We throw that word around a lot. And there’s a little too much of it to go around these days, isn’t there? Many of us just understand anxiety as chronic stress, and we’ve all sure got more than our share of that right now. An endless to-do list burdened by pandemics and politics and opinions- that’s enough to weigh anyone’s thoughts down and tense our muscles up.
But what about anxiety as a disorder? A dysregulated nervous system that takes off running at full speed- a racing heart doing its breathless best to keep time with racing thoughts that won’t be slowed. Anxious thoughts build up tension in a body designed to run from danger, a body that now must carry that tension as we walk through the store, talk to a friend, or play with our kids. A body and mind trying to force itself to calm down even as we use all our energy to wrestle unspeakable fears just enough to make it appear as if everything’s just fine.
Can we just take a moment for compassion?
For ourselves, for the woman beside us in the pew last Sunday? For the whole lot of us afraid we’re really, truly the only one?
Anxiety breeds shame- it feeds on it, leeching away the strength we need to heal- all under the guise of self-protection. There’s no need for shame. Anxiety doesn’t mean we lack faith, it’s just a feeling. It can be annoying or disabling or anywhere in between and most of us need some help with it because we were never designed to power through anything hard alone.
Weakness and strength are only opportunities, not reflections of character or merit. They’re only opportunities to have our needs met, to meet the needs of others, to share in the hope that spills out like abundance from a merciful God.
A merciful God who knew suffering like the back of His own scarred hand. He not only knew it, He chose it. He chose to know it, to feel it, to abide in it for the thirty-three years and three days it took to find a way to free us from its grip. Anxiety still causes pain and we always need to treat the suffering.
But suffering isn’t the end of the story anymore.
When we’re in the throes of it and we can’t find the words to pray or praise, when the mind won’t slow down enough to catch its breath, when the neural networks set to spinning and it’s all we can do to put one foot in front of the other…it’s ok.
It’s ok. It’s even ok if we can’t manage it and need help.
“God’s spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.” (Romans 8: 26 The Message).
God prays our prayers for us. All we have to do is remember to remember it when things slow back down again.