When Anxiety Holds You Hostage

Anxiety can snowball. Fear can freeze us to the spot. These feelings can absolutely fool us into thinking we’re stuck and cornered with no way out. Don’t let that happen.

Here’s what to do the next time anxiety threatens to hold you hostage:

  • Divide to conquer.
    Quickly take stock of how you feel versus what is truly happening (because our feelings are not always true indicators of what’s really going on).
  • Act only on what you know.
    Your feelings are completely valid. But avoid making a knee-jerk reaction you may later regret. Instead, focus on crafting an intentional response.
  • Create an “exit strategy.”
    Rarely are we ever truly cornered, but it can often feel this way. Refuse to give in to helplessness. If you can’t find an “exit” out of the situation, then identify and find someone who can help you navigate your way out.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)

Ask for—and Act—on God’s Help

I was completely out of patience. Mark had blatantly disobeyed me repeatedly. By this time, it was early evening, and I was out of energy. While Mark’s long-term and short-term memory loss had trained me to be a broken record, on this day it had taken a particularly hard toll. Mark’s hearing was fine, and I knew he was listening. I had purposefully been using words that I knew he had heard before and could understand. There was just one problem: he was choosing not to obey.

“Mark, go to your room,” I said, not even attempting to hide my exasperation. I was about to lose it and desperately needed a moment alone.

“But why?” he said genuinely puzzled. “Why not I stay out here?”

“Do you really not know?!” I snapped back even though I already knew that he didn’t. Though Mark was being disobedient, it certainly wasn’t intentional. He was rarely noncompliant on purpose and truly nearly always wanted to please. Mark’s heart was incredibly pure and full of love. And that only added to my shame at this particular moment. I knew better, and I could do better. I just had no more energy left to do so.

“Mark,” I sighed. “Momma’s just all out of nice right now.”

And there you have it: the truth. Mark headed straight down the hall to his room and I fell down on the sofa. I needed a minute, a minute to figure out exactly how I was going to explain the error of his ways in a way that both made sense to him and was sensitive. (Again, I was momentarily all out of nice.)

After my self-imposed time-out, I picked myself up and slowly walked down the hall. All the way, asking God to help me. Help me find the right words. Help me practice more patience. Help me to help him.

“Mark? Can Momma talk to you?”

“You all better now?”

“I’m better, but I’m still frustrated. Do you know what that means? Have you ever felt frustrated?”

“No…” Mark answered honestly but with hesitation. Nervous that I was still in a fragile state, Mark didn’t want to confess to not knowing something.

“You know what it feels like,” I said. “I know because I’ve seen you frustrated.”

I sat down next to him on the bed, took one of his hands in mine and gently unfolded his fingers.

“See these marks?” I said pointing to some small, fresh scabs on the inside of his palm. “You clench your fists tight when you’re frustrated. When you don’t use your squeeze balls, you hurt yourself. That’s what frustration feels like. You get all tight and hot. It can feel like mad, but it’s different. And it can make you feel like you don’t know what to do. Do you understand?”

“But why you be frustrated?”

“Mark,” I started, looking for the just the right words as I said them. “I’m frustrated because I know you hear my words. I know you know what they mean, but you don’t do them. All you have to do is hear my words and do them. It’s that simple.”

“I frustrated too,” he managed to say through a stream of tears. “I not feel I do anything right.”

My heart broke and immediately my supply of nice was restored. In that exact moment, I understood completely what he meant and why. No one can follow through on what they don’t remember or even understand.

Sigh. How often does suffering and frustration crowd out what we already know to be true? How often does it rob us of remembering the safe harbor that exists for us at all times? How often challenges can falsely make us feel like there’s nothing we can do. In order to suffer well, we need to be careful to not fall for our feelings, not to fall for these lies.

Yeah, I understood exactly how Mark felt because I’ve felt this way, too.

If you’ve been there too, here’s some help:

Acknowledge how you feel. Choose authenticity over acting.
God already knows our hearts (Jeremiah 17:10, Romans 8:27), so we can be completely honest with Him. Refuse to let fear, guilt or shame prevent you for reaching out for God’s help.

Act on His guidance and instruction.
You wouldn’t just read the instructions on a bottle of medication and expect to get better. So, don’t treat God’s Word this way, either. It’s up to us to put to use what He’s already placed within our reach. Make a commitment to act on what you know is true rather than falling for feelings.

