I was sitting in a counseling session my senior year of college. It was way overdue—for years I had suffered quietly through anxiety and depression because I thought they were normal.
I had a lot of relationships that were dysfunctional with people of both sexes. The counselor was helping me sort them out and understand why I was still attached to these people.
I was afraid.
I knew that friendships and romantic relationships could be hard, and I had always been taught that Christians stick things out…tough friendships, tough marriages, tough situations.
But I didn’t realize that the reason I was sticking with these tough relationships wasn’t because I was trying to love these people like Jesus did, although I thought that’s what I was doing. The more I dug into my motivations, the more I discovered just how much fear governed my decisions.
I was afraid to walk away from a relationship because I might not ever date again.
I was afraid to leave a friend behind because I feared the loneliness that might come and the accusation that I didn’t try hard enough.
I was afraid to leave my house because I didn’t want to encounter someone I might have to share the gospel with.
In the valley of the shadow
The fear and the resulting anxiety overtook me and reduced me to a college student who once loved to be with people but who now just hid in her room and stayed with relationships that she considered safe, even though they were draining more life from her.
Sometime that first semester of senior year, my mom sent me a note, with this verse written in her beautiful handwriting:
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13 NASB
I would lie in my lofted bed in my crummy college apartment, when the anxiety and the fear overwhelmed me, staring at that verse and repeating in the smallest whisper, “You are the God of hope. You are the God of hope.”
Though counseling from professionals and friends more mature than I helped a great deal, what I really needed was time—time to see that not every little decision I made had a huge life-altering effect. Fear slowly faded, replaced by a sense of knowing that I was loved no matter what I did or didn’t do. There was a tremendous freedom.
By the middle of my second semester, I could honestly say that I knew that God was good and that He loved me—a far cry from where I had been only months before.
I will fear no evil
Fast-forward to my first year in grad school. I was engaged in a thriving church, the same one that had given me so many resources and so much wisdom–through staff and through friends who went there–in my journey through depression and anxiety. I had led a small group. I was growing. My heart was alive. I knew deeply that God was good and that He loved me.
But I sat in the service on Sunday morning, unable to connect with God. It wasn’t the first time.
The music, although beautiful and well produced, didn’t touch me. The message didn’t teach me new things.
“What is wrong with me?” I asked myself as I sat in the large auditorium.
Then I heard the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit say, “Nothing is wrong with you, Amanda. It’s time to move on.”
I shook my head a little to shake away that crazy thought. Why would I want to move on from this place where I had received so much healing? I loved this church. I loved this people.
But again I heard the Lord say to me, “It’s time to move on.”
I argued with myself for a while. And then I realized that I was unwilling to follow the voice of the Lord because I was afraid.
I was afraid that if I left this place where I had found so much healing, that I would regress.
I was afraid that if I left this specific church, I would be missing out on the big plans that God had for me in world missions.
I was afraid that if I left this anchoring place, I would walk away from God.
Once I identified the fear that undergirded all my objections—that I would walk away from God if I left this particular church—I heard the Lord speak to me again, through Psalm 23.
I will fear no evil, for You are with me.
The idea of switching churches may seem like a silly one to strike fear into the heart of an adult Christian, but the fear was all too real to me. I had learned a lot on my journey through depression and anxiety, especially about my absolute need for the presence and companionship of God. And here He was, telling me through His word that I didn’t need to fear any evil, even the evil of falling away from faith in God, because He was with me.
I will fear NO evil, because He is with me.
I cling to this verse these days. Being a stay-at-home mom is a daunting thing for me. I’m an extroverted external processor who thrives in the presence of other people (older than 3). My husband and I are keenly aware that I have to be completely honest with how I am feeling and what my needs are, because I sometimes revert to the practice of stuffing my fears and anxieties into the “be more like Jesus” box. It is a daily challenge to be open and honest.
The thing about fear is that it silences me. I fear failing. I fear vulnerability. I fear screwing up or even being perceived as a failure.
I will fear no evil.
I will not fear the risk of failing.
I will not fear the unpleasant consequences of vulnerability.
I will not fear screwing up.
I will not fear going crazy because I stay at home with my kids.
Because He is with me.
If peace is something you’re seeking in the midst of fear and anxiety, you can also read a previous post of mine, Speaking Peace. I’d also love to hear your story if you’re willing to share. You can email me at paintedwithoutmakeup AT gmail DOT com.