It’s no secret that I struggle with anxiety, and I’ve probably had it for some quite time in my life. Maybe you struggle with it. Maybe you don’t. But, if you’ve ever fearfully anticipated the future, then you’ve experienced anxiety. (I’m not a medical professional – so please don’t take this as a ‘diagnosis.’) For some of us though, anxiety can be debilitating at times. To be perfectly transparent and honest, I’m quite confident in my ability to hide the effects of anxiety from you, and I’m equally confident in recognizing the triggers that often cause it.
For me, admitting that I have anxiety and recognizing its’ triggers have been a great deal of my recovery and living with it. In this last month, I’ve struggled with anxiety in a new and scary way, which actually caused me to dig into the triggers. So, the struggle, though it was awful, actually exposed some helpful elements, and I’d like to offer some of my thoughts to you about it.
I’m drawing a reflection largely from Isaiah 52:1-2, with a focus on the call to Jerusalem to remove the chains from her neck. John Oswalt’s comments on this verse was very powerful to me saying:
Although Zion’s deliverance is wholly the work of God and not her own, she is not merely a passive recipient of God’s work. Those who God calls must exercise their own will and effort in response to what he has done on their behalf. This verse makes that plain. Jerusalem is not merely lifted from the dust, but is called to get up and shake off the dust. Likewise, she must remove the chains from her neck for herself. We cannot break the chains that bind us; only God can do that. But when the chains are broken, we must remove them, and only we can do that. This is a critical moment in any recovery: the moment when we cease thinking of ourselves as a captive, that is, as a victim, a helpless chip in the current, and begin to realize that God has placed an opportunity before us that we may seize, if we will. (Commentary on Isaiah)
In this context, the Prophet Isaiah is telling Jersualem (God’s people) again that God has destroyed the enemy (both the oppressor – Assyria/Babylonia and the power of sin), but it’s time for God’s people to admit to sitting idly in the dust without recognizing God’s salvation and redemption. Like Oswalt says here, “We cannot break the chains that bind us; only God can do that…but when the chains are broken, we must remove them, and only we can do that.” I know that anxiety can take hold of my life in an ‘oppressed’ Israel kind of way, and I know that it can cause complete fearful idleness, like a child waiting in the dark for the arrival of imagined monsters under the bed. Anxiety is often my one-way ticket to an unlikely future, and no matter what I tell myself, this unlikely future can become my delusional reality.
I want to stop right here and say that I don’t believe anxiety is a sin. When Paul told the Philippians to ‘be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God,’ (4:6) Paul had much to be anxious about. However, I think Paul struggled with what we would call anxiety, but I don’t think his culture would understand it the same way we do. Our culture is vastly different, and because of that, perhaps his anxiety may have been more manageable. For us, we have a 24/7 circulation of the world’s events, and this alone is a significant difference in the way our anxiety is largely affected. So, I don’t believe anxiety is a sin, but to the extent in which I consume this 24/7 world may very well be sinful.
What impacts me about Oswalt’s comments is that Jerusalem is pending in her participation of God’s active redemption. This sort of relationship between God and his people is pretty consistent throughout scripture: God provides salvation, the people praise, the people complain, God provides salvation(wash, rinse, repeat, again and again). What is worth more than God saving that would cause Jerusalem to reserve an appropriate response? Well that is exactly the question I asked myself, recently.
When anxiety is triggered, and I go live in an unlikely future, does God provide salvation? Yes, but sometimes anxiety can cause a brain fog that blurs current reality with hypothetical scenes of the future. When this happens, my response is to reach for a dopamine hit from social media, which usually cause the anxiety to deepen and worsen.
But this past weekend, after reading Oswalt’s comments about Jerusalem removing the chains (or bonds), I suddenly understand the ‘hymn of celebration’ in verses 7-12 of this same chapter in Isaiah 52: ‘how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news…who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”’
The recognition of God’s salvation by redemption from slavery to other people and from sin IS the reason for celebration in vv. 7-12, but it’s because Jerusalem participates in God’s actions by removing the chains from around her neck. I am by no means ‘cured’ from my struggle with anxiety with this recent observation, but I am sensing a holy freedom in admitting that I’ve left ‘chains’ around my neck that the Lord Jesus has removed. I have the power of the Holy Spirit to practice self-control in my life in what I consume on a daily basis, but I want more of the Holy Spirit to continue to do so. I hope you do too.
In recognition of the ‘chains’ I must participate in God’s work of salvation in my life in order to enjoy the full effects of redemption. Why? So that I may love the Lord and my neighbor with all of God’s holy love available. I must participate in the anticipation of anxiety with the available means, and this comes in a variety of ways, primarily including prayer and reading/studying scripture. However, as I have done in the past, participation in counseling and perhaps even in prescribed medication, both of which I have done and met with much success. But, of course, you may want to read some other materials that cover this overall subject at length. I’d recommend two recent books: “Out of Chaos” by JessicaLaGrone and “You’re Gonna Be Okay” by Susan and Stewart Eaton.
I’ll close with this. The other night, I cried myself to sleep, and I’m not afraid to admit that. But, I held Kristina’s hand, something in the present reality, and she encouraged me with these words in literally the pitch-black-dark-room, “Even if there’s a little bit of light, there’s some hope. There has to be.” It may not seem like much for anyone else other than to me, but those are words of life and of hope that I am not who I’m going to be today. That story is yet to be told, but as a follower of Jesus, I’ve been freed from sins power, and today, I must celebrate this work by standing up, shaking off the dust, and removing the bonds that bind me to anxiety’s antics. I must and will participate in this work. If I can, you can too.
Please contact me if you need encouragement in doing so. There is hope, even if you can’t see it for yourself. I believe it.