When I was a little girl I was overcome by nervous butterflies before every swimming lesson (what if I had to go off the diving board alone—without floaties?). I don’t remember a single Easter Sunday school lesson as a result of the nervous adrenaline that shot through my body while awaiting our annual after-church cul-de-sac Easter egg hunt (what if everyone took all the good eggs before I got any?).
As a teenager my throat constricted before class presentations (when I was a freshman I had to take a puff of my inhaler during one of my class presentations), and I almost threw up before every track meet (once I actually did. Thank God for track-side outhouses). In college I grew weak and shakey before first dates (all two of them), and felt sick before daily track practice (there was always the possibility of just dropping dead mid-practice from its intensity).
Today, as a grown woman of 26, I haven’t shed very many of my worrywart tendencies. Sometimes I stare at the ceiling late into the night, preoccupied with hypothetical health complications. Occasionally (sometimes often), my chest tightens when I’m faced with the financial unknown, and the slightest change in my life plans sends my heart racing and my mind spinning.
For years I’ve tried to eradicate my anxious tendencies by replacing my worrisome thoughts with true thoughts about God’s goodness and his grace in my life. This is certainly a step toward banishing my worrywart, but I know that I can’t ultimately “fix” my brokenness in this area on my own. Instead, I need to put myself in positions that open myself up to the Holy Spirit’s work in this area of my life so that he can restore my anxious soul. One of the first steps in this journey of learning to open myself up to the Spirit is knowing myself.
Theologians identify two types of human beliefs: conscious and subconscious. Our conscious beliefs are the intellectual beliefs we’re most often aware of and espouse to other people. Our subconscious beliefs are those beliefs rooted deep in our hearts that we are usually unaware of. As Jesus taught, we live from our hearts. Naturally, our subconscious heart-beliefs become quickly evident in our reactions to life’s curve-balls and difficulties.
Most often, our subconscious beliefs look very different from our conscious beliefs. I tell people I believe God is a faithful provider, but I prove the opposite by fretting that he won't provide when I'm without a job or a place to live. I’m quick to assert that God is merciful and good, and yet my doubt of his character becomes apparent when I grow anxious at the first sign of pain or difficulty on the horizon.
Developing an awareness of my untrue subconscious beliefs and the lies they are rooted in has been helpful in my journey toward anxiety-free (or free-er) living. Over the years I’ve recognized that a mistrust of God’s sovereignty most often fuels my peace-decimating beliefs. I fear that God might let things come my way that he’s not aware of or hasn’t “okayed;” that he may fall asleep on the job, or post a “Be Back Later” sign above his desk. And so, like the bumbling 1950s cartoon firemen that scurry too and fro with their small net, assuring the victims in the burning building above that they’re there to catch them, I race back and forth, holding up a safety net should God fall from his throne, assuring him that I’m here if he needs me, that I’ve got his back and have devised Plans B, C, and D should his plans be foiled.*
In an effort to surrender my back-up "net" I’ve been studying the Holy Spirit’s work in time and space, surveying history's panoramic view of God’s sovereignty as he works for our good and his glory. I’ve been bathing my mind in tales of pioneer missionaries, martyrdom, and the church around the world. The testimonies of provision, protection, and an awareness of God’s presence in the midst of suffering are seeds of truth planted in my heart. As the Holy Spirit faithfully tends these seeds they’ve begun to crowd out my subconscious belief that God's sovereignty can't always be trusted, slowly freeing me from the suffocating weeds of worry that so easily squeeze the pleasure out of life.
Here is some recommended reading if you’re interested in checking out some of these incredible stories of God’s goodness and faithfulness throughout history. Please, add to the list! What books have been an encouragement to you in this area?
- Mission to the Head Hunters, by Frank and Marie Drown
- Through Gates of Splendor, by Elizabeth Elliot (there is a documentary by this same name on Hulu for FREE! that I recommend)
- Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, by John Foxe
- The biblical book of Acts
- The testimony of Nabeel Qureshi, a former Muslim:http://www.acts17.net/articles/nabeelstestimony.htm
- Testimonies from Muslims that became Christians: http://www.answering-islam.org/Testimonies/index.html
- Heroes of the Faith: Amy Carmichael, by Sam Wellman
- Mission Possible, by Marilyn Laszlo with Luci Tumas
- From East to West, by Ravi Zacharias
- End of the Spear, by Steve Saint (there’s a great movie by the same name)
- The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom
- The entire Old Testament (it has so encouraged me with its overarching picture of God's sovereignty!)
*Thanks for my momma for the clever comparison of my panicked mistrust of God to the scampering cartoon firemen.