Accept His answers—whatever they are.
Trust isn’t just something we have. It’s something that we choose to do. Grow and strengthen your trust in God by reviewing His track record. Start by reading how He worked in the lives of others in Scripture and consider making a list of specific ways God has proven Himself faithful and trustworthy in your life, too.

Like this post? It’s taken from Going for Broke: How to Suffer Well. (Click here to find it on Amazon.)

How to Take Bad News

It’s not a matter of if, but when. At one point or another, we all get faced with bad news. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to break us. In fact, how less-than-ideal news affects us is completely up to us—and in light of bad news, this simple truth can be a very good thing!

Here are six simple ways to take bad news so that it doesn’t take you down, too:

Resist the urge to react immediately. Instead, opt for patience and pause.
Our reactions don’t just affect others. They affect us, too. A knee-jerk reaction could very well set the stage for even greater emotional stress later. In other words, don’t do something in the moment that you might regret later. Instead, give yourself the opportunity and time needed to carefully think things over before you respond.

Remember Who’s in control. (Hint: It’s not you!)
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
Proverbs 19:21
No matter how bad the news is, the (good) news you already know trumps it all. We already know how the story ends. While we may face frustration, pain and hardship now, our future is secure (John 16:33, Revelation 21:1-27). Remember this. Rest on this. Then, let this eternally good news shed light on any temporal shadows cast by bad news.

Go to and give it to God.
You’re not alone, so don’t act like it. Give your worries, doubts and uncertainty to the Father in prayer. Then, dig into His Word for wise counsel on your specific situation. Don’t know what to say or how to pray? Let Scripture speak for you by reading the Psalms. Turn to the Proverbs for quick nuggets of wisdom. Look to other people in God’s Word who faced similar struggles and bad news. Then, consider how you can apply these truths and experiences to your own personal situation.

Unpack the news completely.
Bad news has a way of knocking the wind out of us, and then masquerading as something it’s not. Don’t let it. Strip it down and carefully think about each piece separately. Things could very well not be as bad as they initially seem. And even if they are, there are likely hidden blessings waiting in the midst of what only appeared negative to begin with. Have you taken the time to adequately unwrap the present to find the gifts that could await you in the future? It’s incredibly easy to completely miss what we’re not looking for. Take the time and steps not to.

Keep it in the proper perspective.
Will this really matter tomorrow, next week or next year? Make an effort to accurately gauge the situation at hand. Then, only allow it to demand your attention and energy accordingly. Simply put, protect yourself by refusing to treat molehills as if they were mountains. Refuse to be fooled.

Consider what you (really) can affect and at what cost.
Take inventory of what—and to what degree—you can have an affect on a situation. Then, consider what it will cost you. Is it worth it your energy, time and effort? What will the ultimate impact be compared to what it will require from you personally? Write it down if it helps. Consider all your options and be honest about your current resources—emotional, mental, physical and financial—before you take any kind of action.

The (Many) Hats I Wear

I was downright exhausted the other day, and I couldn’t seem to figure out why. It was really puzzling me. So, I decided to take a quick inventory of everything I was currently managing, taking care of or am responsible for. I grabbed a sheet of paper and wrote down a list of all the different hats I wear on a daily basis…

Mother
Wife
Writer
Friend

Then, I realized there were still other specific hats I wore in relationship to our youngest son, too:

Teacher
Advocate
Home healthcare aide
Medical care manager

But a quick look over the list made me discover that there were even more, much more personal hats that I wore that also monopolized some of mental and emotional energy:

Adult child of an alcoholic
Person with a disability (psoriatic arthritis)

Suddenly, my exhaustion was no longer a mystery. I had good reason to be tired, but I also discovered that I had left the most important “hat” of all off my list entirely: child of God (Galatians 3:26). And as such, I should be doing a better job of remembering to lean on my Father for help, strength, guidance and support (Philippians 4:13).

But the latter doesn’t just happen, does it? We have to be intentional about it. So, in an effort to do just that, I’ve made a personal commitment to become a better steward of me. Our physical, mental and emotional energy are precious resources that should be used and spent wisely. Likewise, how we choose to spend our time should reflect our priorities, too. While we often can’t simply throw one of the hats we wear by the wayside, we can certainly work to make sure we give ourselves the time, energy—and grace—we need to fulfill our various roles. We need to practice patience and understanding with ourselves, too.

