Deep soul work requires feeling safe, and our hearts are never more secure than when they rest in God’s hand.
I was taught not to attach meaning to unexpected and seemingly unprovoked anxiety because my intense reactions usually stemmed from a purely biological cause rooted in genetics. This advice sounded logical when I reflected on patterns I’d seen in my family of origin.
However, this perspective kept me stuck. By training myself to suppress my emotions, I amassed decades of unresolved hurts and unchallenged lies hiding deep within my soul, many I didn’t realize existed. I managed to muddle through for some time, snatching moments of joy between bursts of inner angst until I landed in a season of chaos and increased hurt. At that point, I had nowhere else to “shove” things. My emotional warehouse, so to speak, was already full.
Here's how my counselor explained things. For years, I was like someone carrying boxes of junk to the attic, stopping short, and depositing each container on the stairs. Eventually, I ran out of steps. I could continue “setting aside” each day’s hurts and fears until they consumed me, or I could do the hard work of unpacking my pain box by box.
Perhaps you’ve reached that same place. If so, here are four steps I’ve found helpful in my journey to freedom:
1. Spend Time in God’s Presence
Deep soul work requires feeling safe, and our hearts are never more secure than when they rest in God’s hand. When I feel anxious, honest self-evaluation can feel frightening. Hidden shame increases my desire to self-protect, which can hinder my sensitivity to God’s voice.
But when I set aside my to-do list and current tasks to engage in praise through prayer or song, I encounter my Father. As He envelopes me in His presence, hemming me in before, beside, and behind, in His love (Ps. 139:5), I experience Him. He speaks, and in that place where I am fully known and fully and perfectly loved, I am most apt to hear.
He usually begins with a word of affirmation.
For example, a while ago, a person close to me attacked my character. If you’ve experienced this, you know how intensely such encounters wound. There’s a significant difference between someone sharing a hurt based on something we’ve done and condemning us as an individual. We are most pierced by these condemnations when we believe them.
In my situation, I struggled to separate truth—my past behavior that had caused the person pain—from the lies—the statements they made regarding who they believed me to be. The assault held increased weight, in part, because of shame I didn’t realize I carried. Shame I’d thought I had already healed from.
But God saw what I couldn’t. He knew how I perceived myself and why, and He spoke beautiful words to me that I’ve journaled and reflected upon numerous times since. He said, “Yes, you are broken. But you are pursuing Me, and that is enough. In Me, you are enough.”
He reminded me of grace, my need for Jesus, all I had because of Him, and who I was in Him and to Him. This assurance lowered my defenses so that I could better hear Him and respond to His leading in a posture of humbled, trust-filled obedience.
2. Get to the Root
Sometimes we know the cause of our anxiety, at least on the surface. Perhaps we read a work email warning of company-wide layoffs. Maybe we’ve received a devastating health diagnosis or news that a loved one made a self-destructive and life-altering decision. It’s normal for our insides to churn in these situations. But to experience the peace Scripture promises, we need to go deeper into the lies our fears are proclaiming so that we can attack them with truth.
For me, those lies typically center on my sense of identity and my view of God. For example, decades ago, when our family endured a period of unemployment, I attached my inner calm, or lack thereof, to the state of our bank account. If only we received X amount in time to pay X bill, I’d be fine. Through prayer, I came to realize the bigger issue stemmed from a misplaced security. Would my faith rest in my husband’s salary or the God who loved me, promised to provide for me, and had the power to make good on His promises?
Consider the lies that fueled my behavior and falsely placed trust:
1. God won’t provide for us, which means He was uncaring or didn’t see our struggle. This would mean that He wasn’t truly a God of perfect love, who was fully present everywhere all the time and attentive to you and me, His hand-crafted people.
This is not the God Scripture reveals. Pause to reflect upon Psalm 36:5-7, which states:
"Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings."
And for those who fear they’ve out-sinned or in some way exhausted God’s goodness and grace, 2 Timothy 2:13 states, "if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”
2. The second lie buried deep in my soul told me the situation was simply too big for God to overcome. This would mean that His power was limited, a claim that contradicts the God our Bibles reveal.
Consider the words preserved in Psalm 147:5: “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.”
Our loving, faithful, and attentive God has limitless power and perfect wisdom, a beautiful combination on which we can always rely.
Fighting such lies as those described above come easier when we recognize from where our worries come. But what about times when a burst of anxiety appears to hit without provocation? Should we attribute this to neural-chemical forces, simply ignore the reaction, and move on?
In my experience, that approach hasn’t worked. Taking time to prayerfully analyze my reactions, however, has. This is rarely a quick process. In fact, it may take days, weeks, and sometimes months of prayer and journaling before God reveals the deepest, most painful, or deceived places in my heart. But He does reveal and then heal them, bringing me step by step and tear by tear to greater freedom.
When we write out our hurts and fears and record moments of divine revelation, a few things happen. First, this helps us to organize thoughts that otherwise tend to randomly and relentlessly ping through our minds.
Second, this prayerful transcribing leads to deeper revelation, perhaps because I’m taking the time to listen to God. Finally, I believe there’s a spiritual aspect to this discipline that we can’t explain except to say that our Father meets us on the page and begins to pull back the layers surrounding our hearts stroke by stroke.
One revelation leads to a new word, which leads to greater healing, which leads to a new revelation, and then another word, followed by even deeper healing. It’s a beautiful and intimate journey of God unveiling and then restoring the most wounded and fearful places in our souls.
4. Wait on God
True freedom takes time and comes in stages as God lovingly chisels away at our false strongholds because He alone fills that role. I want healing to come instantaneously, and perhaps that’s occurred for you. But that’s not been my story. Instead, God’s gentle hand has been slow and steady. He knows what I’m ready to face and when I’m ready to face it.
Recognizing this, I’m more able to walk in grace, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, NIV).
Our God doesn’t expect perfection or instant transformation. He simply asks that we pursue Him in moments of joy, pain, and bursts or long stretches of anxiety.
I’ve been following these steps for a while now. Through this process, God has broken chains I didn’t realize existed, increased my intimacy with Him, and developed an awareness of His presence. This, in turn, has brought me ever-increasing peace. May He do the same for you.
Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Alex Green
Jennifer Slattery is a writer and speaker who hosts the Faith Over Fear podcast. She’s addressed women’s groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of Building a Family and numerous other titles and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com.
As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she’s passionate about helping women experience Christ’s freedom in all areas of their lives. Visit her online to learn more about her speaking or to book her for your next women’s event and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter HERE and make sure to connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.