words of hope for anyone struggling with anxiety
Public speaking is often listed as people’s number one fear, even ahead of dying.
As Jerry Seinfeld famously said, that means that at a funeral, most people would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.
I can’t begin to tell you how true that has been for me in the past two years. Because of this blog — and my books — requests have come from conference and retreat organizers, asking if I speak at events. In fact, I do speak. But when I first started, every “yes” terrified me.
“Terrified?” a friend once asked me. “Are you serious? Because terrified is a really strong word!”
Yes, terrified. Before taking the stage during those first conferences, I would crouch in a quiet corner and rock back and forth, with wide eyes and shaking hands, while praying for the Second Coming to commence sometime in the next 3 1/2 minutes. Now, I just hide in a quiet corner — or a bathroom stall — while hoping that the microphone is turned to “mute” so the flushing toilets aren’t amplified across the auditorium.
(Ok, so, yeah. I’m also prone to a bit of exaggeration.)
But here’s the thing. The other day, as I was preparing for a speaking event, I noticed that I didn’t feel as jumpy and nervy as usual. I still had a little bit of anxiety, but my insides felt calmer than they used to. I no longer felt the need to use the word “terrified” to describe my state of being. Progress!
In that moment, I got to thinking that there will soon come a day when all of my anxiety will be gone. I will always feel relaxed, calm, cool, collected.
And then I heard these words inside of me, “No, Jennifer, you won’t feel that way. You will never feel completely relaxed when I ask you to speak about Me.”
It was the Spirit of God, speaking into my spirit.
God’s words weren’t a threat. They weren’t an accusation. They weren’t mean or nasty.
They were truth.
I felt an odd sense of freedom in hearing those words spoken into my spirit. You know why? Because I knew what it meant: I knew that my anxiety isn’t something that makes me a basket case; my anxiety — in healthy doses — keeps me wholly dependent on God instead of on myself. My anxiety reminds me that when I walk onto a stage, I do so in His strength, not in my own.
My anxiety is a gift, in a way, because it keeps me close to the Lord.
This morning, I looked up a few verses on anxiety and was especially struck by this one: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
If you struggle with a bit of anxiety, let those words fall afresh on you. Those verses aren’t condemnation. They aren’t accusation. They are an invitation!
God doesn’t tell you to ignore your anxiety. He doesn’t say there’s something wrong with you if you have anxiety. He is saying, simply, “Give it to me. Because I actually care about you.”
Yes, there’s such a thing as unhealthy anxiety, the kind where we may need professional help and extra spiritual support to overcome a very real burden. But there’s also healthy anxiety — the kind that keeps us closer to Jesus, dependent on Him. In those moments, your anxiety isn’t a flaw; it’s a footpath that leads straight to Jesus, who says, “Cast all your anxiety on me. I’ve got this.”
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When I began leading worship regularly, I would literally sweat out everything I was wearing and after our early Sunday morning rehearsal you would find me airing out my pits in the bathroom, hoping and praying the evidence of my nervousness would be ‘dry’ by the time service started (and then it would happen all over again). this is the deal…I no longer exhibit my anxiety in such a physical manner anymore, but I know that a little bit of anxiety is a good thing because it creates a total dependence on my Savior to carry me through every Sunday–following him, hearing him, speaking his words over his people–and the Sundays I don’t feel that is my warning that I may be in an apathetic place or a prideful place and that is a place I don’t want to be. Thanks for the post reminding us that not all our negative emotions are bad, but that God can redeem them into something beautiful and good.
I am always nervous…nauseated…and quaking before teaching/speaking. I’ve decided that the day I am not is the day I need to stop standing in front of folks!
Yes! I remember [like 100 years ago] when I was in college my drama professor telling us that nerves BEFORE performing was vital. Because if it didn’t hit you before, it’d hit you ON stage! And it’s true.
Now that I am older and a little bit wiser, I know that when I press into God before, during and after His message is heard loud and clear, both my me and those I am speaking too.
Thanks for sharing this Jennifer
Oh thank you Jennifer! The Lord sent this post to me today after my prayer time. Again praying for strength to get through another Friday evening. I am a women’s group leader and my anxiety starts on the drive to the hostess home and doesn’t end until after I return home that evening and even then I replay every thing I said and critique myself until the next morning. Being on edge, maybe the Lord keeps me this way so I do my best for Him. Holly
The timing of this couldn’t be better. I am literally shaking and crying over the dreaded task of driving into the city this weekend. I will keep in mind that verse and this post. Thank you.
I worry a lot as I grow older. Maybe because I’ve got more responsibilities and that the reality of life hits me harder now. This is such a beautiful reminder for me to just let go and let God.
It is an interesting thing…this speaking anxiety. I have spoken professionally for years…decades now. First in the medical arena, where if you can speak to a room full of physicans, you can speak to anyone. I was never nervous, never had anxiety because I knew that I knew more about my subject than the people to whom I was speaking. Even in the first seven years of ministry, speaking did not elicit anxiety. In the last couple of years, BAM, it has hit. Out of nowhere. You are right…it keeps me painfully aware of my own inadequacy and completely dependent on Jesus.
Casting anxiety in a positive light — that’s the ticket! Healthy anxiety does indeed keep us close to Jesus and dependent on him. It also reaps glorious rewards: heightened trust, cause for praise, and opportunity to witness miracles (like knees that stop shaking and words that flow from the Spirit–not from ourselves). Anxiety IS a footpath to experience more of Jesus! Thank you, Jennifer for another wise and insightful post.
Yeah, that’s one of the things I’m anxious about with this book thing. And yet, not as much as I expected because I do find it enjoyable to talk about things (and people) I’m passionate about. It’s just weird to be the interviewee and not the interviewer (which is one of my favorite things to do).
Yes. That’s it exactly. You know what? You should host a podcast, a masters of fine living podcast. You’d be brilliant.
Fine living, eh?
Tes! That’s the series of books that your book is in, right? Maybe I got the name wrong! Oops! 😁😜