I read a simple yet powerful statement the other day which I’ve since posted on my wall:

“I will hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection.”

I don’t know who first said it, but I certainly needed to hear it.

The only way I can wear all of these various hats is by remembering the most important hat of all: the crown of thorns Jesus wore for me, so that I could rest in Him. Yes, we have all been created for a purpose (Jeremiah 29:11). We all have many roles to fill and hats to wear. But first and foremost, we belong to God (Isaiah 43:1c).

In the hustle and bustle of daily life when we feel exhausted and bone-tired, let’s remember that it’s okay to pause. It’s important to practice stillness. And we can absolutely enjoy the precious gift of His peace no matter how many hats we’re wearing (Philippians 4:7).

How many hats do you wear?
Have you ever stopped to take an inventory of them all?
I encourage you to make a list, too.
Sometimes, just acknowledging that—yes—we are juggling a lot really helps us to better understand our need to intentionally slow down and rest.

The Certainty of Suffering

I won’t identify the pastor I was listening to because I don’t think there’s value in that. Let’s just say that I think it’s always important to know God’s Word and to listen to others with a “thoughtful” ear, meaning take in the teaching, but don’t just leave it at that. Think about it, compare it to what we already know from our own Scripture studies. In other words, don’t just take things to heart and head no matter who says them. Instead, hold everything accountable to God’s Word before we allow them to take root in our lives.

I say this because I was listening to a podcast from a pastor just last night, and sadly I think it could do a lot of emotional harm to many.

His joyful report of the healing of his premature little girl was no doubt encouraging and uplifting. But I couldn’t help but think of the parents whose children hadn’t experienced the same. What would they have taken from that evening’s message? More hurt? Frustration? Maybe even fear that their own faith and prayers weren’t quite enough?

Yes, I know that God is all-powerful (Matthew 19:26). And I genuinely believe that He still steps in to perform miracles today. However, when we focus on these stories alone—the happy, joy-filled stories of miraculous healings—I can’t help but think that we’re rather missing the point.

Suffering is a sure thing. It’s going to happen.

Maybe the point isn’t to try to pray our way out of it or to do everything in our power to avoid it entirely. Instead, maybe the point is to rest easy in God’s will—no matter what that is. After all, isn’t that what Jesus modeled for all of us in the first place (Luke 22:42)? Thank God that His Son didn’t shy away from suffering, otherwise none us would have any hope at all.

When hardship threatens my joy or the pain of suffering starts to cut a little too deep, I try to remember that suffering is part of God’s plan. Our suffering is never for not (Romans 8:28). We can know that God will not be frivolous with our pain. This is true even when we don’t know the “why” behind it all.

And as I listened to this pastor’s story as tears of joy fell down his face and tears of pain ran down mine, another Scriptural truth came to mind:

God placed the rainbow in the sky as a visual reminder of His promise to never completely destroy the earth with water again (Genesis 9:13-15). But that doesn’t mean that rain will never come. In fact, a rainbow is just a reminder that even when the rain storms come—no matter how it may beat down upon us, no matter how high the water gets, no matter how close we feel to drowning in it all—it will not be the end. And even if we suffer and face hardship throughout our entire life, we can know that God’s got a greater tomorrow in store (Revelation 21:4).

When Struggles Stick Around

We don’t know a whole lot about Noah. We know he was married. We know he had three sons. We know he was 600 years old when the flood waters finally came (Genesis. But perhaps the most important thing we know about Noah is the fact that he stuck out from the crowd. He wasn’t like everyone else.

He “was a righteous man, blameless in his generation” (Genesis 6:9b ESV). And he was willing to listen to God no matter what—even when it meant building an ark well before the flood waters ever came.

But the most important tidbit in Noah’s story is that he wasn’t this way on his own. He wasn’t some super “do-gooder” from antiquity.

Noah wasn’t perfect. He screwed up just like you and me.

In fact, a little farther along in his story, Noah becomes drunk (Genesis 9:20-21 ESV). He wasn’t righteous and blameless on his own. He was set apart for one simple reason: “Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9c ESV).

The heart of Noah’s story is really about Noah’s heart. Noah didn’t just listen to God. He didn’t just hear Him without any follow through. Noah walked with God, allowing Him to direct his steps and actions. Noah wasn’t swayed by those around him. He was led by the Lord. And, consequently, Noah and his family weren’t just spared from the storm. They were literally carried through it.

