Another blow. Why can’t we catch a break? These were my thoughts as I drove my husband to the emergency room. He had only been home from the hospital 20 days after previous admissions adding up to more than 200 days following his bone marrow transplant last year. Sometimes it is just too much to be surrounded by all the suffering, the uncertainty life brings, and waiting in the fear of the what ifs. The blanket of heaviness can descend upon me covering me in darkness when all I want to do is bask in the light.
Anxiety can ruin your life. It is complicated. Fundamentally, any struggle with anxiety has a multitude of underlying issues including mental illness, chemical imbalance, a diagnosed anxiety disorders, and it includes a spiritual component as well. For many like me, it is a worship problem. I might be overwhelmed and preoccupied with external events of my life: like my spouse’s illness, not having a job right now or some other problem. These things are the object of my anxiety and consume a lot of my time and energy. But my problem is first a problem with God. It is a problem of trust. Is the Lord Sovereign over my life? Does the peace of Christ rule my heart? If not, there is a war in my soul, and it overwhelms me. I have a divided heart and am not surrendering and trusting who God says He is. At times, I do not believe in His goodness. It gets to a point, as the pressure builds, where I cannot handle the anxiety on my own. But I am not alone in my struggle.
Anxiety is a persistent part of our human condition. It is so common that an estimated 23 million Americans suffer from panic attacks, while millions more identify as having some form of anxiety disorder. Recent research shows that almost 40% of Americans are more anxious now than they were at this time last year. Anxiety affects 1 in 8 children in the US and 18% of adults. Mental illness and substance abuse expenditures are the single driver of disability costs. And Post-COVID forecasts warn that the cost of treating widespread anxiety and depression will create a $1.6 trillion drag on the US economy. This is a crisis. You can find out more information here.
If you do not personally struggle with anxiety, then someone close to you does and it is important to be educated. Anxiety is a weight that pulls you down. It is pressure upon pressure, being paralyzed by fear, and lost in the worry of all the what if’s. These pressures can sometimes be accompanied by despair which should not be a surprise, since so many people have both anxiety and depression. Healing must be a priority.
The question is where do you turn?
“God comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Cor. 1:3-4). It is a truth for all believers throughout time. Paul reminds us that God graciously allows suffering to strip His children of self-reliance – of the pride that feeds so many of our other sins and hinders our usefulness for His purpose. He wants to transform us, and He uses trying life circumstances to accomplish Christian growth and perseverance. Setting our hopes on God alone is the ultimate remedy for anxiety. Additionally, we need to discipline ourselves to look to Jesus regularly; especially when the anxiety tries to dominate our thoughts. Scripture says, “On Him we have set our hope” (2 Cor. 1:10). Hope delivers us from the crippling effects of anxiety because it helps us cling to an immovable anchor: the truth that God is for us in Jesus Christ.
This Lent I have been enjoying DISCIPLE talks. These conversations are rooted in Catholic teaching and Scripture and will guide you to a deeper understanding of your baptismal calling to live as a child of our Heavenly Father, as a brother or sister of Jesus Christ, and as a temple of the Holy Spirit. It is helping to un-divide my heart and lean into trust of God’s goodness.
A free handbook accompanies the talks, highlighting key points, with questions to facilitate discussion or deeper reflection and suggestions for small activities called “Missionary Assignments,” that will help you grow in your relationship with Christ. Our hearts must be at peace, and free from anxiety if we are to fulfill our mission in this world and fulfill our call to holiness.
As adopted children of God, through baptism, we are called to trust that our Father is leading us to salvation. He can use the anxiety to let me know that my heart is not in right order. We have a choice to love and love the good things of God or fall into the trappings of the world. For me, these are my negative thought patterns that create anxiety. Rather than being reactionary and living in scarcity, I need to focus on the abundant gifts God has provided.
Many of our fallen ways of thinking, have come from the lies we have told ourselves from past wounds that have not been healed. I recently discovered Life Giving Wounds, whose mission is to help young adults and adults with divorced and separated parents, give a voice to their pain and find deep spiritual healing. Although I have not participated in a retreat or workshop, I am enjoying their information including GRACE, their simplified Ignatian Examen (Examination of Conscience). I have started incorporating this into my prayer time and this is helpful in putting me into the role of observer of my life and seeing a glimpse of how God sees me.
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways.Focus on His truth: Isaiah 55:8-9
When I keep an eternal perspective, I realize that life is a gift. Each breath is another moment to serve and be the hands and the feet of the Lord on this earth. I can bring a little piece of heaven to others by using the gifts for God’s kingdom that I was uniquely designed to give to the world.
When I am overwhelmed with my life, and when the order I have known dissolves into disorder, darkness, and suffering, I am learning to look to the light. Instead of focusing on negative thoughts, I can lift me eyes to creation and see God’s beauty. He sends a ladybug, a hummingbird, a cardinal, or a rainbow or any number of signs to show His love and that He is caring for me. Then the veil is lifted, and I smile at the brightness. The light that was already there opens before me. I am not in this alone. It is not my job to eliminate the suffering or move mountains. I whisper, “That is Your job Lord, You are my light and my salvation.”
This fourth Sunday is the halfway mark of Lent and is traditionally known by the name Laetare Sunday, meaning Rejoice. We rejoice because God loved us so much that He sent His beloved son to rescue us from sin and death. I focus on this love and ask the Spirit to guide my thoughts, words, and heart to love. Strip away the anxiety and fear. Help me continue to see that the light is more powerful than the darkness. Let me invite You in and surrender and let You be my guiding light as I walk through the darkness into the light. Help me to reclaim the peace You have already provided and be smitten with Your goodness.