Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
It was Christmas morning.
I was at my parent’s house. Nathan worked Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so I decided to stay the night with my family for Christmas. Kicked out of my old bedroom (gee thanks Elyse 😂), I had to sleep in one of the tiny bunks in the kid’s room.
I woke up to the sunlight beaming down on my face and an achy back. Am I old now or something?
I pulled out my phone to see if Nathan had messaged me. He had. But as soon as I read the message, my heart sank.
“Bad call tonight. All good, all safe, just horrific.”
I never had anxiety growing up. Or at least, I didn’t have a name for it, so maybe I pretended it wasn’t real.
But it wasn’t until Nathan and I had been dating for 1 or 2 months that I started to feel more “anxious” than I ever have.
It started small, like anxiety often does. At first, I felt a little nervous about Nathan driving home an hour away. My heart would race and I couldn’t sleep until I got a text saying he’d made it back safe.
When he went to work, I started to feel more antsy each time. I hated saying goodbye before shift.
Then there were days at work I couldn’t get my heart to stop pounding. It felt like I couldn’t breathe, but nothing scary was happening. I was just sitting at my computer typing. I kept wondering, what is wrong with me?
I was scared because I’d always had a good grip on my emotions before. When I felt anxious, I could always calm myself down. But now, all of a sudden, I couldn’t. Which freaked me out even more.
After we got married, my anxiety only got worse.
It was strange. It wasn’t that when we were dating, I didn’t worry about Nathan as much. But after marriage, we had become one flesh. It was no longer “my boyfriend” who was going to work as a firefighter, it was “my husband, my other half, my heart.”
My anxiety got way worse because I began to fear so intensely for Nathan’s physical and mental safety, and I couldn’t control what happened when he was on shift. Worse, when something bad did happen, I couldn’t be there to protect him or comfort him.
It was on Christmas morning when I got that wakeup call. Nathan had been on a horrific emergency call and had seen some pretty terrible things. And I couldn’t be there to comfort him.
All Christmas morning, I couldn’t focus. Before I even walked downstairs, I knew the day was going to be rough, so I got down on my knees and begged God to help both of us.
There were plenty of distractions throughout the day, but that anxious feeling never went away. Finally, when I drove home that night to our empty apartment, I felt an overwhelming weight pressing down on me. My most precious thing was out there, in danger, unsafe, and away from me. I couldn’t do anything but pray. And even though prayer is the most powerful thing I could do, I still felt helpless.
I walked up to our apartment and got ready for bed, but I couldn’t sleep. After half an hour of tossing and turning, I walked out to our living room. The lights were off and the moon shone through the shades. I sat down on the floor. My hands were shaking, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe
“God, I want to trust you, but it’s so hard,” I said. “I know you love Nathan more than I ever could. I know you’re taking care of him. But then things like this happen. God I want to trust you. I want to trust you with him. Help me to trust you.”
I poured out all my anxious thoughts. I told him how I felt like I couldn’t stop being afraid, that my body was constantly quivering with fear and I couldn’t control it. Was this an attack from the enemy? Or was it my own sinful choice to feel this way?
I bent down in the darkness – I felt utterly helpless and frail. I whispered, “God, I’m scared. I’m really scared. I don’t know what to do. I’m just so scared right now.”
And He whispered back, “Annabelle, I was scared too.”
I learned that night there is a difference between being scared and being afraid.
As a human in a fallen world, I’m going to be scared sometimes.
The enemy assaults us with scary things. That heart-racing, seemingly unstoppable anxious feeling often comes from being scared.
But fear, on the other hand, is always a choice. As Christians, we are no longer slaves to being afraid. We are children of God. We can choose fear or trust – it is within our power, through Christ, to choose.
I saw how the enemy wormed his way into that dark situation we were in. He started off with a good old-fashioned attack of scary things – and I felt scared.
But my mistake was this: instead of choosing trust even though I felt scared, I chose fear. I let my scared feelings turn into afraid feelings, and it did nothing but damage my trust in God and push me away from him.
I thought about Jesus walking to the cross. That must have been scary, staring down a painful and humiliating death. But if Jesus was scared in that moment, he didn’t give into fear. He trusted God anyway, even though he felt scared.
I’m scared a lot these days. It’s a battle each week to trust God, because each week I have to say goodbye to my husband, afraid it might be the last time I get to see him – or the last time I get to see him healthy, whole, or okay.
But even though the enemy assaults me with scary things, I can choose to not be afraid.
I might feel anxious, I might feel scared. But I can still choose bravery. I can still choose trust.
I’m still learning how to cope with the scary things, but here are a few things that have helped me over the last 9 months:
God has always been my greatest comfort. And He still is. Prayer doesn’t always make my anxiety go away, but it’s an important step in inviting God into my spot. I can’t be healed or comforted without God, so running to him should always be my first choice.
1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Invite God into your worries – the real ones and the irrational ones – and let him carry them.
2. Verbal Processing
If you’re like me, verbal processing helps a ton when my thoughts get tangled and worrisome. Often I’ll just talk to God about how I’m feeling, being totally honest and open with all my emotions. Then I’ll talk to Nathan, a family member, or a close friend. Saying things out loud helps me discern when my thoughts have slipped into fear and when to rebuke those feelings.
I tried therapy for the first time in 2022, and it was awesome. Sure it’s expensive, and I can’t do it super often. But every time I go God speaks through my therapist, reminds me of the truths I’ve forgotten, and gives me tools to combat the next time I feel anxious. There is absolutely no shame in letting others help you, especially if God’s gifted them in ways that can sincerely help your mental health.
Anytime I start my work day with exercise, it’s like for the rest of the day my heart is too worn out to start racing again. For a long time, it became an essential part of my work day because I couldn’t focus at work without getting all the jitters out first. And it’s healthy and rewarding so yay!
You know, I hesitated writing about anxiety today because I’m the furthest thing from an expert. I know anxiety looks different in different people. For instance, I’m not at the point where I need medication, but others do need it. And that’s okay! Using medication is not because you “don’t trust God enough” and it should never be shamed.
I’m just sharing my experience with anxiety. These are the things that have helped me, and this is the kind of anxiety I struggle with. I shared mostly about my anxiety surrounding Nathan’s job, but there are other kinds I struggle with. Maybe they’re for another time.
Each person is different, and I want to share my story with humility. This is just what God has taught me recently about being afraid.
There is nothing in creation that can separate you from God’s love. There is no feeling, no level of anxiety, no mental hangup, no internal struggle that can set a permanent wall between you and God.
American culture will tell you fear is something you can’t stop, something you’ll just have to live with for the rest of your life. But we are loved by God. He has power over all the fears you feel, and you have the power to rebuke them in the name of Christ. He will not leave you alone and afraid.
We will each face our own onslaught of scary things today. And tomorrow. And the next day. You might feel anxious, like you can’t stop spiraling out of control.
But will you choose to be afraid, letting the worry dictate your life? Or will you choose to trust the God who loves you, despite how you’re feeling?
It’s a tough spot, but I pray God gives me the strength to choose trust, even when scary things do happen.
I want to leave you with one of my favorite worship songs, and a few verses about anxiety that have encouraged me recently. Read them with the music in the background if you want, it’s pretty dope.
You are loved and cared for more than you can fathom. Peace be with you friends.
“…For he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ’The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” ~ Hebrews 13:5b-6
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” ~ Psalm 46:1-3
“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” ~ 2 Timothy 1:7
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” ~ Psalm 23:4
“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” ~ Psalm 27:1
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” ~ John 14:27
“Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” ~ Psalm 55:22
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” ~ Isaiah 41:1