I don’t remember a time in my life when I haven't struggled with anxiety. It’s kind of a family thing. We joke about it, but it’s true. As a kid, I remember feeling anxious at times for no reason, but mainly over things I had no control over. Like the fear of losing the people that were the center of my world, my mom and my grandma for example. Normal worries, right? But not so normal when your thoughts are preoccupied with them. Side note: my mom is still alive and well and my grandma lived well into my adult years.
The anxiety heightened through Nursing school. I developed symptoms of everything I studied (about as fun as it sounds). I remember approaching my instructor (the sweetest, wisest, most patient woman ever) and asking her about symptoms of a brain tumor. Asking for a friend of course. You can laugh, it’s ok. I laugh about it too, and I’m quite sure my sweet instructor probably wanted to.
As the years went on, I learned to control it to the point that I really didn’t consider it a struggle anymore.
Here’s the thing though… sometimes anxiety is sneaky and well disguised. It can manifest in ways that you don’t always notice right away, a surface symptom of a deeper problem.
Like the inability to sit still. “That’s just my personality,” I would say. When deep down the truth was that being still offered too much time for my overactive imagination to create scenarios that didn't exist.
Like hypervigilance. “I’m just an observant person,” I would say. When the truth was my inability to relax was rooted in fear of what might happen if I did.
Like that sudden and familiar tightening in my chest for no apparent reason.
I recently had an honest conversation with myself. "Dear self, this is NOT normal. The sky is not going to fall. You are not going to die." Well, hopefully not today anyway.
You don’t have to live this way.
I want calmness for my life. I envy the calm, elegance and poise of Queen Elizabeth’s character in episodes of the Crown (my recent fav). She has a fantastic poker face. Or the calmness of Jesus as he slept in that boat during the storm while his friends were all panicky and freaking out.
They both wear calmness like a superhero with a cape.
Maybe the real-life Queen Elizabeth learned the art of fake it till you make it. Who knows what she was really feeling inside. I can relate. I’ve learned to fake external confidence when inside it feels like a chaotic mixture of a circus with a haunted house.
I want the kind of calmness that allows me to sleep through the storm, peaceful during the chaos and deeply connected to trust.
Last year, I went horseback riding on a warm Spring day under blue skies. I was excited when we first set out on our trail of varying terrain, flat in parts and with and hills to climb. I felt relaxed at first, enjoying the beauty of this gentle giant carrying me, the warm air and the serene landscape.
And then the trail came to a steep hill where the ground was soft from a few days of rain. My horse’s front foot sank deep into the mud causing him to stumble nearly and almost throwing me to the ground. He made a quick and graceful recovery. But did I? Not so much.
I may have looked composed, but inside, I felt completely undone. I was tense the remainder of the ride and wanted it to end. I no longer felt safe.
I heard a riding instructor ask one time: “How many times have you ever seen a horse fall?”
My response after thinking about this carefully for a moment: "Never."
Sometimes my trust in God is something like my trust in that horse. Conditional and guarded. As long as the trail is smooth. As long as I feel like I can predict the outcome. As long as it doesn’t feel like I’m going to stumble or fall to my death.
So my reminder question to myself is this:
“How many times has God failed you?”
My carefully considered response: "Never."
Does that mean I always like the outcome? No. Does that mean hard, sometimes horrific things don’t happen? No. Does that mean all of my questions get answered? Not at all.
But it means I can tell this anxious heart to sit down and be calm in the boat when the storm stirs all around.
Trust is meant to be given away, and in exchange, I find rest because I’m no longer trying to control the outcome. It’s safe to trust the One who saw my beginning, holds my ending and all of the very messy moments in between.
I can also trust that He will equip me to handle what comes my way. He will meet me at my moment of need and arm me with the strength and peace that I am lacking. I know because I've lived it.
So dear anxious heart, be still. You don't have to live this way.