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Breaking the Cycle of Control and Anxiety

“I am not in control.”

I whisper this mantra to myself often, but my actions suggest I do not wholly believe it. The world around me is full of so many choices, it’s easy to mistake the abundance of options as a sense of control. Technology only furthers this idea, offering me endless access to information at my fingertips. My existence as a white middle class American suggests that my desires backed by appropriate action yield an intended result.

I control my destiny.

It is an idea built on privilege.

It is also an idea built on a lie.

This formula takes notice of the car I am driving, but ignores the other vehicles on the road. For a while, I can function in this illusion, confident that I will safely reach my destination. Until, of course, I get rear ended or something much worse happens. For example, a pandemic.

It’s dangerous to believe something that isn’t true. The effects of a lie bleed into other areas of daily life. In this case, my entitlement to control feeds my anxiety. When cracks begin to appear in the illusion of control, I panic. Belief in the lie tells me I have authority over my circumstance. When the ability to maintain authority is challenged, it suggests I am not trying hard enough. I need to know more, do more, be more. This initiates a vicious cycle of craving more control and inviting in more anxiety. The consequences are debilitating. Although everything I know about God counters this lie, it is difficult to call on such truths when I am continually confronted with various forms of this falsehood.

Just the other day, I left my daughter alone in the kitchen eating lunch while I put my son down for a nap. The moment I exited the kitchen, I unknowingly relinquished control over my daughter’s well being. In the otherwise calm atmosphere of the nursery, my illusion of control could not be upheld and fear came running. Suddenly, I was terrified that my three year old was choking and dying in the other room. There was no evidence to support this fear. Still, the anxiety was so great I risked ruining my son’s nap. I left the dark white-noise filled nursery to check on my daughter. She was perfectly content eating strawberries at the table but, due to the unnecessary interruption, my son refused to sleep. Both my three month old and I suffered because of my internalized lie. For me, anxiety is the smoke billowing from the fire of my control issues. Unfortunately, data suggests I am not the only one inhaling these fumes.

I do not wish to downplay anxiety with my simple anecdote above. I only mean to illustrate the way anxiety can infiltrate even the most mundane things. Anxiety disorders are serious and often require professional intervention to overcome. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. They affect roughly 40 million adults. Research collected before the pandemic shows that Generation Z is the most anxious generation to date. To paraphrase Pastor Ben Cachiaras from Mountain Christian Church, the current generation is more anxious than the generation that lived through both the Great Depression and WWII. If this doesn’t scream that something is wrong, I don’t know what does.

“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” Proverbs 12:25 ESV

Honestly, I don’t need research to inform me of the negative and far reaching effects of anxiety. I see my own worries reflected and amplified in the lives of those around me. The way fear pressures us to micromanage. We frame our control issues in a positive light, affirming our behavior as organized or proactive. Our pride gets a boost every time our extreme measures benefit us and, at the same time, we build walls between ourselves and others. Anxiety stops us from reaching out. It whispers that vulnerability is too costly and no one understands. So we move forward, masking our fears in productivity. The anxiety that makes us feel so alone also causes us to hide. A nationwide quarantine only magnifies this already grim situation.

The walls we build can only start to deconstruct if we are willing to identify the root of our anxiety. Voicing the source of our fears has a way of diminishing its power. For many of us, including myself, it means recognizing that my capacity to control is limited. Instead, I must determine who is in control. In answering that question, I may not eliminate anxiety completely, but I can find solace in the storm.

The state of the world right now is heavy and upsetting. Sickness and suffering plague the globe. It’s a strange and unnerving time. It is also a season that forces us to slow down and reflect. As uncomfortable as that may be. I hope this time allows me to extinguish the lie that feeds so much of my anxiety. That in this place, where feigning control is nearly impossible, I would seek to find and trust in the one who is in control— God almighty. In surrendering my need to control to the Lord, I alleviate the authority anxiety has over me. The Lord may not choose to eradicate anxiety from my life, but He offers me comfort and wisdom to move forward, despite my circumstance. In His presence, I can find calm even amidst my greatest uncertainty. The Spirit of the Lord offers me a healthy perspective. The closer I am to Him, the more clearly I understand who He is and who I am. God, the creator and controller of the universe, is big, mighty, and good. I can call on Him and He will help me. Over the past week, I’ve returned to Isaiah 40 again and again because it gives evidence of these truths.

GOD IS BIG

Compared to God “the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales.” (Isaiah 40:15 ESV) In this season, the severity and reach of sickness is overwhelming. This pandemic feels like an uncontrollable beast, but God is bigger. When my efforts to protect myself and others are limited and limiting, God is bigger. I may be helpless, but I do not need to be hopeless. The grand God of the universe is bigger than I can fathom and he recognizes and cares for every speck of dust on the scale.

GOD IS MIGHTY

Not only is God big, but He is powerful.

“He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” Isaiah 40: 28 ESV

God knows what is happening in our world and He has authority over it. His comprehension far surpasses our capacity for wisdom. Although I try with all my might to control my circumstance, my strength and resources are quickly exhausted. I can responsibly navigate this season, but I cannot control it. Fortunately, God is all-powerful and has the ability to change the chaos around me. I may not understand what is happening, but God has a plan.

GOD IS GOOD

God’s size and power are intimidating and, quite frankly, terrifying if not for His goodness. His goodness makes Him trustworthy. And good He is. In Isaiah, God promises to “tend His flock like a Shepherd” and empower them.

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youth shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40: 29-31 ESV

Even when things seem like the worst case scenario, God can be trusted. The torture and murder of Jesus Christ was actually the defeat of death for all who choose to follow Him. God’s people had turned against Him and He had every right to abandon them. Instead, He chose to make a way for healing and hope. He kept His word even though the rebellious world broke its promise. If we believe in Him, this virus may steal our breath, but it cannot take our life. Jesus will return and restore this world. Understanding God’s character, I find the strength to relinquish my false sense of control. I find peace in His presence. It does not mean that sickness will cease or I relinquish my responsibility to the public. It means I can trust in God, who brought light to a world living in darkness and continues to see and act to bring life to those He created.


The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5 ESV

 

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