For When You Feel Anxious

I sat at my computer after putting the final touches on something I was taking with me to the Hope*Writers Conference. I pushed print, and I felt a wave of anxiety.


Will the editor like what she sees? Is this dumb? What am I even doing?


The next several days went by in a working-mom chaos kind of way. Long days, long nights. Until my middle child starting running a fever. Great. Kid # 3 (I only have 3, P.S.) who has been sick over the last several weeks. This ensues more chaos. Who has to miss work this time? Mom or Dad? Well, this time we both could not. And she had to stay with a family member. She progressively got worse throughout the day, and by the time my husband got home later that night, she needed to go to the E.R. Something in you kind of snaps when your child can't breathe. You lose your ability to think clearly. And you begin to feel panic.


My husband took her to the E.R. at 11:00 pm, and I was supposed to leave for the airport the next morning.


My anxiety was so high, I could not sleep. I was pacing around the house.


Will she be OK? What if they have to admit her? What will I do? Will I have to cancel my flight and not go to the conference?


She came home a while later. Thankfully no major things, and a couple of steroid shots seemed to help a bit. I was feeling anxious and guilty at the same time.


How can a good mom leave her sick kid?


But my husband told me to go.

All cuddles and kisses after I got home!


And enter the worst airport experience I have ever had. The new airport in New Orleans literally opened the day before I was supposed to leave. THE DAY BEFORE. My day started at 7:00. Full of getting on and off planes, never taking off. Change this flight. No wait, Mrs. Fabacher, we need you to get off this plane. I'm sorry, Mrs. Fabacher. There are no flights out until 4:00. You won't reach your destination until 1:00 am.


It was too much for my already anxious heart. Anxious about meeting the editor and going to a conference alone. Anxious about my little girl being sick. And now, anxious because there are tons of people crowded around me, and I can't get out of this airport. Anxious because I am missing the whole first part of the conference.


I remember there was one moment when I felt very near breakdown status. I sat on the floor of the (still in New Orleans, people) airport. I closed my eyes. And I just told God, "Help me, God." That was it. That's all I could think to say. I had no more energy to even cry.


And immediately... peace. Peace flooded over me. Happiness? No. A changed situation around me? Nope. I said peace.


Peace is what changed.

I knew I could not change anything happening around me, so I knew I needed to turn inward. I knew I needed peace. And I needed it right then or someone would have been wondering who was this crazy lady having a toddler style meltdown in the airport.


I began to accept that it was OK. I would make it there. It's OK. I missed the first night of the conference, but that does not mean I should not go. It would be OK.


And it was. I survived the chaos of that week. God brought me through, as he always seems to do.


Feeling anxious, experiencing anxiety is universal. We all feel it sometimes. Every one of us. Sometimes it can turn into an anxiety disorder, and sometimes it doesn't.


We feel anxious about our finances.

Our jobs.

Our lack of jobs.

Our health.

Our children.


We feel anxious about social situations.

About driving.

About relationships.

About our past, about our present, and about our future.


We feel anxious about all kinds of things.


And instead of looking at a Psalm that we can pray here, I want to look at a verse that many holy people tell the (I guess?) not-so-holy people. They tell those of us who battle anxiety, they tell us "Do not be anxious about anything!" That's what the Bible says, they say.


And we all collectively let out a sigh and hide in our little corners of shame. And pretend that we are not as anxious as we are. Because the good Christians are not supposed to be.


But can I just help you feel normal? You are a human. That means you WILL feel all the things. You will feel anxious. YEP. You will. Is anxiety a sin? I don't think so. I think if we let it drive us around, it can lead to unhealthy things, sure. And it can cause us to stop trusting God, and nope. That's not good.


But if we pay attention to it, and if we know what to do with it when it comes, our anxiety becomes the passenger and not the driver.

And it is possible to feel peace in the midst of the anxiety. It really is. I am proof.


But since this verse is always the one we are told, can we just look at it a bit closer for a second?


First, let's quote it.


Philippians 4:6-8


6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.

7 And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.



The word for anxious appears 20 times in 17 verses in the original Greek. The phrase "Do not be anxious" occurs 8 times in the New Testament. Jesus and the New Testament authors must have seen how many people battle with this. The word is merimnao, and it means to be anxious or to be troubled with cares.


Today, we understand that there are many physical things happening in the body when anxiety strikes. And there are a lot of physical and mental practices we can do when feeling it.


