I am intolerant of anxiety. When I feel it building, I try to get to the bottom of it in hopes that I can rid myself of it.
One morning recently I woke up with an unusual amount of anxiety, and it stayed close by for several days. I racked my brain—why all this anxiety all the sudden? Was there a specific catalyst for it? I could think of some things in particular that I had been thinking about, and then I began to ruminate on these even more, walking through a logical procession of thoughts until I felt I had a solution. But of course any solution I came up with didn’t satisfy the doubt, and it began to torment me again.
So often in my attempt to squash unwanted anxiety, I engage in obsessive thinking and problem-solving. I want to find the source of my anxiety, think it all through, and figure it out.
If I have anxiety, I assume it means something is wrong. Warning bells go off: Pay attention! I put aside everything else until I feel satisfied at my own attempts to manufacture trust. But the thing is, I’m never satisfied, because I can’t build trust by thinking more or harder.
It’s not just that I don’t want anxiety; it’s that I feel I can’t live normal life until it’s gone. I want to get rid of it altogether.
We often think that trust means we won’t have any anxiety. But what if the goal isn’t to rid ourselves of anxiety? What if the goal is to learn how to trust in the midst of anxiety?
I may not know why I have anxiety in a particular moment. Trust isn’t a sense of certainty, and it doesn’t promise peace as a product. Part of what it means to trust is learning to be okay with not knowing why, and to be okay with not obsessing. To be okay with the presence of anxiety.
I often think that if I was truly trusting the Lord, then I wouldn’t have anxiety. I see peace as a direct result of trust, and faith as the natural product of my own heart posture. So if I lack peace, it means I lack trust or my faith is weak, which seems like evidence that I’m not saved. This reinforces the doubts I already have. It’s a vicious cycle.
When it comes to assurance of salvation, everyone else seems to have their own peace. It’s not perfect, but it’s consistent. They even have peace for me, assured that I’m saved in a way I’ve never been for myself. In many ways this is a great comfort; in others, it feels like confirmation that I am just not trusting enough.
But what if trust is choosing to hope despite the lack of peace?
What if trust is wrestling with God?
What if trust is praying the psalms of lament?
What if trust is not trying so hard to get rid of the anxiety, but running to Jesus in the midst of it?
Trust looks different for everyone. We are all different, with unique struggles, and I think in the same way that the Lord gives each of us our own thorns to bear, he also designs us to trust him in different ways. For some it looks like prayer. For some it looks like crying out, questioning. For some it looks like praying Psalm 136; for others, Psalm 88.
Here are a few examples of what it looks like for me. Trust looks like taking communion despite feelings of shame and condemnation. It looks like choosing to go to church when staying home would avoid a lot of anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and doubts. Trust looks like writing this blog post. Trust looks like surrendering the futile fight to combat my anxiety—even when it must be done several times an hour—in exchange for crying out honestly to Jesus for help, even if he doesn’t remove the anxiety.
Many have said that courage is not the absence of fear, but what we do in spite of the fear. I would say trust is the same. It’s not a blind optimism or a perfect peace; it’s realizing that we have nowhere else to go, and going to the only one who offers us hope.
I mean “hope” not in the sense of a feeling or experience. This can be subjective, and often nearly absent in those with scrupulosity. But “hope” in the sense of an affirmation that there is more true here than we can see. We often can’t see well, mired in doubt and ambushed by self-condemnation. But above the confines of our subjective experience towers the steadying hope of objective truth: Our acts of trust speak louder than any obsessive self-assessment we may have.
Anxiety may be my current experience, and lack of peace may overwhelm me, but it does not have final say. Nor is it a trustworthy indicator of reality. Moreover, the truth of who God is never changes with the coming and going of our feelings, with the changing of our experiences. He is able to bear our doubts and navigate our lack of peace, guiding us into the next right step of trust.
Maybe trust is simply that: hoping that Jesus is who he says he is. Jesus says, “Come to me.” Over and over, Scripture tells us, “Do not fear,” not as admonishment but as encouragement, promising Jesus is near. He is strong enough to walk with us in our anxieties. He is kind enough to want to.
Even a prayer like this is trust:
“Lord, I hate the anxiety that scrupulosity brings. I don’t want it. I don’t understand why you allow any of us to experience it, but I know it is not the whole truth, and it doesn’t have final say. Show me what trust might look like in this moment. Help me to try not so hard to rid myself of these unpleasant feelings, but help me to seek you in the midst of them.”
Be encouraged, anxious one. Even a simple cry for “Help!” is an act of trust.