I was encouraged this summer to consider the Fruit of the Spirit. Something most Christians are fairly familiar with. One of the truths charming children’s songs help us memorize at an early age.
Galatians 5:22-23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Peace with an anxiety disorder?
As I considered the scriptures I began to ponder how these fruit of the spirit may look different than we might think or have been taught. I mean, I look at my life with my anxiety disorder. How does God produce the fruit of peace while I have this illness? There are certainly times when the definition of peace, that is the “freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility”, does not resonate with what is going on inside of me. Dude! Sometimes the thought of taking my kids for well-child checkups at our family doctor creates quite the disturbance with my poor neurotransmitters! A storm of stress and fear inside me stirred from an extremely normal event. Does that mean that God’s Spirit is not producing things in me during those times?
I contend that it does not. And lest you think that I’m just working around to justify my anxiety, let me talk more about it.
Anxiety as training grounds
Hebrews 12 speaks to this. It talks about treating hardship as discipline. Not like punishment, but instead discipline that is crafting something better in us. Like giving your kids chores. While my kids might argue that chores are the worst kind of punishment, we don’t assign these tasks because of who they are (bad) but instead because of who I want them to be (responsible). Let me tell you, I don’t give my kids chores because it makes my life easier! I assign them the tasks of unloading the dishwasher and cleaning up after themselves because it develops them into people who realize their responsibility to do unpleasant things for the benefit of all around them. So they learn to take ownership of the regular tasks that have to be accomplished for life in a family to be successful. I’m not giving them chores as punishment; they are forced to do chores because I know it trains them to become a different sort of people.
This is how Hebrews 12:7 instructs us to look at hardships- as the discipline from a loving Father Who wants to develop something in us. This is what my anxiety disorder is- training from a loving Father Who knows what is needed to best accomplish His purposes. My periods of panic are not punishment for neglecting the command not be anxious about anything but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Phil 4: 6). Instead, they are an opportunity for God to train me. And what is He developing in me through it? Righteousness and peace (Heb 12:11). He is producing peace in me through my struggle with anxiety.
Peace in my storm
But how is peace displayed in me during this struggle? Partially by coming to peace with my disorder and being content with what God has for me to do. I recognize that I have anxiety and that I can’t live like I don’t have it. That means things like I can’t skip exercise for multiple days in a row. And that I really do have to go to sleep on time. I recognize I can’t “cheat” by stirring up my adrenaline to be able to accomplish things I don’t have energy for. And if I do something grand like driving solo with my four kids half-way across the country, it’s going to take a toll on me and I’ll have to put in concerted effort to recover from it. I exhibit peace by accepting that I cannot live in the same way that I did before this illness hit in earnest. Not being angry about it or denying it, but understanding that this is true for me.
I also exhibit the fruit of peace when I don’t worry about my anxiety. Sounds funny, right? But if you have an anxiety disorder, you know you worry about your anxiety. Thoughts like “will I always feel this way?” or “why can’t I just go to Wal-Mart like a normal person!” or even “what I am doing wrong that this is happening again?” This is what I can choose not to be anxious about but instead present it to God with thanksgiving. To find things to be praise Him for in my situation.
And let me tell you, that is only possible with God’s Spirit exhibiting Himself through me.