Monday, March 3, 2014

The thing about anxiety...

Sometimes it starts out as a completely physiological response in the body. The problem is, it's to... NOTHING.

Whether you wake up with what feels like a 400 lb weight on your chest or you find yourself in the midst of the mundane of your life and all of a sudden a "flight or fight response" comes upon you in a sudden and overwhelming way, it's just the body doing what it does.

The pulse accelerates, you're more aware of your own blood pumping through your chest, maybe all the way up to your ears even, and heart has relocated, it might be in your throat, might be in your stomach, and there's definitely room there because typically, that's bottomed out completely and anxiety has taken control.

It's like when the pirates came on to Captain Phillips ship in the Oscar nominated film. The pirate of anxiety stands screaming in your face speaking, "I am the Captain now. You hear me? I am the Captain now!"

You don't expect or anticipate anxiety's arrival, it just suddenly shows up. But no one really has to look hard to find something in life to be anxious about, and that's where the real problem begins. You may not know why it came, but you can certainly provide it with dozens of reasons to stay. That unpaid bill, your health, your kids health, the check engine light on your dashboard, your job situation, your home situation, personal finances, the economy, terrorist threats... the list of possibilities is vast, and it's just a matter of time before one of the options stands up and offers to be the mascot fear for the day, and some days it will bring along several of its friends. as well.

I never experienced this kind of anxiety until about 10 years ago. Interestingly enough it was AFTER a very stressful season of my life. I had lived on a heightened level of adrenaline for over three years at that point as we had worked our way through a long and difficult adoption situation with our youngest son. There towards the end the possibility of losing him was very very real, so I spent a lot of days very aware of a real and legitimate fear. But it wasn't long after we signed the papers making him forever ours that I experienced my first anxiety "attack."

As it turns out in my case what probably happened was I had in essence reset my adrenal gland. I had lived life at "Defcon 5" (if you will) long enough that my adrenaline had become a bit trigger happy. The first several months it was really bad, and very overwhelming. I remember having to get up and leave a women's Bible study because they had put my table in the back in a corner and I felt trapped. I could not make myself "vulnerable" to a room full of beautiful, wonderful, God-fearing women because my heart would begin to race if too many of them were between me and the exit. It wasn't a logical fear, but it didn't matter if it was logical, because it was powerful.

Anxiety has never completely left me in these ten years since. The way I am today with it is different than I was when the attacks first began happening because I am more aware, more educated, and there are tricks and skills that I can use to help myself counteract the attacks, but the attacks themselves, they have a mind of their own. I cannot stop them from happening, though they have spread out much further than the multiple times a day that they were in the beginning, but I can and have learned to respond rather than react-- most of the time.

A lot of helps me is scripture. I have learned to stand in front of a mirror and declare the truth of God's word over my fears, wherever they may land after the attack has come. Afraid of the future? I remind myself God plans a future and a hope for me. Overwhelmed by the things going on today? I remind myself that God has promised to work all things, even the things that I'm afraid of, for my good. And I am always, always, always reminding myself that my "light and momentary troubles" do not compare to the glory that is to come. Even if it doesn't feel like there is anything light or momentary about them.

That's the thing about anxiety, it has this talent for taking center stage. It demands your attention. It's not easily silenced. All the while as a Christian I am constantly aware of God's command, "BE ANXIOUS FOR NOTHING." And because the command is there lots of Christians who have never experienced anxiety look at those of us who do like we are somehow choosing to sin. Oh yes, it always helps to heap that on top of a battle you're already feeling like you're losing, add condemnation and shame. Christians are NOT supposed to have anxiety attacks, and yet, lots of us do.

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.
Philippians 4:6-7

"See Christians," we say, "it's a simple recipe, just like instant pudding." And maybe it is simple, but have you ever tried to eat instant pudding without letting it set? It's a bit of a runny mess. And likewise, sometimes this simple recipe has to set before the "peace that surpasses all understanding takes shape."

It's actually the second half of verse 5 that comes right before this recipe that speaks the most hope to me in the midst of an anxiety attack. It says simply, "The Lord is at hand."

That's why I have any hope of peace. Not because I have dropped my nickel prayer into the peace machine, but because God Himself is with me and for me and watching over me. And He alone is the source of my peace, it has very little to do with my capacity for a prayer of any power. It's not about the prayer at all, but really about the One who longs to answer it.

The Bible promises us in Isaiah 26:3 You(God) will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.

Peace over storms isn't really about a process, it's about a Person. Christ is our Peace, and so our response when Anxiety takes center stage and demands our attention is to purposely move our focus as quickly as we can manage to the Source of peace. And the good news is, He never moves.

Don't misunderstand me, fighting back anxiety is hard work. Some days it's harder than others. The key is to keep pushing back. God is not the source of our anxiety, so we know it's not a part of His plan. However long it takes to remind ourselves, we have to get back to the point that God has our back. God has your back, and thankfully He has mine too. And His promises, the ones we need to declare over our anxiety are like glasses that help us get our focus back on him. They are not magic words that scare away the boogie man, but they are truth that anchor us in the storms in our soul.

Grab hold of truth, and fix your mind. In his letter to the Philippians Paul goes on to say, (verse 8) Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.

Jesus is true.

Jesus is noble.

Jesus is just.

Jesus is pure.

Jesus is lovely.

Jesus is of good report - He is the gospel, our Good News.

All virtue is in Him.

Praiseworthy is our Savior.

Meditate on Him.

And in the midst of the battle over anxiety, know He does not judge you nor condemn. But neither does He have any desire for it in you in the abundant life He has called you to. So as you find yourself struggling in the storm, look up, reach out. The Lord is at hand.

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