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When Anxiety Comes Around

February 7, 2013


One of the few things I remember from a college psychology class (and I can’t even remember which one of the two psych classes that it was) was that there were two common fears for people.  Most people were plagued with either a fear of success or fear of failure.  I remember thinking that I knew lots of people who had a fear of failure—those people who perfectionist, people pleasers who were scared if they messed up, no one would like them.  I have one these people as my child.  Those who were plagued with a fear of success had a different set of issues.  These were the people who would sabotauge themselves because they were scared they may succeed, things may be expected of them, and they wouldn’t be able to live up to those expectations.  These people were scared that they just weren’t good enough so why try and be disappointed.

I clearly had no fear of failure, nor do I still.  Granted I don’t like failing, but I have no problem attempting things that I may fail at.  I believe failure is an opportunity for growth and that in competition and comparisons someone always has to be at the bottom.  I had no problem with that being me.

In my years after college, I wondered if maybe I was one of those who was scared to succeed.  I could think of instances when maybe I subconciously messed up because I was scared I wasn’t really good enough to succeed.  I remember auditioning for state honors choir my senior year in high school.  When it was my turn to sing for the judges, I sang the piece I had practiced and practiced.  I scooped (slid like a country music singer) into notes in my classical piece, which was something I had never once down before in practice.  Needless to say, I didn’t make the choir because of my scooping (which is what it said on the judges papers).  Had I done it intentionally?  Was I scared that I really was a good enough singer to make it into that choir?

I sat in my chair, the one in the corner of my bedroom where I do my daily reading and prayer, shaking with anxiety (note–this is your garden variety anxiety, the nervous-adrenaline laced anxiety, not the anxiety attack, debilitating anxiety).  I am in the process of taking a risk and putting myself out there–setting myself up to either be rejected or accepted.  I haven’t done anything that would allow me to be rejected in quite a while, one of the benefits of being a stay at home mom, and having lived a life of safety within my house.  I sat in my chair and looked at anxiety right in the eye.  Then I asked her why in the world she was here with me today.  I sat with anxiety and God, pleading to God for bravery, for confidence, for peace.  Deep breaths cleared my head a bit and slowed down the rush of adrenaline that always accompanies anxiety.  I realized how scared I was of being rejected.  I didn’t feel like I was good enough to do what I was attempting.  I was worried of the consequences of being good enough and accepted and what if I couldn’t measure up?

Sitting with anxiety helped.  I didn’t try to run away or busy myself so I could ignore anxiety.  I didn’t try to push anxiety out of the door without finding out why she was visiting.  I discovered that while all these years I thought myself immune to the fear of failure, that I really wasn’t.  As I talked with God, anxiety slowing made her way out the door, for now I knew what I needed.

Christians aren’t always happy.  Christians struggle with darkness, sorrow, anxiety, loneliness, and anger just like everyone else.  For so many years I prayed that God would make me content, happy, joyful, because somewhere I picked up that the better the Christian you were, the happier you were.  Man, was I way off there.  The difference between Christians and others isn’t the absence of those not so fun times, but the presence.  God is present in those times, like God was present as I sat with my anxiety.  To lose the darkness, sorrow, anxiety, loneliness, and anger is to make us less human.  Didn’t Jesus feel all those things during his life?  (except maybe anxiety…).  We aren’t called to be less human, we are called to be fully human, experiencing all those things fully.

In The Inner Voice of Love, Henri Nouwen writes:

Whenever you feel lonely, you  must try to find the source of this feeling.  You are inclined either to run away from your loneliness or to dwell in it….

The spiritual task isn’t to escape your loneliness, not to let yourself drown in it, but to find its source.  This is not so easy to do, but when you can somehow identify the place from which these feelings emerge, they will lose some of their power over.  This identification is not an intellectual task; it is a task of the heart….

The pain of your loneliness may be rooted in your deepest vocation.  You might find that your loneliness is linked to your call to live completely for God.   Thus your loneliness may be revealed to you as the other side of your unique gift…What seemed primarily painful may then become a feeling that, though painful, opens for you the way to an even deeper knowledge of God’s love.

While Nouwen writes mostly about loneliness in his book, I find that his words apply to other things, like anxiety.  Thus, I sit with God and with my anxiety, until I find the source and until I can remember God’s love for me.  I am not alone.

I am enough.  I am always enough.  God loves me for being fully human, created in God’s image.  If I fail, I fail.  I pick myself up and find a different plan.  If I succeed, I succeed.  I do my best at what I am asked to do.  That is enough.  I am not called to be perfect or to be God.  I am called to be God’s beloved and to live in that promise.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Melanie permalink
    February 7, 2013 7:10 pm

    You are always so insightful! I need to remember not to busy myself through the anxious times. That is my usual.

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