People who deal with anxiety or panic are afraid to admit it because of what others may think. If you struggle with this there’s a secret you should know: most people deal with one form of anxiety or another – this includes productive and successful people.
I remember the first time I had a panic attack. I was still a software manager. I was managing our company’s largest client working directly with their CFO. Without judging her too much, she was a diva on a power trip and she made sure we knew that. Her employees would cower in fear when she entered the room because she was known to fire people in front of others. One morning after a year of managing this account I drove up to the parking lot and physically was unable to get out of the car. I had feelings of terror and despair. My heart was pounding, palms sweaty, mind racing – I felt like I was going to die. What was happening to me? I was having a panic attack.
Yep. I’m one of you.
I’m no pro at managing anxiety, but I’ve learned a few things that I’d like to share with you over a few blogs. Depression and anxiety are closely linked and I’d say it this way: Depression tends to warp the way we think about ourselves, our identity. Anxiety tends to warp the way we think about the future, our destiny. Anxiety is an over-reaction to something that isn’t yet a reality. Anxiety is disproportionate worry about the WHAT-IFs:
What if I NEVER get married? What if my spouse leaves me? What if my children leave me? What if I pick the wrong career? What if I don’t live up to my potential? What if I fail? What if I trust him and he fails me?
The Book of Psalms contains many accounts of God’s greatest men dealing with anxiety. Psalm 55:1-8 says:
1 Give ear to my prayer, O God,
and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!
2 Attend to me, and answer me;
I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
3 because of the noise of the enemy,
because of the oppression of the wicked.
For they drop trouble upon me,
and in anger they bear a grudge against me.
4 My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
5 Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
6 And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
7 yes, I would wander far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness;
8 I would hurry to find a shelter
from the raging wind and tempest.”
One of God’s greatest men, King David, is wracked with anxiety because of broken relationships. His best companion, his closest confidant, his most trusted friend has betrayed him. David’s eldest son Absalom and closest counselor Ahithophel conspire to take over David’s Kingdom. The full story is recorded in 2 Samuel 15-17. David describes it here in vs 12-14:
12 For it is not an enemy who taunts me—then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—then I could hide from him. 13 But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. 14 We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng
There’s something about broken relationships – especially close ones – that cause the worst kind of anxiety. Our body cringes at the thought of this person. We sweat seeing them at a distance. Heaven forbid being in a room with them or having to make eye contact. For some of you, maybe it’s not that bad. Maybe you’re on talking terms with them, but your way of running away is to keep interactions shallow. You never go too deep because you may hit a sore spot. That’s what anxiety tells us to do in this relationship. “Run the heck away.” The Psalmist is very honest about that: “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.”
“Run. Avoid. Hide.” Fair thought, BUT terrible solution. How often we settle for superficial peace just to avoid tension. At times the peace you have in avoiding people is not God’s peace. When actually it’s dealing with tension that brings healing and then peace. Avoiding tension can often be more exhausting than actually dealing with it. The Bible calls it fear of man.
CONSEQUENCES OF NOT DEALING WITH BAD RELATIONSHIPS
When your anxiety is high with someone it probably means they are too big in your eyes. They have a place in your life that only God should have. The cost of living this way is more than just anxious feelings – it’s the Kingdom. It’s the health and fortitude you need in order to carry out the mission and purpose God has for you. If your closest relationships steal energy instead of give energy, you will feel restricted in what you can do for others. David was on the run instead of ruling his Kingdom. What Kingdom opportunities are you missing because you’re on the run from relationships?
DAVID HUMBLED AT THE MOUNT OF OLIVES
The betrayal hurt David so deep. His oldest son, his closest counsellor. All he could do was run away scared:
30 But David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered. And all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went.”
(2 Samuel 15:30)
Guess what this situation taught David? It taught him humility. Fear of man is the nervous reaction that triggers anxiety, but it’s pride of heart that feeds it. Humility is the greatest secret against our anxiety. Anxiety shifts the focus to us and amplifies our hurts. Humility shifts the focus away from us to God’s forgiveness and mercy.
Listen to what St. Peter writes: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)
At first glance this Psalm looks like David is calling curses onto his closest companions. Not so. David is just honest about his feelings. 2 Samuel 17 tells us that David humbled himself – he didn’t go after his friends or take revenge. So the opening lines of Psalm 55 are written by an anxious man waiting on God to act:
1 Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!
2 Attend to me, and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
Then later in vs. 19,
19 God will give ear and humble them, he who is enthroned from of old, Selah
because they do not change and do not fear God.
How does David know that God will humble his enemy? Because David himself was humbled by God. Anxiety didn’t puff up David’s pride – anxiety humbled him. Useful, huh? The fear of man is only overcome by the fear of God.
There’s another story involving the Mount of Olives and another man anxious, weeping, and praying desperate prayers because of betrayal. Do you remember? Yes, Jesus. The night when Jesus was betrayed by Judas (one of his closest confidants) he too went to the Mount of Olives terrified and to weep like David. He was riddled with anxiety. The Bible says he sweat drops of blood. His assignment was to absorb and take the hit of not just Judas’ betrayal, but yours and mine. He was asked by the Father to go on with the mission of the cross. His prayers were honest and real, “Father, if it is possible, take this cup from me.” No super-spiritual prayer. Visibly shaken, overwhelmed, he probably even quoted to himself Psalm 55:4-5, “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me.”
How did Jesus overcome his anxiousness? He humbled himself through trust and obedience.
Peace often comes as a result of hearing, trusting, and radical obedience.
What close relationship do you have that causes you anxiety? It probably means you are focused too much on that person or you’re focused too much on yourself. Humble yourself, fear God, not man. Don’t be too worried or too prideful to have the hard conversations with people. If you go through it, you will grow through it.