About 18 months ago, I found myself feeling extra-ordinarily anxious. This wasn’t just the normal kind of anxiety that you might experience when you’re nervous about something. No, this was different. I’d never felt anything like this before in my life. Normal tasks caused me to be uptight. Little things became significant concerns. I was on edge. The curious thing was that if you’d seen me, you would never have known my struggle. I didn’t look the nervous type. But inside, this thing was a big deal.
One day, I went to see a doctor about it. This is not the kind of trip I’d normally take…call it ‘male pride’ if you will. But I was pretty desperate. Within five minutes, the young medic was able to identify what was going on. I’ll never forget the letters he uttered “P.T.S.D.” – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
See, earlier that summer, my wife became seriously ill after giving birth to our daughter. The two week hospital drama was an almost surreal experience. Every day during those 12 long nights, I was in ‘fight’ mode – I mean that in the best sense of the word. I was fighting in prayer. I was fighting the good fight of faith. I was fighting to support my wife. I was fighting to speak positively in the midst of the negative medical reports. Then after two weeks of ‘touch and go’, one day, the senior consultant expressed amazement at Lydia’s progress – and announced that she was free to go home. A week later, we moved into a new home (long story) with a three week old baby. All seemed well.
In the subsequent weeks, I threw myself into fatherhood duties and serving my church. Life was great. So much to do and to accomplish. But I hadn’t really taken the time to process the enormity of what had just happened during the summer. How could I? Life was moving at 1000 miles per hour. While my mind was more than delighted to move on, it was as if my body wasn’t so willing. There’s a really helpful book on the psychology of trauma called ‘The Body Remembers’ by Babette Rothschild – worth a read. But how are you meant to rest when you’re a new dad and you’re pastoring a growing church plus you’ve got a billion other responsibilities? The point is…these questions are an irrelevance as far as the body is concerned. If I didn’t take some time to stop, then the body would stop for me. It needed to recover from the ‘fight’. Thankfully, I was able to identify my issue just in time. I dread to think what might have occurred if I’d just ploughed on.
Over the next weeks and months, I found myself gradually getting better. Sometimes, the old anxieties returned with a vengeance and it felt like I was back to square one. But little by little and day by day, I got better. Even still, there are moments of inexplicable anxiety that I have to deal with. But I’m learning to lean into God like never before when these moments occur.
I’m no medical expert. However, the one thing I’ve found most helpful during this season has been perhaps the most underrated miracle cure in the world….R E S T. During those times of anxiety, I’ve learned to create time to rest – even moving my diary around so it can happen. It’s only when I’m well rested that I can manage the tension of worry and find perspective. I would go as far as to say that rest is a spiritual thing. Jesus himself invited us to rest when he said ‘Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you REST’ (Matthew 11:28).
Rest is an act of faith. It is not complacent – but is a statement of trust in God’s grace. Ultimately, this is the resting place of those who follow Christ.
If you find yourself struggling with worry, I want you to know that you’re not alone. Anxiety is no respecter of persons. No-matter how ‘strong’ you think you are, no-body is THAT strong. It’s in those times of struggle that we need to learn to lean in and make our resting place in God. He is our shelter. He is our fortress. His name is our strong tower. The Bible tells us that ‘The righteous run into it and they are safe’ (Prov 18:10). This has certainly been my experience. May it be yours too.