  1. We can deep breathe. (I like to say try it for 5 minutes. Deep breath in - count to 4, and exhale- count to 4. Repeat as often as needed for 5 minutes, even though usually it does not take that long.)

  2. We can exercise in honestly anyway, yoga being very effective. Any exercise, though, can be helpful when anxious.

  3. We can picture the most relaxing place we have ever been. We can focus on what we are experiencing in each of our five senses when we go to this place in our mind. (What do I see around me? What do I hear? What do I smell? What can I taste? What do I feel?)

  4. We can tense and relax our muscles in a progressive muscle relaxation. (Moving from toes to top of the head, tensing and relaxing each muscle group at a time for a few seconds, taking deep breaths as you go)

  5. We can practice mindfulness and meditation. (Love apps like this: Calm, Headspace, Abide)

  6. We can listen to music, draw, write, color.

  7. We can focus on something else for a while. (Netflix, work, home responsibilities, etc.)

  8. Relax with a long, hot bath or massage.


The coping skills almost feel endless when it comes to working through anxiety. You have to find what works for you. (This is not an exhaustive list)


But the thing is, these things are really just meant to keep us grounded and calm. They do not always get to the heart of the anxiety.


Alcatraz showers (for real.)


I think God in this passage of scripture is challenging us to take a deeper look. It seems that there are some spiritual steps to take when anxious. So what are they?


Philippians 4:6-8


6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.

7 And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.


  1. Pay attention. Be aware of the thoughts associated with your anxiety. What are you actually anxious about? What are you afraid might happen? What is the worst thing that could happen if this thing you are anxious about did occur? What were you thinking right before you started feeling anxious?

  2. Write out those thoughts. Each one. No matter how ridiculous. Eventually you may be able to run through them in your head, but for the sake of the exercise. Write them down.

  3. Practice laying each thought down, boldly and honestly, at the feet of Jesus. (Example: "Jesus, I am struggling with this. I am feeling this way. I am thinking about some of this. I need you to take these thoughts. I need to get them out of my head and give them to you. Here is what I have been thinking..." (P.S. God already knows your thoughts --Ps. 139. This exercise is more about you being able to get them out, to take off any mask, to be real. It can also help you gain perspective.)

  4. Find a truth that can contradict your thoughts or that can be a more helpful thing to focus on. (Example: I am going to miss the first part of the conference. This is all lost. I should not go. --> Just because I missed the first night does not mean I should not go. It will be OK. I can watch the recordings. I will make it there at some point.)

  5. Be thankful for whatever truth that is. Finding gratitude can help a lot with anxiety. (Example: I am thankful that they got us off the first plane because of a major engine problem. That was God's protection.)

  6. Begin to focus more on those things that are good, true, and helpful (like the list in verse 8) as much as possible. Let that truth guard your mind. Let it bring peace that passes your understanding.


I think we often think that we should be clear-minded and calm and super reverent in our prayer life. But what if we came to the presence of God in the midst of our anxiety? We are most likely NOT calm, not clear-headed. But look what happens when we just come, chaos in our minds and all. Look what happens.


When we pray, the more we pray, the more clear our minds become because we are getting all the things out of our heads.


When we pray (and do some of the things mentioned in the previous list of coping strategies), and when our minds become more clear, then we feel peace. An inexplicable peace. And then, and only then, we are able to focus on what is good, true, and helpful.

The truth that sets us free.


If anxiety is a battle for you, and you just can't seem to get a grip on it, consider seeking a Licensed Counselor to walk you through it and assess the severity. In the meantime, I would encourage you to try some of this. See what kind of transformation can begin to take place.





Meditative Prayer


Lord,


Sometimes I am so anxious I can't breathe.

I feel like my worry is driving me around,

And I feel like I can't take back the wheel.

Help me, God.

The waters are up to my neck,

And I am so anxious about what comes next.

Will you bring peace?

Will you help me breathe?

I feel like this is suffocating me.

Will you help me?


In Jesus' Name,


Amen


Creative Journaling Prompt (borrowed this idea)


On a sheet of paper, in marker, draw your anxiety as a monster. (Example: once I created a massive dollar sign that was a snake)


Then tape it up to a door (not in a room with carpet).


Consider the monster, what makes you feel anxious. What makes this monster come out? When do you feel anxious?


Then get a handful of cotton balls. Dip the first one in water.


Say one of your anxious thoughts out loud, then when you are able to find a thought or belief or truth that contradicts your anxious thoughts, throw that wet cotton ball at that monster. Keep going with each of those anxious thoughts, and watch what happens.







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