Touch a hot stove and you instantly pull your hand away. That is a good thing! Feel anxious and you reflexively look for ways to calm down. That may not be such a good thing.
Ten years ago, I was admitted to the hospital with severe dehydration and a variety of other troublesome symptoms, some of which had been plaguing me for four years. A few tests later, the doctor came and said, “Nothing is seriously wrong. We’ve got you rehydrated now, and these pills should help you feel better. You can get dressed and go home.”
That was definitely not a good thing. I knew something undetected needed treatment. I demanded more tests. A simple CAT scan found a malignant tumor the size of a tennis ball in my stomach. By the time I was wheeled into the operating room, I was within six hours of death.
Anxiety is similar to my medical symptoms. It is not something to get rid of as quickly as possible; it is something to explore, to look beneath. It is not a problem to solve; it is a doorway into a deeper region of the human heart where God waits to meet you. And when you rest in the Father’s embrace, unexplainable peace fills the center of your soul (Philippians 4:6-7).
Think of anxiety as the red light flashing on your dashboard. It is telling you something is wrong under the hood. Ignore it at your peril. Medication has its place, but when you use medication simply to feel better without exploring the deeper roots of your anxiety, a spiritual malignancy might remain unexposed that threatens your quality of life.
Beneath everyday nervousness; most panic attacks and phobias; worries about health, money, and children; and anxiety disorders lies a core terror, a consuming fear that lives in secrecy. Until it is brought into the light of consciousness where the reality of God can strip its power, that core terror will continue to reign as a hidden tyrant.
The core terror in each person is deeply personal. People fear loneliness, inadequacy, rejection, isolation, dismissal, criticism, and judgment. And beneath these more-easily identified fears lies the less-easily accessed terror of exposure. Will I be seen for who I really am and not be wanted as I long to be?
Probe deeply into the inner world of women, and a profound fear of invisibility will be felt. Will people never see beauty to cherish? Does anyone see the beauty of secure femininity as God created her to be – the wonder of anchored, unthreatened wholeness that warmly invites others into the love of God? Or do people see a woman and desire only external beauty, competence, or fun sociability, things that can be used or violated?
The core terror of invisibility is most acutely felt when a woman takes the risk to be intimate – to invite a husband, a daughter, a father, or a friend to know her. Will anyone be drawn? Will they be curious? Will someone see the beauty of a feminine soul that draws the observer to God?
Men are no less afraid; they are terrified by something just as personal but a little different – weightlessness. Do I have what it takes to impact people in a way that restores them to their God-designed wholeness? Will anyone value me as a weighty person in whose courage and strength people can rest?
The core terror of weightlessness is experienced when a man moves toward a wife, a child, a parent, or a friend to impact that person for good. Will anyone be impacted? Will she be grateful? Will someone respect the strength of a masculine soul that allows her to relax in the strength of God?
Only when these core identity terrors are felt will the reality of God be experienced. Beauty will be defined by God’s loving gaze. Strength will be realized in God’s empowering presence. The twin terrors of invisibility and weightlessness melt only in communion with God.
Live to soothe anxiety and you will miss out on the affirming, empowering experience of God. Live to feel less worry and you will depend on sources of relief that never bring peace. Live to never feel the terror of invisibility or weightlessness and you will never get close enough to people to enjoy intimacy and impact.
Do not live to solve the problem of anxiety. Live to walk through the doorway of anxiety into the core terror that will reveal the glory of a God who lavishes you with beauty and weightiness that no separation, betrayal, or experience of loneliness can destroy. Only then will you know the peace that passes understanding that anchors you in God through all the storms of life.