Many of my friends would tell you that I am one of the most positive and optimistic women they know. One of my friends even calls me her personal Pollyanna and generally, I take that as a compliment. My positivity is one of my greatest attributes and my relentless pursuit of the silver lining has served me well during some very difficult times. Seven weeks ago, when our local government ordered our county to shelter in place, I thought, “Okay. Bummer, but whatever. It’s the right thing to do. We are going to make the best of this. Staying home is one way I can love my neighbor. It might even be fun! It’s not a problem.” And sheltering in place wasn’t a problem—until it was.
The first few days of sheltering in place were like a weekend. Normal chores, hanging out, checking email, working my side hustle, reading, and general life. Something weird was happening though. Those first few days, I felt a physical weight growing inside of my chest. I hadn’t experienced that before, so I didn’t really know what was going on. I chalked it up to dehydration, drank a glass of water, and ignored it.
Over the weekend, the weight was still there in my chest and I was sleeping a bit less. Sunday, during my quiet time in my chair, the word anxiety popped into my mind. Anxiety. I knew immediately that God was telling me the things I was experiencing—the weight in my chest, the restlessness, the loss of sleep—were symptoms of anxiety. I have never truly dealt with anxiety before, nor have I been diagnosed with clinical anxiety, but I have a few friends who deal with it regularly. Because a few of them are also Christian, I knew they often took their anxiety to the feet of Jesus. So that is where I started—at the feet of Jesus.
Right there, in my chair, I named the anxiety (a practice I learned from Emily P. Freeman) and surrendered it to God. My friend Kelsey once shared with me that that sometimes she actually goes through the physical motion of handing something to God—like lifting a box up toward him and letting it go. I did that. It wasn’t magic, it was intimate. Just like that, I had surrendered my brief feeling of anxiety to God. It was no longer mine to carry, but God’s.
Over the course of that day, I felt the weight begin to subside. There is power in naming things that can be named. There have been other times I couldn’t name something I was dealing with, but this time I could. Naming it, surrendering it, and acknowledging that it was now in God’s hands brought me a sense of peace. Evening came and went and I got sleep. The anxiety was gone. My soul whispered a sweet, but snarky “girl, bye.”
Monday, we started the morning with some pre-planned school activities. I knew there were some projects in process for each of the boys, so I made sure they had time to work on them. I pulled out some audio book series and set up a radio theater, complete with popcorn, which I thought was fun. They resisted at first, but ultimately enjoyed it. I also downloaded a free yoga app. We did that together.
Tuesday I attended my first Zoom staff meeting. In that meeting, I remember sharing about my mini encounter with anxiety. I spoke in the past-tense. I felt it it. I named it. I surrendered it. It passed. It’s now in the past. Strangely, I felt like I accomplished something, when really, I had surrendered it to God precisely because I couldn’t handle it. Still, I managed to mentally check “deal with anxiety” off my list. I love a solid checkmark.
The rest of the week continued just like Monday began. Each day, I worked, helped the boys with their schoolwork, completed my own schoolwork, cooked, tidied, and listened to the news. The memes I found on social media likened my efforts to that of the early pioneer women. I did it all—for like three days. That’s when it began to unravel.
The heaviness returned to my chest. It was minor and initially, I didn’t recognize it as anxiety. I probably would have denied it even if I had considered the possibility. I mean I had just given my anxiety to God three days ago, how on Earth could it back? Soon, I could no longer ignore it. The weight grew heavier and became a constant distraction.
Each day that passed I got fewer of my tasks done. It was like I had the bathwater running, but the plug wasn’t in, so nothing held for long. Tears stained my cheeks (and ran my mascara) daily. The quality of my attention slowly eroded until I could hardly focus. It took a lot of effort to get through anything. Still I went through the motions. I didn’t even recognize myself.
I felt like I was doing everything and nothing simultaneously.
I had a difficult time falling asleep before 3AM. I was in bed, yes, but I could not fall asleep. The nights I did fall asleep early often ended abruptly when I would briefly wake and my mind would succumb to a passing thought, which would inevitably spiral out of control. I used more undereye corrector that week than I used in a month. My heart rate was up despite my deep breathing. No amount of positive self-talk was helping me shake it. Come on, Pollyanna, where are you?
Crap. This was anxiety. Again. Hello. No, I was not looking for you.
As I came to grips with the reality that this might be a regular thing in my life, at least while we are in the midst of a global crisis, I began to rationalize. I should be able to handle this. I surrendered it before, so I can surrender again. And so I did. So why was my chest still heavy? Why was my heart rate up? Why am I freaking the #%$& out?
God, I gave you the anxiety. You took it. I did not ask for it back. I know you hear me. (Psalm 17:6) Why this again?
I sit with you every day. I talk to you all the time. I read your word every day. I know you are near to the brokenhearted. (Psalm 34.18) So, why this again?
I try to control the little things because I can’t control the big things. I know nothing is outside of God’s control. (Hebrews 2:8) Really, this again?
The security I desperately desire feels elusive. We had major pet drama. Our grocery budget is bursting at the seams. The kids are emotional. I know God knows what I need. (Matthew 6:32) I don’t want or need this.
The experts in this crisis have differing opinions. I don’t know who to believe or what to do. I feel completely uncertain and I know you are peace. (1 Corinthians 14:33) This does not feel like peace.
God hears me, yes.
God is near to me, yes.
God is in control for me, yes.
God knows what I need, yes.
God is my peace, yes.
I am in constant pursuit of these things as if I don’t know their origin. I am constantly in need of a reminder that these things are, in fact, true. It doesn’t matter how many times I read or recite Psalm 23. It doesn’t matter whether I have the sermon on the mount memorized or not. It doesn’t matter how often I pray or read or meditate or sit in silence. If these practices don’t remind me of the reality that I can’t, but God can, then they are pointless.
And that is the point: I can’t. God can.
We are still in this global crisis and things feel unsettled. One day, when we have gotten through this, I will process it all, maybe even with a therapist. For now, I am practicing the discipline of giving God my anxiety when it creeps up. And it does creep up still. I don’t have anxiety today, but I might tomorrow. When I feel anxious, I can’t even—but God can.
And because He can—I can. (Philippians 4:12-13)