! I began comprehending the truth that there is nothing uncommon to man. Our suffering and circumstances may look different, but the root of sin and struggle is the same. Everyone in the body of Christ is broken, and we have the joy of pointing each other to the only One who can truly heal any of us.
As I continued to battle anxiety – with newfound strength and freedom – the Lord lovingly etched this truth in my heart: I have given you not a spirit of FEAR, but of love, power, and a SOUND MIND. While I had previously memorized this verse, God graciously showed me that His Word is not fairy dust that magically fixes a bad situation. Rather, Scripture points the suffering sinner to the Person of Jesus Christ, who will never leave us nor forsake us. This verse has taken on new life, as I now understand the Holy Spirit enables me to choose to remember God’s promises – even when my body is racked with overwhelming anxiety. The Spirit gives His self-control to cry out to God in my darkest moments. And what I have found in those times is that God.Is.Faithful. When I had no one or nothing else that could “fix” the situation, I had God. More importantly, He had me. He never left me in the chaos– no matter how dark it grew.
So, have my anxiety and chronic pain completely vanished? Not by a longshot. In fact, as I write this I am preparing for a routine medical procedure requiring anesthesia and a flight across the country to visit dear family. As I anticipate these events, the familiar symptoms of anxiety creep into my body and heart. But now, I am different. My relationships – with my Father and His people – are different. I now know that, in these moments, God is with me and for me. My weary soul has found hope in God’s Son and His Word. The Lord is using the pain of anxiety to reveal sinful attempts to control my life, idolize the opinions of others, and worship the illusion of pain-free living. Rather than giving me the grace of mere symptom relief, He showers me with the grace of transformation. The Lord is teaching me that His story is far better than anything I could write. Anxiety has become a redemptive invitation for me to more deeply know my Savior’s heart. And though I write this with trembling fingers, my desire is to honestly cry, “I wouldn’t trade places with anybody in the world to be this close to Jesus.” *
*Joni Eareckson Tada