For me, one of the most terrifying requests to pray is that God will reveal my sin to me and show me the areas he wants me to grow in. The reason it’s so terrifying is because asking him for this requires that I am ready for how he will answer me and most of the time the answers will be uncomfortable.
Over the last two years, this prayer has been answered in different ways and situations but there is a common issue at heart, and that is how I deal with fear and anxiety.
I’ve had stomach issues since childhood. Some of them are related to food (I know now that I have Celiac disease and a number of allergies) but I’ve also learned in recent years how to recognize when what I have is an “anxious stomach.” Now, sometimes I don’t even clue in that I’m actually dealing with anxiety until I get that terrible feeling, and often dealing with it is a matter of whether I’ll give in to the anxiety and let it rule me or whether I will be able to master the anxiety in me.
To some people, “mastering anxiety” might sound easier than it actually is, and to other people it might sound like I’m downplaying what anxiety really does to the body. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that there aren’t actual, biological and chemical issues for some people. But through a very difficult situation, God revealed to me that I was having a bit of an identity crisis.
Now, before you think I’m going crazy, let me clarify. I am not talking about a multiple personality disorder. What God showed me was that instead of running to Jesus in moments of anxiety and fear, I was running to Anxiety and finding my identity in it. And because I wasn’t looking to Christ to provide my identity, I was finding it in something that would only continue to harm me.
“I feel I can’t go into that crowd of people. Anxiety, shield me from what I’m afraid of.”
“I’m terrified of having that conversation. Anxiety, you can be my reason.”
“This person has been unkind to me. Anxiety, help me dwell on what is true.”
“I made a mistake or I sinned against that person. Anxiety, will you take my blame?”
It’s not like I was actually saying these things, but I was living them. I am learning (and I hope you will, too if you’re struggling in this way) that this is no way to live. Anxiety cannot heal my heart from the pain of being wronged, or fix the situation when I have sinned against someone. Anxiety cannot hold me close and shield me from fear. Only Jesus can do those things and it’s in him that I find my true identity, not as a servant of anxiety, but as a child of the living God, dearly beloved and cared for by my Savior.
Anxiety cannot hold me close and shield me from fear. Only Jesus can do those things and it’s in him that I find my true identity, not as a servant of anxiety, but as a child of the living God, dearly beloved and cared for by my Savior.
“I feel I can’t go into that crowd of people. Jesus, shield me from what I’m afraid of and strengthen me to face it.”
“I’m terrified of having that conversation. Jesus, you can be my reason for seeking fellowship.”
“This person has been unkind to me. Jesus, help me dwell on what is true and help me be eager to forgive.”
“I made a mistake or I sinned against that person. Jesus, will you take my blame?”
As I pray for the Lord to reveal how I can walk through dealing with anxiety, it can be tempting to despair by feeling that because this is something that I’ve always struggled with, therefore I always will. Perhaps that’s true. Maybe I’ll always get an anxious stomach, but that isn’t a reason for despair. I can fill my mind with what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and excellent (Philippians 4:8).
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24 NIV
I know now that I am only able to take control of the invading anxious thoughts by replacing them with Scripture and prayers to the One who is able to really help me – and this knowledge is actually very freeing. Jesus truly saves and redeems, and there is tremendous comfort and security in the knowledge that he is at work and I am being transformed by his Word and Spirit.
This post originally appeared on Paper Mill as the article Replacing Anxiety, Finding Identity.