For I hold you by your right hand—
I, the Lord your God.
And I say to you,
‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.
– Isaiah 41:13 (NLT)
I remember when I first started to feel truly free. It was in early 2010 right after two years of treatment for three diseases I never wanted. But first let me tell you how I got there. Because it was right at the tipping point into health that my nervous system went haywire and I had the worst anxiety I’ve ever had.
Physiologically this makes sense. Our bodies have two systems that keep everything in check: our hormones and our nerves. Anytime you go through a major illness, they’re bound to get caught in the cross-hairs, and we’re bound to feel the shock waves through our entire system. Anxiety is an incredibly common result of having just waged war against disease. But none of that science matters when you’re the one feeling the impact. All I knew was that I was suddenly scared to death of things that never scared me before, and for a long time never leaving my house again sounded like a really good idea.
It was all complicated by the embarrassing fact that – if you’ll let me share this with you – I had to pee nearly every 20 minutes, another side effect of everything else that was going on inside of me. Add all of that together, and even a trip to my corner grocery store felt like an emotional climb up Mount Everest.
Over the months I came up with all kinds of routines and habits that helped me hide the fear and minimize any risk of freak out. On the outside I managed to hold it together while on the inside, I was a nervous wreck crying a million silent prayers to God and begging Him to get me through the moment. So of course it didn’t matter how much better I was getting physically. Mentally I felt worse than ever before.
I credit Joyce Meyer’s 21 Ways to Finding Peace and Happiness with giving me the courage to finally confront the fears and move from anxiety to freedom. But of course it wasn’t her book that helped me so much as it was what was inside the book: a reminder that I could trust the Lord of peace. That Jesus had died to set me free, and that included freedom from what was quickly becoming crippling anxiety.
So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. – John 8:36 (NLT)
One of the hardest parts of the path that Jesus carved for me was the part that led through my fears and into freedom. It was the part where I had to leave my apartment when everything in me screamed “don’t go!” It was the part where I had to stand in line at the grocery store, all the way to the checkout counter, without dropping my basket and running home. And it was the part where I had to stand firm in the middle of my biggest anxieties, gripping Jesus’ hand for dear life, praying like a madwoman inside my head, and choosing to believe the promises we have in verses like the ones above, sometimes wielding them like a sword against any of the doubts and fears that crept into my mind.
It wasn’t easy, and I wasn’t always perfect. There were times when I couldn’t get myself to leave the apartment, and there were times when I didn’t make it all the way through the check out line without having to step out for air and collect myself. But each time I was reminded that Jesus wasn’t any less proud of me on those days than on the ones on which I succeeded in stepping out and confronting my fears. I accepted His grace and picked myself back up the next day to try again.
And then one day, as weird as it sounds, I wasn’t as scared anymore. I’d spent months memorizing God’s word and making it the very air I breathed day in and day out just to survive. And suddenly, I started to feel free.
He sent out his word and healed them,
snatching them from the door of death.
– Psalm 107:20 (NLT)
It was like that moment in spring after an especially harsh winter, when we finally feel the first warm breeze and see the first flowers start to push their way out of the soil and reach toward the sun. For years everything had felt dead and I’d wondered if that moment would ever come, but now there was new life and it was better than I could ever have imagined.
Each step got easier and easier, and emotionally I felt like I was shedding a thousand heavy layers that had previously weighed me down. Before I knew it, I was humming “I Am Free” while walking down the street, while washing dishes, while riding the train. My husband – who was at the time my boyfriend – would look at me and ask, “Why are you singing that song to yourself so often lately?” and I would smile knowing what Jesus had done.
He’d walked me through the dead of winter and set me free into spring. He’d given me new life.
What about you? Have you ever had to confront some of your biggest fears? Is there a verse that helps you cling to God’s faithfulness when it’s too much to handle on your own?
Original photo of Purple Spring Flowers by George Hodan