When a co-worker planned for us to attend a painting party, I had visions of becoming the female Bob Ross minus the perm. I thought, “I’ll get to hold one of those palates on my thumb, wear an apron, and paint with a knife. Maybe I’ll wear a beret. Real artists wear berets. Who am I kidding? I’m not buying a beret—that ridiculous.” The fact that we were painting “Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh was a bonus; impressionism is my favorite period of art. I was excited to create my own masterpiece.
Anxiety, however, had different plans.
The class began at 6:30, and–at 6:15–I was the first to arrive. It was just me and the woman that was leading the class. I stood there awkwardly fiddling with my collarbones while she got out the painting supplies, praying she wouldn’t try to make small talk…which she did. While she rattled through the requisite, “What’s your name? What do you do for a living?” etc., my brain frothed into a raging sea of “what ifs”
What if she asks a question I don’t know the answer to? What if she thinks I’m weird? What if none of my co-workers come, and I’m the only one? What if she says something about my weight? What if I say something stupid? What if..? My anxious brain was busy catastrophizing and creating scenarios that, in all likelihood, would never come to fruition. That’s how anxiety works; your brain spirals into the quicksand of worst-case-scenario, all-or-nothing, black and white thinking where anything that can go wrong, will. By the time I realize the thoughts are anxiety-driven, I’m so far into the anxiety rabbit hole that it takes a lot of concerted thought and fact checking to climb out of it.
Even after my co-workers arrived, I still couldn’t shake the dread. What if I can’t paint? What if I do it wrong? What if I get paint on my dress after she said it would never come out? What if my co-workers think my painting is awful? What if my painting truly is awful and I just wasted $40?
As we were painting, the anxiety rampage continued. I look to the paintings of my coworkers; my swirls are so much bigger than my neighbors’, how did they get theirs to look like the teacher’s, did I mix my colors correctly, am I using the right brush, what if I’m doing this wrong, why am I such a failure? I take a drink of my Moerlein –playing with the sticker on the bottle to distract me from my thoughts and my painting. I take a deep breath. The teacher instructs us to paint seven stars on our background, but my OCD demands that I paint eight. I make a mistake and want to start over; I want to give up because I can’t do it perfectly. Paralyzed by anxiety, it wins this round.
Looking back that the experience now, I can see that my art is unique to me and that it doesn’t matter what looks like. My anxiety didn’t make my painting any better but it certainly lessened my enjoyment of the painting party.
I see this pattern again and again in my life; letting anxiety rule my decisions, living life in a series of worst-case-scenario what ifs, and allowing automatic negative thoughts to overrun my thinking. This is not the life I want to live. This is not the life God intended me to live—despite the fact that He wired my brain to make anxiety a part of my brain. The most repeated phrase, in the Bible is, “Do not fear.” When God spoke to Moses in the desert, He didn’t say, “Oh, Moses, you’re freaking out? Cool, cool. Panic some more, catastrophize the situation until you’re too paralyzed to make a decision, and then I’ll see what I can do for you.”
And Jesus didn’t say, “Anxiety is awesome, y’all. Let us live our lives in constant fear of an imagined outcome that will likely never happen.” No! God does not want us to live our life in anxiety. He wants us to trust Him, grow in Him, and know that He has our lives planned perfectly in accordance to His will. He wants our trust in Him to replace the lies of anxiety. He wants us to use His Word to fight the voices of worry; secure in the knowledge that God has us in the palm of His hand. His grace covers our failures.
Through my thirty years of anxiety, I’ve learned more and more to depend on God to get me through those moments (or days or weeks) of anxiety. When my mind begins to spiral into the abyss of anxiety, I am able to go to God with my fears and what ifs. In this acknowledgement of my anxiety, He is able to calm me and abate the anxiety. This acknowledgment also reminds me to employ therapeutic strategies on my thoughts such as fact checking, reframing, and cognitive defusion. It has taken a lot of work and trust in the Lord to get where I am today—and I still struggle with anxiety. However, I know that I am able to overcome anxiety.
Below are some verses we can use in our times of anxiety to remind us of the Truth:
Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
“Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you.”
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
1 Chronicles 28:20b
“Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you”
“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.”
“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?”
“The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.”
“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.”
“Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found; surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”
“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.”
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”
“Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught because of what my enemy is saying, because of the threats of the wicked; for they bring down suffering on me and assail me in their anger.”
“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.”
“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”
“In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What can man do to me?”
“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent. “Because he[b] loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.
“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”
“They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.”
“When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; he brought me into a spacious place. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper.”
“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.”
“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense]; he has become my salvation.”
“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.”
Isaiah 41:10 and 13
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
“Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”
“Hear me, you who know what is right, you people who have taken my instruction to heart: Do not fear the reproach of mere mortals or be terrified by their insults.”
“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.”
“Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.”
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart”
“You came near when I called you, and you said, “Do not fear.” You, Lord, took up my case; you redeemed my life.”
“Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
“But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.””
“Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.””
“Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.””
“Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”
“But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.””
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
1 Corinthians 16:13-14
“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.”
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
2 Thessalonians 3:16
“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.”
2 Timothy 1:7
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline”
““Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”
1 Peter 5:6-7
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
My completed painting
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.