How many times does God tell us: “Do not be afraid”? He says it again and again and again, throughout the Bible, in music, in the quiet of prayer, but it took me a long time to start listening.
I come from a long line of self-confessed worriers. My granddad was plagued with anxiety issues, to the point where I believe it actually contributed to his death in 2004. My mum is such a worrier she worries about worrying. And as soon as I started to develop a sense of self-awareness, I recognised the same traits in myself. The problem was, for years I had no idea how to deal with these feelings. I think I spent the majority of my university years in floods of tears over anything and everything.
I remember waking up one night and having a severe panic attack when I realised I’d forgotten an assignment due in the next day. Instead of rationalising – explain the situation to my lecturer, get an extension, pull myself together and write the thing now even – I spent the rest of the night on the floor sobbing and planning how to run away to Australia. I can’t remember what happened with the assignment – I assume it wasn’t such a big deal in the end – but I know that episodes like that really brought home how much of a problem my mental health was causing me. It wasn’t normal.
Halfway through my time at university I started on a course of anti-depressants and anxiety medication. Neither made a modicum of difference. Around the same time my faith and understanding of God was growing in leaps and bounds. I was developing a relationship with Him and starting to hear Him speak to me. And through so many different channels He said to me: “Do not be afraid.”
There’s a song by Casting Crowns that really sums up what God was telling me. The lyrics express that no matter how inconsequential or imperfect you may feel about yourself, you’re never insignificant in God’s eyes. It says: “It’s not about you, it’s about Him, and if it’s about Him, what can go wrong?” “I am yours, whom shall I fear?” comes the echoing conclusion.
It was this bit of wisdom given by God that did what nothing else had managed to do: it brought peace.
This is one of the reasons it brings me so much joy when I learn of others coming to faith and finding that same peace and understanding that I did. Recently it was announced that the charity I work for, Christians Against Poverty, has helped 6,000 people to be saved since it started in 1996, and it makes me smile to know that they now too have that light to rely on when their minds get dark.
In my case there was no miraculous “cure” or anything like that – I still battle with my anxiety which, though much less aggressive, still hits me like a train from time to time. The difference is that now I know how to deal with it. I trust in the Lord, put my worries in His hands and let Him do the rest. I tell myself that no matter what the outcome of a situation, God makes no mistakes.
There is a comfort in that phrase I can’t describe. God makes no mistakes.