Some of us fight it, some of us deny it, and some of us may need help managing it — but I don’t think there’s a single one of us who hasn’t experienced its suffocating grip at some point in our life.
For so many years, I saw anxiety as my enemy. It was an adversary I had to somehow defeat, a roadblock that I had to somehow overcome, before I could experience the full life that God promised me.
After all, the Bible clearly says “be anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6) and “do not worry about your life” (Matthew 6:25), not to mention the hundreds of times we’re told to not be afraid.
For years I didn’t know how to reconcile those verses with the reality of anxiety’s presence in my life. I thought the persistent presence of anxiety meant I must not have enough faith. I had this belief, albeit misguided and even harmful, that if only I prayed enough or trusted God more, then I would be free from all anxiety and worry. But it never worked that way for me.
This left me in a crushing cycle of shame, spending years hiding and even denying my struggles.
I didn’t tell anyone how my hands trembled when I was in crowds of people.
I didn’t tell anyone that I went to the bathroom to hide, crying and struggling to catch my breath when I was overwhelmed.
I didn’t tell anyone about the racing thoughts that kept me up at night.
I didn’t tell anyone that I was drowning in a sea of worries that I didn’t know how to calm, no matter how much I prayed.
I had what they call “high-functioning anxiety,” but I ignored my symptoms, pushed them down, denied their impact on my life, and refused to truly admit that I had significant struggles. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, my anxiety became masked beneath layers of relentless over-working, obsessive people-pleasing, and persistent perfectionism.
Shame. Denial. Avoidance. Guilt. These are all the ways I responded to anxiety, the ways I allowed dysregulation in my body to cause dysfunction in my soul.
But then my daughter, who was only 13 at the time, began having panic attacks and was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I couldn’t avoid anxiety anymore. In order to best help her, I had to get really honest about my own struggles. It has not been easy or quick, but over time my perspective toward anxiety has completely shifted.
I now know that
- anxiety is not an enemy I have to fight, nor is it a roadblock to my faith.
In fact, it has actually been the catalyst that has grown my faith in profound ways. Anxiety has helped me recognize my deep need for Christ, and it keeps me daily turning toward Him.
I now read verses about worry and fear from a new perspective, considering God’s kind heart toward us: when God tells us to not be anxious or fearful, it is not with a voice of judgment and condemnation, but with a voice of gentleness and compassion.
He knows we will experience anxiety. He knows we will worry. He knows we will be afraid. These are common human emotions. So He comes to us as, not as a harsh judge, but as a kind Father, gently scooping us and all our worries into His arms, and lovingly reminding us, “You don’t need to worry. You don’t have to be afraid. I’m here. I’ll take care of you.”
I have two daughters, and I think of all the times they came to me in the middle of the night, afraid of the dark or a noise or their own scary dreams. I didn’t get angry because they felt afraid. I let them climb into my bed and curl up in my arms, and I held them and gently told them they didn’t need to be afraid, that they were not alone, that they were safe and loved and held.
That’s what God does with us.
God is not mad at us for being anxious, He isn’t waiting to strike us down because we are afraid. He knows we will feel these things. He just asks us to come to Him when we’re afraid and turn to Him when we’re worried. He wants to wrap us in His loving arms and remind us that we are safe and held and loved.
Truth is, I still have anxiety. And there are days when it can still be pretty overwhelming. But I no longer ignore or deny it. Instead, I notice it as a signal, a reminder that I need to slow down and pay attention. It no longer binds me in fear and shame, because I now know that I can choose to respond to it in a different way.
One of the ways I’ve shifted my response to anxiety is through a very simple practice called breath prayer. When I begin to feel anxious, I slow down for a few minutes and take time to simply breathe and pray a short breath prayer. A centuries-old Christian practice, breath prayer combines deep breathing with prayers of meditation on God’s Word.
Breath prayers are simple and easy — just two lines from Scripture, prayed to the rhythm of your breath.
You breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose as you pray the first line of the prayer, then exhale slowly and fully through your mouth as you pray the second line. Then just repeat several times. Breathing helps calm the physical symptoms of anxiety while prayer turns the mind toward truth.
Give it a try with this simple prayer:
- Inhale: I give you my worries and cares,
- Exhale: for you care about me.
Breath prayer is not a cure for anxiety, but it can be a powerful tool that can ease your anxiety while strengthening your faith as you learn to exhale your worries and inhale His peace throughout your days.
Written for Faith.Full by Jennifer Tucker, author of Breath as Prayer.
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We’re in the middle of a season that is very stressful. If you’re feeling anxious, you’re not alone! Today, let’s breathe in and breathe out prayers to Jesus and remember that God isn’t mad at us for having spinning emotions. He loves us! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full
Breath As Prayer by Jennifer Tucker