Grace Notes, By Nancy Kennedy
I suffer from a chronic disease and recently had a flare up, albeit a mild one.
I’m a hypochondriac, and in my case the disease manifests itself as anxiety. It started shortly after my husband had open-heart surgery six years ago this month. An elephant came and sat on my chest and refused to budge, and then strange, random twinges started twinge-ing and I could feel my heart beating, which is normally a good thing, except when I paid close attention to it, it would beat faster, which scared me, which made it beat even faster.
I started thinking that heart disease was contagious, which I know it’s not, but when anxiety attacks you tend not to be rational.
For me to calm down, it took several trips to several doctors who did tests and then told me that I was fine and I could not catch blocked arteries from my husband or anyone else, that it’s just anxiety and no one ever died from hypochondria.
After six years I’ve more or less gotten it under control, although I’m not completely cured. It lies dormant and every once in a while it flares up.
I’m not sure what triggers it. Stress, I suppose. Too much caffeine, not enough exercise. Mostly I think it happens when I realize I can’t control the universe.
Not that I want to control the entire universe, just a teeny portion of it. Just the part where I live.
I simply want to create more time in the day, less calories in the food, more bodies to share the load at work. I want to fix situations that can’t be fixed, heal the sick, empower the weak and abolish poverty.
Currently, I’m working on trying to move Hawaii into the Gulf of Mexico so when my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter relocate there in a few months they won’t be so far away.
However, I can’t do any of that, which makes me anxious and my hypochondria flares up.
The Bible says, “Be anxious for nothing,” but that’s God speaking and it’s easy for him to say that. He’s God and he knows what’s going on and I don’t. He can move Hawaii into the gulf and fix the unfixable, but he doesn’t seem to do that very much. That’s when I try to do it myself, which makes me anxious because, well, because my DIY efforts never work.
A few months ago I found a “Christianity Today” article about anxiety, which I printed out and stuck in a folder, knowing that it would come in handy one day. Like today when my anxiety level is rising.
The article posed the question: Can God use anxiety for good?
If God says, “Be anxious for nothing” and “Do not be afraid,” yet we are, and “Do not worry,” yet we do, is that sin? And if it is, and if God hates sin (which he does), how can he use it for good?
We all have “default mode” sin, those things that we keep returning to. For some it’s a substance — food, booze, a drug. For others it’s a habit, a thought pattern; it’s self-pity or self-reliance. It’s anxiety. It’s worry and fear.
How can any of that be good?
The answer is simple — it’s not good. But if we take our sin and run to Jesus with it, that’s when it’s good. When I say, “This is beyond me. This is killing me. I don’t know how to stop — or even if I want to stop,” that’s when the same God who says, “Be anxious for nothing” thankfully also says, “My grace is sufficient” and that he will never leave or forsake his own.
It feels like it sometimes, however, like when an elephant parks itself on your chest and you’re teetering on the brink of a full-blown panic attack or when you keep returning to the very thing you hate most.
But even then, hallelujah, God is there with grace sufficient, sufficient enough to calm the most restless heartbeat, strong enough to lift the fattest elephant from my chest, merciful enough to forgive the most gripping sin.
I am most anxious — and most prone to sin — when I forget that I am loved. It does no good to tell myself “just say no” to anxiety because that only makes it worse.
However, if I remind myself that God loves me, accepts me, cares deeply for me, has my best interest at heart, knows what’s best for me even if it’s opposite from what I think is best, then my anxiety subsides.
Same goes for other sins. It’s the safety of his love that sets me free.
And that’s good.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.