Wouldn’t it be great if we could just snap our fingers and by doing so all of our present concerns and worries would just be eliminated into thin air? As a self-professed “professional” worrier, I’ve often thought about how great it would be if someone had a “worry wand” where they could just zap away all of my anxieties with the flip of the wrist. Am I the only one who has thought this? I mean, wouldn’t that be awesome?
As a childhood cancer survivor, I dealt with medical complications on a daily basis related to the treatments and surgeries I received. I still deal with some of those issues today, but they’ve become as normal to me as breathing air into my lungs. As a little girl, however, they were a great source of embarrassment, anxiety, and sickness. Throughout elementary school I had to be excused from class by my nurse multiple times a day to take care of these issues. Kids were curious and I would get nervous about how to answer their questions about where I was going or what I was doing. I was sick often all throughout school, constantly concerned about making up tests, missed assignments and how I would ever graduate. Although I participated in many extracurricular activities, there were times I was nervous and constantly on edge about whether or not these medical issues would flare up during an event or a performance-and a few times they did.
After an emergency appendectomy in high school, my surgeon walked in the hospital room to inform me that the likelihood of being able to have children would be slim due to the scarring and treatments I received from my previous cancer surgeries. Instead of worrying about what dress I was going to wear to homecoming that year or my grade on a math test, I was, at age 15, filled with worry and fear over the likelihood of my inability to bear children.
When I was younger I tried to convince myself through “pep talks” not to worry over these things. The more I told myself not to worry, the more I became consumed by anxiety-ridden thoughts. I had stored up Bible verses in my heart such as “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink…” (Matthew 6) but I was conflicted because I was worried and I really didn’t know where to go from there. Even though I was a believer and clung tightly to promises that God was in control, He was keeping me, He hadn’t forsaken me, He had a plan for all things-I wasn’t immune to fear.
Six months after my husband and I started dating I was diagnosed again with cancer. While waiting for further tests to be concluded, we took a family vacation to Florida to get away and enjoy the sunshine. I was so fearful about what my future would hold-would I even have one? I had read Matthew 6 about a thousand times at that point, about how I shouldn’t worry, but my faulty understanding of those verses left me struggling with guilt and condemnation over the anxiety I had. Can anyone relate to that?
One morning I woke up early before my family and stepped out onto the balcony of our condo. The morning sun greeted me and I just took in one big deep breath and exhaled, “I’m scared God. I’m so scared. Help me.” As I turned around to go back inside, a little yellow bird caught my eye. It was sunbathing on a white chair on our balcony. I knelt down to get a closer look and held out my hands. Assuming the little guy would fly away, I was surprised when he jumped right into my hands as if he belonged there. I thought back to Matthew 6 and realized my faulty understanding of those passages had been influencing the way I dealt with fear and anxiety.
Jesus wasn’t telling the people not to worry in the absence of worry. That would be absurd! He wasn’t telling them to pick themselves up by their bootstraps, get rid of all of their anxiety and then come to Him. Jesus was telling them not to worry because He knew them well. He knew they were prone to struggle with anxiety and fear. He knew they were prone to forget God’s promises. But, you see, He didn’t just stop with a an empty suggestion. He pointed them towards their heavenly Father. “Don’t worry about your life…Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them (Matthew 6:25-26) Then, He reminded them that they are more valuable then these things. If God provided for these things, would He not also provide for them? Through studying the scriptures I learned I wasn’t alone in my anxiety and contrary to my initial interpretation, I wasn’t any “less of a Christian” because I struggled with it.
Just as I had learned to recognize that God has used my physical weaknesses to remind me of my need for a Savior, he has used (and continues to use) the anxiety in my life to draw me closer to Him. My worry throughout the years has led me into a dialogue of prayer with God. My struggles with anxiety have actually pushed me closer to the Lord because I am constantly aware of my great need for Him. Instead of trying to “self-help” my way out of anxiety, instead of trying to ignore it and act like it isn’t there (come on, we’ve all done that), I’ve learned to do what the author says in Psalm 55, “Cast all your cares on the Lord.” And God has met me there. God has met me in my honesty, and in my vulnerability and in my tears, and in my mess. He has met in my fear and in those dark places where I felt outnumbered by my thoughts. He picked me up and breathed life, His Word, into my lungs and He sustained me. And He continues to do so everyday.
If God hadn’t renewed my perspective through His word when He did, and if I hadn’t been able to see, through His grace, how He was using all of these difficult trials for my good and His glory, I know for certain I wouldn’t be equipped to handle the journey before me. It’s not that worry, doubt and sadness don’t exist anymore. They do. How could they not? I’m human. It’s just I’ve learned where to take with these feelings when they come pouring in-to the foot of the cross. And I’ve never been turned away. Christ always meets me where I am and greets me with His grace, truth and unconditional love. And He offers the same to you, my friend.