I love Jesus and I have anxiety

I have anxiety.

And I’m not just talking about the anxious feelings you sometimes get before a big game or test.

I’m talking about the kind of anxiety that wakes you up at night, keeps you in bed all day, and makes the most menial everyday task seem like the equivalent of climbing Mt Everest when you’ve never climbed in your life.

It didn’t used to be this way for me. I can remember feeling young and free. I would get a little anxious at times (and with the beautiful gift of hindsight I look back sometimes and wonder if some of my obsessive behaviors back then were just coping mechanisms for what I now know to be anxiety—but I digress).But you see, two years ago, I got really sick. The doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. Things have gotten a lot better, but I’m still in the healing process to this day. One of the gifts that came with my sickness was crippling anxiety. It manifests in all different ways.

Sometimes anxiety is a racing feeling inside my chest, threatening to engulf me in its fury. Other times it is a persistent knocking in the background as I go about my day. Sometimes anxiety looks like biting nails, sometimes it looks like obsessing over the smallest detail, and other times it looks like withdrawing into the abyss of silence. My anxiety can start for any number of reasons. Sometimes it is because of lack of sleep. Sometimes it is because I was exposed to something that was triggering for me. Sometimes it is a sudden memory of a painful moment from the past. Sometimes it starts for no discernible reason at all.

I used to fight the anxious feelings, but I have learned that anxiety is actually one way my body communicates with me. She is letting me know that something isn’t right and requires my attention. Once I realized that anxiety was not trying to hurt but rather trying to protect me, I realized that my strategy needed to change. It was no longer about conquering my fears. Or pushing away anxious thoughts. In fact, now I do the opposite. I welcome the ways my body communicates with me.

I listen to her. I honor her. I thank her for protecting me. I can recognize that my feelings and the subsequent bodily response in that moment are real, even if they are not true. This acceptance for my body then allows me to lead her into a safe place. Sometimes this looks like taking a bath. Sometimes this looks like staying off social media, or unfollowing an account. Sometimes this looks like saying yes to something hard. Sometimes this means setting a firm boundary. Sometimes it means sitting in contemplative silence. Sometimes it means having a talk with a trusted person or being held in a long hug. Sometimes it means eating some nourishing food. Sometimes it means gently stretching through yoga poses. Sometimes it simply means I need to take a nap.

Once I have accepted what my body is telling me, and have brought her to a safe place, then I can begin to address what is going on inside. I journal my thoughts. I work through my flow charts. I identify my emotions, feelings, and thoughts. I have learned to listen and each day I get better at discerning what my body is trying to tell me. I take steps every time to create new patterns and new pathways that open up new possibilities for the healing journey.

Pithy sayings like “Give your anxiety to Jesus” or “you should be happy because Jesus loves you” are not helpful. They insinuate that the problem is with the person suffering anxiety (or depression, or whatever) and all they need to do is change their attitude. The truth is rather that anxiety (or the like) functions as an indicator light for deeper issues that need to be holistically acknowledged and healed. Anxiety isn’t going away with one verse, nice saying, or simply because I wish it to. Committing to following Jesus was never about a “get out of jail free card”. We are not promised a life that is perfect, without difficulty, or without anxiety. The Bible, Christian tradition, and our own experiences teach us the very opposite. To be alive is to struggle. Following Jesus is not about avoiding struggle or never having a hard day. Prosperity gospel permeates our culture and taught us this lie—it’s simply not true. The comfort that I have is not that I won’t have pain or struggle, but that God is with me in the midst of it. God is the wounded healer who understands suffering and is always near.

Someone can follow Jesus and have depression.

Someone can follow Jesus and struggle with addiction.

Someone can follow Jesus and have anxiety.

Someone can follow Jesus and still need a therapist.

These realities don’t negate each other; they are just proof of what we are—human.

Following Jesus isn’t about total redemption for this body (in the here and now at least). Following Jesus is about stepping into the loving and redemptive flow of what God is doing in the world and becoming a participant. It’s about persistent hope in the face of difficult times, and a hard won joy that chooses to believe that there is something better ahead. Sometimes God works in big and tangible ways. Many times, God is at work in ways that seem a lot less obvious or hardly there at all. And that’s the moment where faith becomes real. Because of my anxiety, I know and have experienced God in a way that I couldn’t have otherwise. I am a better Christian not in spite of my anxiety, but because of it. It is my struggle that becomes the very arena in which I learn to practice faithfulness.

If you like me sometimes struggle with your mental health, I want you to know that you are not alone. You are not any less for having those struggles. I speak life over you today. May you know that you are worthy of love, support, and whatever treatments you need to be ok. And if today is a day that you are not feeling ok, know that this is space for this too. I sit with you in that. May the dawning of a new tomorrow bring a new revealing of hope deep inside.  May you know that whether you feel totally put together or barely hanging on, God loves you right where you are at and you are enough. There is nothing you can do to make you more loved and accepted than you already are. May you rest in that today, friend.

Because after all, you matter.

“If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love. Julian of Norwich

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