By Heidi Goehmann
I have had a long history with anxiety. So much so that I tell people it’s like a backpack. I take it on and off, but it’s always at least sitting in the corner of the room, staring me down.
I have tried for years to shake off the weight. Years ago a friend told me that “Do not be afraid…” is the most often given command in the Bible. So, I took it to heart and when anxiety would well up, I’d push it down, way down, telling myself over and over, “Do not be afraid, do not be afraid.” Sometimes I’d even take on a hearty “Lo, I am with you always…”
The problem was, I forgot who was speaking.
Everything I heard and even could identify as Gospel, was Law to my weary heart. It was wrapped up in my battle, my war. I wanted so badly to make Jesus proud of me, to overcome and prevail over this blanket of anxiety in my life.
I forgot that the same Jesus who said, “Do not be afraid” is the same Jesus who reached down to lift the adulteress woman out of the dust (John 8:1-11). He’s the same Jesus who reaches out and bids Peter to join him on the water (Matthew 14:22-33). He’s the same Jesus who welcomes a prostitute’s gift, a blind man’s burden, a tax collector’s service. The battle isn’t mine. I have nothing to make Jesus proud, but he has given me every good thing.
What difference does this make for my anxiety? Judgment.
It is not the fear itself that causes us anxiety. We believe that anxiety and fear are intricately bound, but what if that were not true. What if much of our anxiety was wrapped around our judgment of our experience of anxiety. How many of us, deep down feel that our anxiety is a sign of unbelief, a trust issue, a denial of God and all He can do.
This is all fine, and may even be valid to some extent, but it is not Jesus, and it is not His Gospel. It is a different gospel, a false one. A gospel of I can do it on my own. I need to pull myself up and be presentable to God It is a false gospel luring me away from Christ’s forgiveness and into my own vain attempts at resurrection on my own. It is an improper distinction between Law and Gospel.
Jesus. His Gospel says,
“Come to me, you who are weary and burdened…” (Matthew 11:28)
“When the helper comes…” (John 15:26)
“But while he was still a long way off…” (Luke 15:20)
Jesus doesn’t say, come to me glorious and perfect. He says, lay down your burden. He invites us to pour out our hearts before Him. He came so that he could stand in the gap of our imperfection before the Father. When the Father, who is completely Just, judges us, He sees Jesus, not our anxiety. If God the Father of the Universe, doesn’t judge my anxiety, why do I?!
And so, it becomes easier to throw off, when I am not busy judging it. When I know that I’m already forgiven and set free.
Next time you feel anxious, try this. Recognize where in your body you are holding the anxiety. Mine is often wrapped all tight and fiery up in my chest.
Just recognize it. Say, “Hello, anxiety.” Take a deep breath. Maybe even recall one of the above verses, and let it be. This practice helps us to leave the judgment of it behind, at the cross. Anxiety just is and in this weary world, it probably always will be, to some extent.
Another exercise that Scripture invites us to, is to pour it out like a drink offering. When the anxiety becomes unbearable and the walls of this world feel like they are closing in, Jesus waits. He welcomes us to share every single emotion, every piece of turmoil and injustice, every falling tear. Pouring it out, letting it be.
“On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.”
The battle is already won, sister. He lifts us up. He dusts us off. He sends us out in Life and Freedom.