“Am I crazy? Am I alone?”
My thumb hovered over the send button as my hands shook and my lips quivered. That night, I wanted to fire off some sort of white flag surrendering myself to the wisdom of a close friend. Typing each letter felt like its own feat. I wanted to know that I was not alone or going mad – because both of those felt like reality to me. Doubt, disillusionment, anger, fear, sadness, and panic were plaguing my heart and perspective.
Anxiety was literally killing me. My sleep was gone. I couldn’t eat. My head felt like it was going to explode while my blood pressure simultaneously plummeted. It was as if my heart was too weak to even pump. I would lay awake at night soaking my pillow with tears, longing for the anxiety to go away. I would repeatedly pray, “no,” begging God, “Please make it stop!”
I know good and well what it feels like when anxiety tries to kill you. If I am fully honest, there have been times where I wished it would have taken me out, just to get the pain to stop. I’ve paced the floor in the middle of the night. I’ve curled up in the empty bathroom stall, choking back tears and trying to keep my stomach from crawling out of my throat. I’ve told God that I thought it would be more merciful of Him to take my life than to leave me alive. You can imagine what this kind of anxiety did to my beautiful bride Molly and my closest friends who knew the real arena I was fighting in day in and day out.
Anxiety is the great bully of our emotions. It pummels your souls and leaves you sapped of energy and hope. There’s one truth that it doesn’t want you to entertain, let alone see for yourself, that is: anxiety is a liar.
Even if anxiety tells you it will win, it won’t. While it’s a brutal bully, anxiety is still an emotion under the sovereign hand of God and never outside His control.
The seasons where anxiety is the worst in my life are the seasons where I let it be the loudest.
I will never forget being in a room with my biblical counselor, my dad, and an elder from our church. I didn’t eat for days before that moment and I had to keep a lozenge in my mouth just to keep it moist. I dreaded that day and frankly, I hated that whole session. We were wading deep into the situation that caused me the greatest panic and my biblical counselor said to me, in the calmest voice possible, “I’m disappointed you did not run to God’s Word first. You know better.”
He was right – I did know better. I was running to a thousand other things to find comfort, but I wasn’t allowing the Bible to be the security blanket of truth I so desperately needed. I knew the Bible would bring comfort — I am a pastor and biblical counselor, for crying out loud, I have preached that principle over and over again. Yet, that is where anxiety is a liar and a bully in my life. It robs my joy, keeping me from feasting on faith and courage that comes from the saving power of Christ, and tells me that everything I know to be true is actually false.
The Psalmist who wrote Psalm 94 came to his senses at some point, shrugging off his own anxiety and running to God for joy. He wrote, “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy” (Psalm 94:19, NIV). When I first started to deal with anxiety, I wish I could have said the same thing as that Psalmist. However, it wasn’t until anxiety broke me for good when I realized the only way to conquer it was by leaning into the power of God’s Word.
I have anxiety, or better said, anxiety has had me.
My prayers to God, asking that He eradicate my anxiety for good, have been frequent and repetitive. Just when I think that I may have found the end of anxiety, it seems to pop back up like an evil clown, igniting chaos in my heart once again. It’s clear that anxiety clings to me far more than I would ever wish.
One morning I was meeting a pastor friend of mine for breakfast. I had just finished telling him about my most recent bout of four long months of anxiety. As I finished, it was as if we were swapping big fish stories — he said, “You think that was bad… let me tell you about my anxiety a few years ago…” On his story went, and I realized a few things, but two worth mentioning:
(1) I am not alone.
(2) I am not crazy.
As he neared the end of his story, confessing that anxiety was a frequent visitor for him too, he said, “I had to stop praying, ‘God, make it stop.'”
He said, “What if we are asking for the wrong thing — God, make it stop? Maybe that is the wrong prayer.”
He went on to explain that “God, make it stop!” seems to be the most logical prayer for us to ask of a loving God. But, what if God’s will is to use the anxiety we face to make us more like Christ?
He boldly asserted, “Josh, stop praying for God to make it stop and start praying for God to make you more like Christ.”
He was right – I had the end all wrong.
The end goal of all of this madness is to make me more like Christ. I need to pray for that end way more than I need to pray for my anxiety to end. I wanted my panic to cease, but perhaps I was defining the end by my terms, not God’s terms. His purpose, even in my suffering, will always be better than simply a lack of suffering. I can endure all things, including paralyzing emotions or dramatic physical reactions, if I know that all of this will help me love God more and become more like His Son Jesus Christ.
Anxiety may be a pesky persistent pressure in your life, but what if you allowed your faith in God to be more relentless than any other overwhelming emotion?
In the end, my friend texted me back: You are not crazy. You are not alone. Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
So now it is my turn to say to you, you are not alone. You are not crazy. The chief-end of all things is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, this can be our reality even in the midst of anxiety. We are on this journey together.
How have you seen your anxiety be used by God for your greater good?