Noah’s storm eventually came to an end, and the flood waters receded. But sometimes storms don’t pass. Sometimes struggles stick around. And sometimes we mess up in the middle of it all.

But even when this happens, we don’t have to worry. Our peace and our place with God has already been secured—no matter how our heart or head try to tell us differently—because it’s not about us. It’s about Him (John 3:30). And God has already promised that He’ll do all the fighting for us, if we’ll only wait on Him (Exodus 14:14, Isaiah 41:10, Psalm 55:22).

So, no matter what you’re struggling with right now, no matter how you’re feeling, shift your focus. Stop looking so intently at your storm which can make fear and frustration fester (Proverbs 18:10). And instead, focus on the One in control over it all (Isaiah 45:7).

Overwhelming Unknowns

I doubted I could do it. After all, how do you manage what you don’t even understand? Doctors had given up. Emergency rooms and hospitals had given up. But this wasn’t just a situation. This was a soul, a little boy, who desperately needed help.

Yet that didn’t make the challenge any better. It didn’t make it any easier. I still had no idea what to do. And that lack of answers and directions only fueled my doubt.

Countless blood tests and exams turned out nothing out of the ordinary.

A week-long hospital stay provided nothing but a big ol’ bill to add to the pile.

I was desperate, and so was Mark. And so my doubt grew even more.

My doubts were so numerous that one day I let myself go there. I got out a pen and paper and wrote down all my unanswered questions:

Why does Mark’s breath and skin smell so badly?
Why does his ability to communicate seem to come and go?
Why is he riddled with crippling pain some days and not others?
Is there a pattern?
What’s causing it all?
What can I do to affect it?
Is there anything I can do?

The questions flowed like water onto the page, my handwriting getting worse and worse as I struggled to write as quickly as I could. And the more I wrote, the more quickly even more questions came. I could feel my heart rate pick up and I began to wonder whether this was really a good idea or not.

Eventually, my hand started to cramp up, so I dropped the pen to give it a rest. That’s when I focused on one of the last questions I’d scribbled down:

Why isn’t anyone helping me?!

And that’s when my doubt turned to shame.

Doubt is common human experience. We all feel it. And there’s no shame in that. My shame was coming from how I was managing it—or rather my lack of managing it. I was allowing my doubt—and the overwhelming amount of unknowns—to overshadow and outweigh what I did know. There was no denying it. The writing wasn’t all over all the wall. It was all over the paper in front of me. Yikes.

That’s when I flipped it. I made a conscious effort to write down everything that I did know:

Some days were better than others for Mark.
He did seem to have reactions to some foods rather than others (despite the doctors saying it didn’t make sense).
No matter how Mark might struggle, I could help him choose and experience joy.

I wasn’t writing quickly anymore. While all the previous questions bubbled over easily, I admittedly had to search intentionally for these statements. But as I wrote—slowly and surely—I noticed that each of these statements became like anchors for me. Sure, there were a lot of unknowns. There was no denying that the questions (by far) outweighed the statements. But then I noticed that the shortest sentence of all still managed to outweigh everything else:

God is with me.

God knows those who run to Him (Nahum 1:7b). He’s near to those who call out to Him (Psalm 145:18). And He was—and still is—with me, even in the midst of my doubt. It was my fault for not recognizing His presence and claiming His help and rest.

Years have gone by now. And in a lot of ways, things have only become more complicated. Mark still struggles with intense physical pain. He makes small intellectual gains, but then regression and memory loss steal it all way. And ironically all the answers we’ve been able to to find have only lead to even more complex questions.

The situation hasn’t improved. I have.

Doubt still creeps in, sometimes even daily. But now, instead of letting it take over, I use it as a cue to go running to what I know. I cling to certainty. I claim safety in my anchor: God. And you can, too.

Grace to Grow On: Hebrews 13:5, Matthew 28:20

Practical Help:

Purpose to separate what is self-created and what is reality, so that you can respond in appropriate ways.

Our feelings can be fickle, including doubt. They’re real in the sense that they are, in fact, what we’re experiencing. They describe how we’re reacting. But our feelings don’t always accurately reflect what’s truly going on.

Separate the two. Respect the two. But also know how to respond to each independently of one another.