I battle with anxiety. Like the clinical medicated kind, not the “I worry all the time” kind. In fact, I’m not a conscious worrier on a regular basis; the thoughts I have control over are generally positive and calm. The problem is my amygdala, that part of my brain which controls my anxiety, or more specifically my fight or flight system, is faulty.
Stress builds up in me, perhaps caused by, oh I don’t know, a change in employment, homeschooling two active kids, running out of toilet paper, unsuccessfully avoiding the news, and/or the uncertainty of a global pandemic, and it doesn’t take much for something small to send my limbic system over the edge. More often than not, I’m unaware that the stress has built up to this critical point until my body lets me know and demands that I pay attention. For me, that looks like tension migraines, chest pains, weepiness, acid reflux, and sometimes a panic attack that feels an awful lot like what I imagine a heart attack would feel like.
I had one such attack last week, and in the past, a panic attack would lead to more panic. But I’ve learned through prayer, research, and counseling to take an anxiety attack as a not-so-gentle indicator that there is an overwhelming amount of stressful material heaping up in the back of my mind and interfering with my emotional ability to cope. So, since the attack last week, I’ve spent a good amount of time processing through prayer, journaling, talking with friends, examining emotions, and letting myself feel my feelings. I was starting to feel better; my breathing was returning to normal, my headaches had ceased, I was able to talk about most things without getting weepy.
And then this week, in a routine visit to my dermatologist, my doc discovered a patch that she suspects is skin cancer.
Cue the panic.
Standing in the exam room, after the doc had performed the biopsy and left me to put my clothes back on, my first reaction was to pray. I thanked God for being bigger than cancer, than coronavirus, than racism and hate. I thanked him that he promised to never leave me and for the peace I was already feeling even in the face of a cancer diagnosis. I thanked him for modern medicine that meant in all likelihood a small surgery would make me cancer free. I redressed, made a follow up appointment, got in my car, and promptly burst into tears. I managed to call my husband and let him know what was going on, that I was fine and was going to run a couple of errands.
As I drove around, the waning effects of novocaine mixed around in my head with the word cancer, and the resulting dizziness forced me to pull over. How could I KNOW with certainty in my mind that I was going to be okay, that this particular cancer is completely treatable, that I didn’t even know if I had it for sure, that God promises to be with me no matter what– how could I know all of that and still feel anxious?
My mind ping-ponged between 1 Peter 5:7 and Philippians 4:6-7. Jesus said to CAST my cares upon him, like hurl them at him with a decent amount of force, because he cares about me and wants to take on my junk. And God tells me to give him all my anxieties and he’ll exchange them for peace. Peace. I wondered to myself, If all this is true, and I believe it is, why am I freaking out? Haven’t I given this to Jesus already? I know I did. It was only about 20 minutes ago.
And then a story from Sunday’s sermon, which coincidentally was about anxiety. Or maybe it was no coincidence at all. My pastor compared laying our worries down at the feet of Jesus to taking our car to the mechanic. When we go to the mechanic, we tell him what’s wrong, and then we just leave our car there. We walk away and don’t really give it another thought. We don’t stand over the mechanic telling him what to do or decide to take our car back before it’s finished. We trust the mechanic to fix the car because it’s his job to do so.
God tells me it’s his job to carry my burdens, I need only hand them over. So I say I’m giving him my worries and cares, but then I’ll usually hover, or take them back, or somehow think that if I keep worrying about it, that will be helpful to God somehow. If I leave my car with the mechanic, how much more should I trust leaving every thought and worry with the Lord of the universe. He doesn’t need my assistance or advice. And, unlike the mechanic, God promises to take care of my problems for free, no cost to me, no strings attached.
So I put my car in drive and head home. As I drive, I talk to God. “I’ll try harder to rely on your peace,” I say. And clear as day, I hear that familiar whisper in response– “It’s not about you trying harder, it’s about you trying less. I’m offering you my hand; just take it and let go of the rest. Lean into my strength, not more of your own.”
And there it is. Peace served up like the gift of grace it is.