Ask anyone who struggles with chronic anxiety how he or she feels when someone advises him or her to just “pray it away”. All well-intentioned advice but from someone who has overcome a very severe anxiety disorder this is probably the worst advice to give and can keep anxiety suffers in a perpetual cycle of fear.
Anxiety was never something I struggled with in the past, I was a mom of five, a ministry leader, a mentor and I was a self proclaimed ‘suck it up princess’, ‘gett’r done’, ‘I can do all things through Christ’, ‘hustle hard girl’ and then after years of mental, emotional and physical neglect I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder, Panic disorder, Depression and OCD – and my faith-filled friends, I couldn’t just pray it away.
I remember the exact moment an intense depressing thought gripped me out of the blue, a thought that no Christian mother should ever have to grapple with. I ran to my room to escape, to pray it away, to beg God for freedom. I clutched my Bible close to my chest and I cried out. “God, this is either true and you can heal me or it’s all a lie!” At this point, I had spent six months begging in prayer for God to take away my anxiety. The journey God lead me on at this breaking point in my life was intense and proved one thing, His Word WAS the way, the truth and the life. John 14:6 and I want to share with you why trying to just pray it away is not enough.
- God wants to renew our minds not just reassure them.
God absolutely wants us to go to Him for everything! We need to have a relationship with Jesus that is open and free; a relationship where we can share our burdens with Him and feel His peace and reassurance. This is key to our foundation. As a mom, I want all of my children to come to me with their struggles, but if I were to only validate their emotions and give reassurance and not teach them how to find strength in their challenges, then I raise weak children. For us, we can become habitually dependent on God’s validation and reassurance for our fears but we have to be willing to do the deeper work. Our Heavenly Father wants us to be strengthened and renew our minds.
- We have to battle our thoughts with God’s love.
Did you know that neurologists have determined that the brain was wired for love? It is scientifically proven that our brains have no preset wiring to handle stress and anxiety. When we experience negative emotions it throws our bodies into chemical chaos because our body and mind is trying to “fix” this foreign feeling. It all makes sense! Doesn’t it?! Of course, we are wired for love, because God is love and He made us JUST LIKE HIM! After working with hundreds of anxiety sufferers, I have discovered that most of the time the physical, mental and emotional reaction to a thought is mistrust in the Love of God in that area. This was key to my freedom. Whenever I was hit with anxiety I tried everything, I brought my panic to God, I pictured beaches, and breathed deeply, counted to ten, lathered in essential oils but what I needed was to inhale the truth that God fearlessly loved me. When we rattle off panicked prayers like, “make it go away!” Our focus is on the feeling of fear, we give it a place in our minds and elevate its power. Instead, don’t try to pray it away but rather focus on marinating your mind in love, remembering that – There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1StJohn 4:18
- Anxiety is not just a spiritual issue; it’s a body, mind and spirit issue.
When someone reaches out to me with his or her anxiety battle, my first response is never “are you praying enough?” it is always this order: Have you seen your doctor? Are you sleeping enough? Are you exercising? Do you have a support system? Are you in counseling? Do you believe God really loves you? One of the very first things God showed me in my healing journey was that healing needed to take place throughout all of me; my body, my mind and my spirit. The reason God wants us to focus on all aspect of healing is because they are all interconnected and because God loves ALL OF US! If you have an emotional day you feel fatigued, if you are dealing with a major sickness or injury it weighs on your emotions, if you’re spiritually dry it makes your heartsick. So you have to have a balanced approach, not a “Jesus, or die” approach to healing.
- We need to stop fearing fear.
Remember that famous line, “the only thing to fear, is fear itself”? We all feel anxious from time to time we would be inhuman if we didn’t but when we begin to fear the fear and do everything in our lives to avoid feeling it, we perpetuate a vicious cycle of fear. Often when we just run to prayer to ‘fight the fear’ we are unconsciously reinforcing the fact that the fear is valid and demands our attention. The most powerful phrase that gave me power over my anxiety was “Oh, hi anxiety, It’s JUST you.” When I learned to accept the sensations and thoughts and not try to fight or run from it my life changed.
Prayer is the essence of our relationship with Christ, it is necessary to live a full life free from fear and the things that hold us back but use prayer to listen and hear what God is instructing you to do to overcome anxiety and step into His peace.
This is an excerpt from Sarah E. Ball’s book Fearless in 21 Days and was republished with permission.
Sarah E. Ball, is an author, speaker and mental illness survivor. She inspires others to live fearlessly by sharing her humor, vulnerability and wisdom on overcoming anxiety. Sarah offers fearless hope to many through her blog – saraheball.com, online courses, speaking and book – Fearless in 21 Days, A Survivor’s Guide To Overcoming Anxiety.