"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you." (1 Peter 4:6-7) This is one of my favorite verses even though I realize it often gets misused to shame anxious hearted people. With Holidays and Covid 19 looming in the background anxiety has increased. So, today I am revisiting the topic of anxiety, hoping to speak encouragement into to anxious hearts.As I have shared in the past, a few years ago we were given a small maltipoo from our kids who moved oversees. Harley came as is a well trained dog, who believes she's human. She was pretty anxious when she was left her with us. But at the time I had a viral infection that caused extreme fatigue for about a year and she spent the year cuddling with me. As a result she attached to me, my husband, and a son who was staying with us at the time. Then movers came and once again she watched stuff get packed and carried out the door and another person disappeared from her life as our son moved away. She once again grew anxious and wants to be in someone's lap 24/7.
When I put her down to clean house, she follows me from room to room and there are times I sit down with her and feel her trembling, which is what she does when she realizes we are about to leave the house without her. Her anxiety grieves my heart because she gets so anxious anticipating a possible abandonment that she can't enjoy the great amount of time she spends on my lap. In watching her, I realized I have had a lot in common with her. I spent many years living with the same type of anticipatory anxiety that prevented me from fully enjoying both life and my relationship with God.
Anxiety is an experience common to all humans. This is especially true this holiday season with Covid 19 numbers rising. Rising numbers has caused lockdowns, which has means we are having to isolate more, increasing loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Anxiety is also rising because people are losing jobs, businesses, and homes right before the holidays. There is anxiety for those who are in the workforce who know they might be exposed to Covid and carry it home, especially those who work in the medical field.
For believers, anxiety lends to toxic shame as we have come to believe we aren't supposed to ever experience anxiousness. Yet, we do experience anxiety even though we may try to either deny or hide it. When we do that we choose to live a lie instead of honestly acknowledging the hard that comes from living in a fallen world.
There is also anxiety provoking things going on in the here and now. I think of those diagnosed with cancer. If we put ourselves in their shoes, we realize they face mortality daily in ways most of us don't. They face difficult decisions about therapies that can potentially poison their bodies as they kill the cancer. They also face soaring medical bills and do battle with insurance companies who refuse to pay. Anxiety can also come from not being sure one can tolerate chemo and wondering if their faith will be strong enough to endure the illness and its painful treatments. It comes from wondering if they will suffer well and continue to be a light or be able to sense God and His love, knowing full well that He can heal, but may choose not to.
There is compounded anxiety when families deal with sick children during holidays. I follow the posts of mom's whose children were born with heart defects. A little girl named Charlie was born with half a heart and has gone through several open heart surgeries. The road they travel is long and death will always be a very real possibility. They walk closely with God and the song they sing over her continually declares yes to God's will and yes to His ways. But there is anxiety to be reckoned with when Charlie faces life threatening bumps in the journey and fights to survive with half a heart that loves big.
There is a lot of anxiety felt in families who have someone struggling with addictions, which can raise their ugly heads in holidays. Each wonders what they will face during the holidays and walk on eggshells, fearful they will say or do something that will cause a relapse...and the drinking, the drug use, or visits to porn sites will start up, leaving the house in chaos as wounding behaviors follow in the aftermath. There is also anxiety because holiday stress can trigger addicts to drink, snort, shoot up, or return to the darkness of his or her infidelity through internet porn--the fixes that leave a family open to dark spiritual influences that can pass to future generations.
There is anxiety in families in which mental illness dwells. Will this be the holiday the depression gives way to suicide? Will mom, dad, or a sibling be calm and happy, agitated and angry, depressed and unavailable, or on a mania high or a catatonic slow state? Will the fear instilled by the paranoid come to fruition? All the while the children are trying to figure out if there is something they did to cause the behaviors and actions of those they love or if there is something they can do to bring stability to the instability--a responsibility way to big for such little shoulders, birthing a debilitating storm of anxiety in a child's soul.
