Ever since I was a kid, I have struggled with anxiety. In 2020, however, personal tensions, work deadlines and financial woes all combined in a series of panic attacks that I could not control. At first, my panic attacks occurred sporadically, lasting only a couple of minutes. It felt like waves of fear. At first, I could control it, but as more difficulties were thrown at me, they became panic attacks that lasted all day long. I woke up panicked and went to bed panicked.
As I sought the help of professionals and received medication, I lost all control. I believed life was over for me. I didn't think I'd ever go back into ministry. One of the coping mechanisms I learned during this time was to let go of the things I couldn’t control. This was one of the most difficult concepts for me to grasp. Being a type A, proactive person, I like to be in control. Unpredictable outcomes and events scare me. During that time, I had to learn to let go and let God intervene. Up to that point, I believed in God, but I didn't always trust he was going to do things the way I thought they should be done.
Here are some things I had to learn to let go of:
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First, I had to learn to let go of my perfectionistic spirit. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be perfect. I put a lot of pressure on myself for my grades in school, and strived to perform to get my parents’ approval. The idea of being perfect has been ingrained in me as a child. For example, if I got good grades on my report card, I got good compliments. This meant I had to continue to perform to get the same compliments. Since this was never addressed, I carried that idea into adulthood. But once I had my bout with my anxiety, I was no longer perfect. I had to admit that I was not OK.
It's difficult to admit things are not perfect, for fear of judgment and rejection. Little did I know I was basing my entire identity on good versus bad performance. I had to go to God and let him take the reins of my life. During that trial, I learned about God in a more intimate way. I had to learn that God loved me despite my performance. He loves me when I performed well, and he loves me when I didn't. During that time, I learned about God's unconditional love for us.
Second, I had to learn to let things get out of control. The issues I worried about the most included finances, health, marriage, and children. All of these things had to go on without me when I was healing. I got to a point where I had to be OK with that. I surrendered my own false sense of control and submitted to God who is in control of all things. It wasn't easy, but when life was crumbling around me, I had no choice but to submit.
1 Peter 5:7 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
I had to learn to stop treating my relationship with the Lord as a superficial one where I can just tell him some things and keep the deepest parts of my heart a secret. I had to learn to tell him everything in my life if I wanted to experience true intimacy with God. Once I was able to humble myself and tell him everything that was going on in my heart and mind – including confession of sin – I experienced deep intimacy like never before.
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Third, I had to learn the true meaning of surrender. Surrender is a very difficult concept because in America, we are taught to do things on our own and not depend on others. This is the same sentiment found in Exodus 14. In Exodus 14, the Israelites are looking at all the armies surrounding them. In fear that they're going to die, they complain to Moses. They basically blame him for them being there, saying that Moses is going to let them die. In response, Moses says, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
It is only when they laid down their weapons that God was able to fight for them on their behalf. The entire rest of that chapter tells us about all the miraculous things God did during great adversity. God wanted to do that same thing for me during my time of adversity. I had to lay down my weapon of control and performance so that God could intervene on my behalf. God did many things in my life during that time. What I believed was a curse became a gift in disguise. Granted, it was a gift I never want to receive again, but God knew by allowing my world to fall apart I would have to learn surrender like never before.
Fourth, I had to learn resilience. This bout with anxiety came right before COVID. Not only did I have to deal with healing from my anxiety, but also navigating the muddy waters of the pandemic. During that time alone during COVID, I was able to replace all the lies that I believed and replace him with the truth of Scripture. By getting to know God in a more intimate way, I was able to walk in my church and be greeted with many hugs and kind words. There was no judgment or rejection, just love.
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Fifth, I learned acceptance. Like many people, I believed mental illness was something that only happened to certain people and could never happen to me. I had to accept the fact that anxiety would be a part of my life. Although I just wanted God to heal me, I also accepted the fact that God may choose to use many avenues to heal, including medication, therapy, etc. The good news is that God has used me to speak about mental illness to many people. I could no longer stigmatize it, but I had to accept that it could happen to anyone. This gave me a newfound compassion and love for those with mental illness.
Learning to let go is not easy. It takes great trust and faith in God to know he will take care of every situation we have, even the ones that seem out of control. Although I'm not completely willing to surrender every area of my life, I'm learning that the more I resist and try to do things on my own, the more distant I get from a loving God who wants us to yield our lives to him so we can walk in freedom. By letting go, we give God control and allow him to be the true king of our lives.
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Originally published Wednesday, 03 May 2023.