You Don’t Have To Live Like This

I wore my anxiety like a blanket in summer.  Hot.  Scratchy.  Suffocating.  I couldn’t take it off.  It made me feel uncomfortable, restless, trapped.

And I didn’t even realize it.

Until she asked me: “Mommy, why are you wearing your nervous face?”  The question stunned me. Was I?  I guess I was.  Why?  I didn’t know. But I hated that she had to ask.  “I’ll try to do better,” I promised her, forcing a smile.  

I was talking with a friend a few weeks ago about anxiety.  She said she suspected anxiety is on the rise across the nation.  It was for her.  It was for me.  It was for several friends we could name.  I suspect she’s right – anxiety is on the rise.  In fact, research like this and this suggests that anxiety has been on the rise for decades (and, side note: we are not doing a great job of dealing with it).  Perhaps we are more anxious now than we’ve ever been.

So it’s not just me.  Hundreds of thousands of us are living under the curse of a hot, scratchy, suffocating blanket of anxiety.  Hundreds of thousands of us are wearing our nervous faces.  And it doesn’t matter how hard we try, we just can’t force a genuine, worry-free smile.

After my daughter asked about my “nervous face,” I tried to change.  Using sheer willpower I tried to not let the discomfort and foreboding and restlessness get in the way of being her mommy.  But a couple weeks later, sitting outside in the sun on an otherwise perfect day, the blanket of anxiety weighed heavily upon me and I couldn’t help but let it show.  So she asked: “Mommy, why are you wearing your nervous face again?”

God bless children for their honesty.  I had no idea how much the anxiety was taking over my life.  But my daughter would not let me ignore it any more.  She was God’s messenger who could see and say what no one else could: I had a problem.

So over the span of a couple weeks I prayed.  God, help me.  I don’t even know what to ask for, I just know I need to ask.

And then, in a moment of holy illumination came God’s gentle answer:You don’t have to live like this.”

Now that I am free from that hot, scratchy blanket of anxiety, when I look back on this moment I think “Duh!  Of course I don’t!”  But at the time, this was revolutionary.  Because when you are trapped under the weight of something oppressive it feels like you will be there forever.  It feels like this is who you are and there is no other way to be.

You don’t have to live like this.
Since that moment of inspiration, these words have surfaced in my heart time and time again.  They are the words I offer to myself when I feel stuck, when I feel down, when I feel hopeless.  They are the words I offer to you – you who are living under your own version of that hot, scratchy, uncomfortable blanket…

You don’t have to live like this.

They are the words I offer to our world.  In this time of increasing anxiety.  In this time of rapid change.  In this time of troubling headlines and threats of war. When we are grappling with the reality of sexual assault and harassment.  When there are 917 active hate groups in America, a number that has risen 50% since 2000 (yes, that much – see this).  When racial minorities are sick and tired of being sick and tired of the treatment they have received for hundreds of years.

We don’t have to live like this.

After that moment of inspiration, I plucked up the courage (with the help of my kind, compassionate husband) to call my doctor and get some help. And now I live free of that blanket of anxiety.  I am free to smile with my kids.  I am free to think clearly and hopefully.  I am free to write from my wounded, healing heart.  I am free to love and live and be who God made me to be.

All because I believed it when God said: “You don’t have to live like this.”  I believed it, and I leaned into it, and I did my part to make that proclamation a reality.

And I’ve learned that God’s whispered words in that moment of need are actually central to my faith. God doesn’t care only about the heavenly hereafter; God cares about creating a heavenly here and now. Being “born again” is not primarily about a future bliss, it’s about becoming a new person today so God can use you to save the world.  

God wants his people to help remove whatever hot, scratchy blankets of oppression are making life hell on earth. That’s what being a follower of Jesus is all about. 

So, I believe our world does not have to be this hate-infested, anxiety-ridden, harassment-poisoned, toxic place that it is for so many of us.  I believe God made us for more.  I believe God is working through you and me to make us into more.  So I am going to lean into that promise of God.  We don’t have to live like this.

And I am left wondering: What can I do to make a more beautiful world?

I don’t have the answer to that question.  Not for me, and not for you.  But I suspect it begins with offering our own stories.  Of heartache.  Of healing.  Of a sunrise after a very dark night.  

Then maybe – side by side – hand in hand – we can keep walking strong, keep asking for help, keep believing that we don’t have to live like this.  Then maybe we can keep naming what hurts, keep wrestling with that oppressive blanket, keep trusting that God is working through us to cure all that ails us. Then maybe we can see that it is still a beautiful world, despite all its anxiety and hate and toxicity.  It is still a beautiful world because people like you and me stubbornly refuse to let the brokenness convince us that we are permanently broken.  

It is still a beautiful world because of the innocent, childlike voices who say to us, “Why are you wearing your nervous face?” And because of God’s gentle, persistent, hope-filled reminder: You don’t have to live like this.  

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