There is anxiety in homes where marriages are broken as family members wonder if the next mistake made, the next thoughtless word spoken, the next problem experienced with the kids, the next financial setback might be the final trigger that ends the marriage, fracturing a family into two hurting pieces. Anxiety also comes to the children overhearing arguments and assuming responsibility to smooth things over so neither mom or dad leave. There is anxiety in kids whose families have already split as they travel between homes, hoping they won't be the source of conflict and disscomfort.
There is anxiety caused by core beliefs developed at an early age--beliefs that impact thoughts, actions, reactions, and feelings. Some of my anxiety-inducing core beliefs were: "I am responsible for everyone's happiness." "My being loved depends on me being a perfect size, a perfect wife, a perfect mom, and a perfect believer." "My value and worth as a person comes from what I do." During holidays, my anxiety is tied to wanting to find the perfect present for everyone and wanting to respond perfectly to every gift received, which is hard for an emotionally-reserved introvert. That perfectionism is complicated because having the perfect marriage, perfect family, and perfect holidays depends not just on me being perfect (and I am not), but on others being perfect (and they are not). I've no right to project perfectionism and am simply called to love well, to extend grace, and to lovingly speak truth.
Over the last few years I've learned things that have calmed my anxious heart. First, I learned our God doesn't demand perfection. He desires us to be humble and to express anxious thoughts to safe, nonjudgmental friends. I am graced with such friends who listen well and friends who remind me they hear me and see me and their words remind me that my heavenly Father sees me as well. Sometimes my friends share truth about God's goodness, bigness, and graciousness in non-shaming ways, but most often they just listen, knowing I simply need to bring it to the light. Sometimes they offer to pray with me and give me the opportunity to cast my cares on God, because He cares for me.
The third lesson I've learned is when I feel panicked and anxious I can talk freely to God about it because He isn't waiting to strike me with lighting because of a feeling I am experiencing. He's always inviting me to remember who He is and who I am in Him. Remembering God's character, strength, love, and grace helps me stay calm today just as it did through an accident our daughter, her husband, and infant son were in, an ATV accident our youngest had that caused life-threatening injuries, and the birth of a granddaughter born three months too soon, and a such a severe break in my ankle that the doctors said, "If you walk again..."
The fourth lesson I learned was that I could dissolve or manage anxiety that was caused or increased by lies I believed. I learned the lies from others who were misguided, from misinterpreting things I saw, and from The Enemy who seeks to squash faith by whispering lies in our ears. His lies made me feel that I was both too much and not enough. He lies stirred anxiety when he whispered half truths that stirred up doubt about God, His character, His love, His goodness, and His faithfulness. My anxiety decreases when I confront lies and boldly declare truth.
The Enemy wants us to forget we are chosen, accepted, redeemed, beloved children who have been bought with the blood of God's own Son and sealed us into His family by His own Spirit. Satan wants us to believe our circumstances prove we're bad, forgotten, unseen, or abandoned by the God who calls us His own. The Enemy shames us because shame causes us to hide or deny our reality instead of casting it on God through prayer and thanksgiving. The Enemy uses shame to stir a form of pride that drives us to look "all together" while quaking at our core so we won't experience the care and comfort of the God who gives it freely. The Enemy also uses shame to isolate us because he knows when we engage with others, we get out of our own heads and see the lies for what they are. The Enemy deceives so we will feel responsible for things of which we have no control--things like others' feelings, attitudes, choices, beliefs. and actions. He prompts us with the should of shame, the seduction of power, and reminder of sin already confessed.
So, why do I write of all this in a advent post? I write it because this holiday is a Holy Holiday commemorating the birth of our Savior--the God-man who took on flesh to die as a payment for sin, the birth of our Shepherd who loves and seeks His sheep, the birth of our King who had made us joint Heirs with Him. The Enemy wants us to take our eyes off Jesus and put it on anxiety-provoking things like the creation of the perfect Christmas, Covid, and political unrest. Let's not buy into the lies he tells so we can rest in God-given peace and joy. May our holiday goals be connection, loving well, acceptance of our perfectly imperfect selves, sweet conversations, and simple gifts that remind us of Jesus.