His Perfect Peace: Calming My Anxious Heart Part 2
I have battled with anxiety my whole life. I over-think conversations, motivations, and relationships. I am a people pleaser and have trouble with confrontation. In the past when speaking, I often would feel overwhelmingly hot and my nose would glisten with nervous sweat. It didn’t have to be strangers or a large group to break out the nose sweats; it could be just talking one-on-one to a friend. Guys- my nose would glisten when I would just be talking to my husband!
A full on anxiety attack for me felt like a racing heart, shortness of breath, and tingly limbs. I couldn’t get control of myself so I would wiggle my limbs and usually begin jumping up and down to try to relieve some of the pressure I felt. In the aftermath, I felt physically drained. My body felt like it had competed in a boxing tournament due to the stress and strain on my muscles during an attack. Headaches and insomnia became a regular part of my life.
I do not have a 1-2-3 guide to how I moved past my overwhelming anxiety, but sometime through college and early marriage I became much more relaxed. It was such a gradual process that I didn’t notice it until I realized how peace-filled I had grown. The source of this peace was resting in Christ and placing my complete trust in His sovereignty over my life. My mindset shifted from focusing on fitting in to social groups to embracing the individual God created me to be and following His leading in my life. As I learned to rest in His perfect peace, I began to clearly hear His voice.
I grew up with a misunderstanding of the Holy Spirit. This is often the least discussed figure of the Trinity, which is so unfortunate because it is the portion that indwells us, believers! I randomly read Francis Chan’s book “Forgotten God” without really knowing what it was about. It explained the work of the Spirit and allowed me to open my heart and mind to the promptings of the Spirit. Chan says, “That by keeping in step with the Spirit, we might regularly fellowship over what He’s doing rather than what He did months or years ago.” There have been times I have claimed to be “moved by the Spirit” and used other Christianese phrases like that, but I think I was likely responding to the influence of other humans around me and not the Holy Spirit. Chan also says, “Is that what happens at the Christian gatherings you attend? Or does it feel more like what the prophets of Baal experienced before Elijah prayed? We can have a great time singing and dancing ourselves into a frenzy. But at the end of it, fire doesn’t come down from heaven. People leave talking about the people who led rather than the power of God.” My misunderstanding of the voice of the Spirit led to confusion and chaos in my spiritual walk. When I thought I was following the “direction of the Spirit” and that direction became a dead end, I doubted God’s will for my life. Doubt paves the way for anxiety.
I began to recognize the Spirit’s involvement in my daily life. I began each day praying that I would be obedient to the Spirit and that His fruit would be evident in my life. The more I saw the Spirit working, the more I could rest in His perfect peace.
One night I was feeling overwhelmed by the stress of a trans-state move. I worried about our belongings surviving, I worried about making new friends, and I mourned the relationships I would be leaving behind. I worried about my boys having good teachers and developing strong friendships, I worried that our new house would have problems, and I worried that we would encounter financial struggles. I repeated to myself, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do no lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Trust trust trust. If I fill myself with trust in the Lord then there will be no room for worry or doubt to dwell, right? Yet I worried on.
That night I had a vision. I hesitate to call it that, but this was a completely new experience and God’s message was so clear and evident. I dreamt that I was an artist on assignment to take photos of buildings. These were truly beautiful works of architecture, but the images just weren’t coming out quite right. I was getting frustrated and worried that my assignment would be incomplete and that I would lose my job. My boss saw my anxiety and gave me a new assignment. He brought me outside to a birdhouse. “Watch the birds. Observe the birds. That is your assignment.” So I sat and watched the birds. I watched their flight patterns and how they would perch on the branches inside their cages. One came and landed in my hand. This was a very clear image to me; the bird was like the birds in the Pixar short “Piper”. It was the most precious baby bird that innocently looked up at me without a care in the world. Then my boss said, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
I woke up with the dream fresh on my mind. I had a new, full sense of peace, unlike ever before. It felt like my body was so full of peace that it was pressing against my skin trying to release the pressure. Overwhelming peace. I knew the dream was from God. He knew my anxious heart. With this new sensitivity to the Spirit, old Scripture passages have been coming alive in my life. This passage from Matthew 6:26 is very familiar to me, but this new, clear image of the Piper birds and their model of being carefree in Christ opened my heart to the truth in these words.
I know I cannot adequately describe the vision of the dream or the feeling I received, but that isn’t the important part of this story. The important part is that I knew the Spirit was acting on my behalf. I could find rest in the knowledge that the Lord knew my needs and that the Spirit was ministering to me. To be seen and to be known by the Lord is incredibly humbling. The Lord of all creation cares for me. A nobody. A speck in all of human existence! Who am I to doubt His providence or His concern over my well-being?
You are known and seen by the Creator of the universe! He desires to release you from your bonds of worry and set you free to soar in His peace that passes all understanding.
To see part 1 of this series click here.
To see part 3 of this series click here.