A smile can tell you a lot about a person. There is also a lot that a person’s smile doesn’t tell you…In my case, the ever-present smile on my face doesn’t tell you that I struggle with anxiety.
Starting in Fall 2015, I struggled with severe anxiety for many months. It was a silent struggle, but still a very real one. There were days I couldn’t leave the house, sleepless nights, and difficulty doing the simplest things that never caused me stress before.
Up until that point, I don’t think I truly understood what anxiety was. It’s a term that’s thrown around very casually sometimes, and causes people to think it isn’t as serious of a problem as it is. Real anxiety can be debilitating at times, and can’t be fixed by just being told not to worry.
I would compare the struggle with anxiety to having your wrists shackled together. It debilitates you, limits what you can do, and you can’t break free on your own.
I am only one face among MANY that display anxiety this way. It’s a common struggle, but rarely obvious. The shocking statistics are that 1 in 5 people silently struggle from anxiety- for a variety of reasons.Those statistics increase even more if you add other illnesses such as depression or OCD.
That means that more than 1 in every 5 people you come into contact with daily are struggling.
This has changed how I view the world around me, and especially in showing kindness to those who seemingly don’t deserve it. There might be a grouchy waitress serving you, a teller at the grocery store who barely acknowledges you, or someone who ignored you when you said hello. On an even more personal level…maybe one of your friends rarely initiates hanging out or someone in your family is always trying to get out of going to social functions with you. Behind those masks of indifference a lot of people are actually hurting. God calls us to love everyone- even (and especially!) those who are unlovable. I would encourage you to take the next opportunity you have to seek out someone in your life who seems to be shutting you out. See what’s going on with them. Better yet, ask them how you can pray for them and support them. When you encounter the random strangers in your life who aren’t very kind or friendly, I challenge you to be especially kind and friendly back! Ask that grocery store teller if she’s had a long day and if you could bring her a coffee, or leave that grouchy waitress a nice tip and write a note telling her that you appreciate her still coming to work and serving you even though she’s having a rough day. I guarantee that you will make their day. And to clarify, I’m not justifying that every unfriendly person you encounter is struggling with anxiety and should be excused…but because we have no idea what’s going on in that person’s life, we should make a habit of defaulting to loving kindness. After all, isn’t that what Christ calls us to do?
Back to the personal side of anxiety…I’m thankful to have a wonderful support system in my life, and most importantly a God who carries me through. The only way to break out of the shackles of anxiety is with Christ’s help. I’ve been taught greater dependence on Him as a result. “In Christ alone my hope is found”- these lyrics to my favourite song couldn’t be more true.
Admitting my weakness has also allowed God to work through me more profoundly than before.
My moments of anxiety bring me closer to heaven as I draw near to God. It pulls me out of my present reality, and into the presence of my Saviour.
Because of this, I actually consider my anxiety a great blessing now. In 2 Corinthians 12, God says: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Do we embrace this promise wholeheartedly? I think in reality we often say that we’re trusting God, but still end up trying to work through our own strength. My battle with anxiety ended up bringing me to my knees in a way where I had no choice but to fully surrender my weakness to Him and admit that I could not move forward in my own strength. I’ll admit right now that this also was not just a one-time thing…I find myself now needing to DAILY surrender my weakness to God so that He can pour His strength into me. The joy and peace that come as a result are indescribable. I can then say wholeheartedly: “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. For Christ’s sake I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in difficulties. For when I am weak then I am strong!” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
I want you to know that I still LOVE my life, enjoy life, have hope in life, and have so many things to be thankful for. I just also happen to have days where my anxiety tries to take the upper hand. It’s a matter of daily surrender.
Show kindness to people you come into contact with, and remember to ask those close to you how they are really doing. And if you also struggle with anxiety, remember that there are many others out there who can relate, even if it may not look like it from first appearance. Your struggle doesn’t need to be a silent one either. Reach out to someone for help, and most importantly…allow God to break the shackles of anxiety in your life.
I pray that these words may be a reflection of your own heart as well: “your unfailing love supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me JOY.” Psalm 94:18-19