There were times in my sophomore year of college that I wondered if I’d ever be normal again.
I had always been a strong person. I knew how to be disciplined, keep up with my schedule, and “stay on top of my game.” The Spring had been challenging, but I had survived the first three semesters. How much more difficult could it get?
Yet, I soon found myself drowning in difficulty. Unexpectedly, anxiety became my reality. And while I wasn’t prepared for the struggle, the tension had been building for a while.
Disconnected and Exhausted
My course load was right around the sixteen-hour mark. With the responsibility of voice and piano lessons, accompanying a small singing group, working in the college office, and completing a heavy load of homework, I was not taking care of myself properly. My social life had died a slow death. Of course, I still talked to friends during my fifteen-minute lunch break, or said “Hi” when passing them on campus, but I had no time for relationship building.
Some nights I got around six hours of sleep; other nights, I was fortunate to get five. I have always tried to prioritize morning time with God before getting ready for the day, but some mornings I was so tired that I couldn’t remember anything from my Scripture reading. On more than one occasion, I woke up from a ten-minute “nap” when I was supposed to be praying.
Day after day, my schedule wore on. I knew I was busy, and I wasn’t getting the social interaction or the downtime I needed. I didn’t know what to do about it. There was nothing optional that I could cut from my schedule. Everything that I was doing needed to be done.
The Breaking Point
So, it shouldn’t have surprised me that I had maxed out my physical limits, and that my emotional gauge was on empty. It was now about early March, right after a tour with the college choir, during which I had experienced an emotional and spiritual high. The storm that had been brewing finally made its appearance.
Put simply, I hit my rock bottom. I was emotionally spent and felt overwhelmed by all that had to be done. I cried at the simplest things. I cried while practicing music or completing homework. More than once, I burst into tears when calling my mom to discuss the events of the day.
I began having serious struggles with anxiety. Sleeping at night was difficult. Often, very early in the morning, sometimes around 4 AM, I woke up terrified for no apparent reason, then struggled for hours to go back to sleep. One night, I was so afraid that I was uncontrollably shaking. Irrational fears pushed their way to the forefront of my mind, and it was all I could do to remain calm. Sometimes even the fear of not being able to sleep kept me awake.
Around campus, I tried to act as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Yet my racing mind made it difficult to carry on even simple conversations. My mind was crowded. My thoughts were noisy. They had reached such a volume that I had to consciously choose to focus on something besides them, and the mental energy this required strained my balance even more.
Satan takes advantage of our anxiety. In our weakest moments, the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy.
Predictably, Satan took advantage of this. I fought vicious spiritual battles for the next few months. John 10:10 tells the truth: the enemy comes to steal, kill, and to destroy. He attacked me with doubts about God’s existence, uncertainty about the reliability of God’s Word, and niggling fears about my ability to serve God and victoriously do the right thing. Evil thoughts, thoughts I had no control over, flashed across the screen of my mind and terrified me. The enemy tried guilting me into believing these thoughts were my fault—that simply because they had found their way into my conscious mind, I was a horrible person.
Retraining My Mind
Amidst the turmoil and anxiety, one of the best decisions I made was reaching out for help. I turned first to my parents. I opened up to my mom, who helped me sort through much of the mental clutter, and prayed me through some of my hardest days. My father also prayed for and with me, and was always willing to listen to my confusing fears and worries. For a while, he called me every morning to have my “devotions” with me, because I couldn’t trust my own spiritual senses about what I needed to do. I also sought out Christian leaders and mentors on campus whom I trusted, and they spoke truth to me, encouraged me, prayed for me, and loved me.
Reaching out gave me the love and support needed to face the personal battle ahead. I had to learn to focus my mind on what my mentors told me was true, regardless of my feelings. I had to learn how to push anxious thoughts through on my mind’s conveyor belt. I had to learn how to distract myself instead of figuring out all the “brain-noise” in my anxious mind.
There was no immediate “healing” from fear and anxiety. I cannot tell you how often I wished God the Father would simply deliver me from all the problems in my life, and restore the joy and peace I formerly experienced. Though I knew my circumstances were not God’s fault, I didn’t understand why it was taking so long to regain my equilibrium and return to “normal.”
Promises in the Dark
Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything I went through in those months. Yes, they were sometimes dark and incredibly frightening. There were days I felt so overwhelmed, that all I could do was keep reminding myself that, at the end of the day, I would be able to go to bed, and hope and pray the next day would be better. Yet I can see now that the steady and strong presence of Jesus kept me going.
In times of confusion and intense fear, the steady and strong presence of Jesus keeps us going.
It was in this time of confusion and intense fear I discovered just how good God really is. I wanted Him to deliver me immediately from my circumstances, but, in His wisdom, He decided not to. I wanted to be whole, but He knew the best way for that to happen was for me to learn to rely daily on Him, forging a constant and consistent faith in His character and in His Word. Was it easy? No. But in those four months of seeking, praying, talking, learning, and crying, Jesus proved to me that He keeps His Word and that His way is the best.
When I felt confused and overwhelmed, He helped me grip promises like these:
He knows the way that I take; when He has tried me, I shall come out as gold. (Job 23:10)
But He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. (Psalm 91:4-6)
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.(2 Timothy 1:7)
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
God chose to make my experience with anxiety a relatively short one, but for others, that’s not always the case. God works uniquely in each person, and at times anxiety is as much a biological complication as a personality or situational one. It is important to remember that other interventions may be needed to restore balance.
Of course, anxiety isn’t the only means the enemy tries to use to destroy our faith in the Savior. Satan attacks in evil and cruel ways, and he will do whatever it takes to crush any kind of hope in the goodness of our Heavenly Father. Your battle may be in another area.
Whatever the disorder, complication, diagnosis, trial, or confusing situation, there is a Father in heaven who is working out His plan in the lives of His children. He asks that we trust Him with the fragmented shards of our life’s story. If we hand them over to Him, He can create a masterpiece that will not only prove His greatness, but give us true wholeness—a wholeness founded in His reality, not ours.
Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Whatever you are facing, the Father loves you with an eternal, undying love. He can take the remnants of your disaster and fashion them into a trophy of His grace and mercy.
Turn to Him today. Give Him your fear. Bring Him your confusion. Rest in His goodness. Find refuge in His love. Allow Him to cover you with His grace. Reach out to those he has placed in your life. His heart is good. His promises are sure. I have proven Him true.