Sometimes I think the anxiety will swallow me.
I’ll be laying in my bed, or somewhere else that gives my body a little bit of comfort, clutching a pillow tightly to my chest as the tears fall and my body feels nervous and tired.
I reach out to someone — someone to talk to, someone to bring me out of the worry and hopelessness in my mind and heart that feels like it is going to completely overpower me.
The fear doesn’t have that power, my mom tells me, the words breaking through the thoughts spinning in my head that I can’t do anything but lie in bed.
What is the truth, Alyssa? She asks me.
I know the truth, I tell her. I know I’ll be okay. It just feels impossible to believe and claim right now.
“Write hard and clear about what hurts” — ernest hemingway
Anxiety and fear, sometimes in the form of panic, hurts.
This summer I’ve been pondering its power — and how I choose to live in a world where anxiety is an ever present battle. Life is scary and overwhelming, change is inevitable, as is death and disease and loss and broken relationships and all the rest…
But I keep coming back to Jesus.
My friend Hilary has phrased it this way: “what does Jesus have to say about ___?” What does he have to say about anxiety, about fear, about the panic attacks and the sometimes sleepless nights and the sadness that feels so dark at times?
I hate simple answers — answers that gloss over the difficulty and don’t stand in the tension and complexity. So, I hope that the answer I’m seeking to my own questions doesn’t sound overly simple because it’s the hardest thing I’m doing: I’m asking Jesus to be present and to sustain me, asking that his faithfulness would make me able to be more faithful, more trusting. I’m asking for Jesus to be my answer, but not flippantly, because he being my answer doesn’t mean the hurt disappears. Instead it means he shares the pain with me.
Anxiety, and sometimes complete panic, has given me a window into placing trust unlike any other kind of experience I have had. There are moments when every fiber of my being screams “Nothing is okay, everything is wrong, you are incapable of everything and anything.” And I look to God confused, why he lets this happen, why he lets those waves come and crash all over me.
“Before God can divulge our God-given identities in our desert-of-the-soul wilderness experiences, there is something we need to know: he requires that we be brutally honest with ourselves and with him…” (Marlena Graves, “A Beautiful Disaster”, p20).
I am learning what it means to be brutally honest with God about anxiety and fear, and in return, he’s being brutally honest with me in ways I sometimes resist: he’s been brutally honest with the truth of his provision and faithfulness.
I’m in the midst of a book by Henri Nouwen talking about being God’s beloved, the son (or in my case, daughter), that he is always drawing back home, I finished reading the Gospel of John a second time (I love the stories of the vine and branches, the sheep knowing the shepherd’s voice), and I loved David Benner’s book while I was in Cambodia (“The Gift of Being Yourself” — the title sums it up well). And in all of these places (and many more unmentioned), truth is spoken so loudly over me that I can’t not hear it: I am cared for, I am provided for, I am sustained, I am named and known, I am loved — I have nothing to fear.
Christians have messed up a lot by glossing over fear and anxiety as something that isn’t supposed to happen if we believe in God. It’s been said in so many ways, and to the harm of many, that if we are strong enough and have a good enough faith, we can conquer fear, we won’t be depressed or anxious, we won’t be sad.
And here I call the bull sh*t card. I call the bull sh*t card because none of it is honest, none of it wrestles with the complexity or the tears or the hurt that we feel. The hurt isn’t supposed to be shunned or ignored — its supposed to be voiced — and through its voice, hopefully be healed in some way (but the timing variable is still a mystery to me).
Faith promises presence instead of absence in the midst of our wanderings in hard places. I’m saying no to simple answers that aren’t honest about hardship — about those moments on my bed with messy tears and the heavy weightiness of feelings of inadequacy and panic and “everything is wrong and I can’t do anything about it”. I’m saying no to answers that don’t give room for wisdom from psychology.
It hurts: that’s the brutally honest truth.
It hurts to not be able to sleep, it hurts to have your hands shake anxiously, it hurts to pick up the phone and call someone because you’re scared and sad and feel alone in your own thoughts and fears.
I refuse to ignore that ache — but I also refuse to ache alone.
I bring my truth, my hurt and my ache, and God brings his own truth: he brings his own story of death and life, hurt and healing, cross and empty tomb.
“Life, as the Biblical tradition makes clear, is both loss and renewal, death and resurrection, chaos and healing at the same time; life seems to be a collision of opposites” (Richard Rohr, “Falling Upward” p54).
I want to be apart of building a world that is honest about “loss and renewal, death and resurrection, chaos and healing”. I want to be a part of listening and telling the stories of this chaos and healing. It’s only when we’re brutally honest that our stories can give life in places we didn’t know needed it.
I want to keep coming to Jesus with a posture of brutal honesty, and I’ll wait for his own brutal honesty to be poured back on me again, and again. It’s a brutal honesty of love and kindness — and it’s one I can trust.