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My Christian life: One man’s battle with anxiety

Anxiety can prove to be a good thing. It can draw us back to God and his promises.

I recently took my mask off. I am not referring to the mask I wear over my face when I go to the grocery store. It’s the invisible mask I have worn my entire life, the mask that prevents people from seeing me as I really am.

William Woodington
William Woodington

For a long time as a Christian, I was totally focused on my doing. I regretted things I had done, and I set out on a course to try to make changes in my life. I wanted to be more kind, more caring, and more loving. However, after a short period of time, I realized I still wasn’t a very kind, caring, or loving person. Then it dawned on me. What’s wrong is not only what I have done. I am wrong.

Someone once said to me that I sin because I am a sinner; I am not a sinner because I sin. Of course I sin and become a sinner, but why does one sin? Because that’s who I am. The blood of Jesus takes care of what I have done; he cleanses me of my sins. The death of Jesus takes care of who I am—a sinner.

I have been extremely blessed. I had a happy childhood. From my house, I could walk to school, walk to a creek to fish, and catch all the butterflies I wanted in the field across the street. Happy days. Now I have a loving wife, four children, and four grandchildren.

But something happened to me years ago that changed my life forever.

A change

I was attending a meeting at work and had to give a presentation related to a project I was working on. As it became closer to my time to speak, I became extremely anxious. My heart was racing, my hands were sweating, and my mouth was dry. Intense fear came over me. Somehow God got me through my brief presentation.

Yet the experience was extremely upsetting to me. I had never experienced these feelings before, and I began to watch for this thing to overtake me again. I began to get nervous in situations I had never been nervous in before. I began to spiral downward.

I had trouble functioning in normal situations. I had panic attacks. My body would shake in the morning. I had trouble eating. I could barely function in my job. At work, I would go to a private area and try to choke down a bite of my sandwich. I had an intense fear of airplanes, where I would be trapped and could not get out. I was certain I was going to lose everything. I would lose my job. I would lose my wife and family.

I tried seeing a psychologist and reading books on how to overcome anxiety. I know these things are necessary helps for many facing depression, anxiety, and other challenges, but I was looking for a mask to hide behind. I was ignoring the fact that I am the problem! I am wrong! I had never really searched the Scriptures prior to my struggles. Would God’s Word have anything to say about my situation? If I was going down, I would go down trusting in God. My goal no longer was to conquer anxiety. My goal became to know God.

I have experienced hardship in my life. It has been a good thing. It was God’s way of bringing me closer to him.

Where would truth be found? Would God’s Word have anything to say to me about my struggles with anxiety? Would I find comfort? Well, I did find it. If I could pick one passage that gave me great comfort in my initial struggles with anxiety, it would be 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

I realized that in my moments of pain God rescued me! I learned that I could face and accept my feelings because God was showing me they were not more than I could bear. God gave me strength in the moment so I could stand up under it. I began to trust in God—in the promises contained in his Word. The healing process started, and my faith continued to grow.

Growth

I am often surprised at how many Christians do not understand the importance of hardship. When people share with me that they are struggling with anxiety, I often think of this passage: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

I learned to view my struggles as a good thing. It was God’s way of disciplining me. He forced me to go back to the Scriptures, and in that study he was there bringing me to him. He strengthened my faith. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

I have always wondered what the apostle Paul’s thorn was. Could it have been anxiety? It doesn’t really matter. It’s probably a good thing that we do not know. We can all plug in our own thorn and Paul’s message would still be true. “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ There-fore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9,10). Strength in the midst of weakness! Christ’s power! I have seen this time and time again.

Notice how many times you see the word “I” in this passage that God speaks to his people: “I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:9,10).

If I could draw a pyramid based on everything I have learned, the base of the pyramid would be that my salvation is certain in Jesus Christ. Everything else I have learned would be on top of that. If I lost everything in this life, I have lost nothing.

I needed to learn to give up on myself and let Christ comfort and strengthen me. It’s the old drowning swimmer analogy. It is only when the person who is drowning stops struggling that the lifeguard can save him.

I have experienced hardship in my life. It has been a good thing. It was God’s way of bringing me closer to him.

Read more about Woodington’s journey in his book Whatever Is True: A Christian View of Anxiety, available from Northwestern Publishing House, https://online.nph.net/whatever-is-true.html.

Author: William Woodington
Volume 108, Number 10
Issue: October 2021

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This entry is part 21 of 51 in the series my christian life

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