I’ve been debating about whether or not to write on this topic for months because I’m not an expert in the field of mental health or theology, but I am an expert in my own experience so I can at least write about that! I just finished reading a wonderful book about anxiety called “Raising Worry-Free Girls” by Sissy Goff which I would highly recommend to anyone who has struggled with anxiety or anyone that has kids.
I’ve never really considered myself a chronically anxious person. I’ve usually been able to sleep well, have faith in God, and feel like I’m usually level-headed. Until Oliver got leukemia. I felt like I was in fight-or-flight survival mode all through treatment. Doctors would tell us exactly what to do, exactly what appointments to go to, what medications to give. I was exhausted going through the motions of taking care of him and lost 17 pounds while living in Seattle because of the stress. Even then I never really felt chronic “anxiety.” Once we came home things changed though, especially when they told us there was a good chance Oliver could be relapsing. I worried that Eliza would go blind, that there would be no treatment options for Oliver, etc. I would wake up with nightmares that Oliver had died; sometimes I felt like it was difficult to take a full breath and felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. I was less kind to others when I was feeling this anxiety.
Ironically (divinely?) the Bible verse we chose for Oliver’s baby dedication way before he was diagnosed was Matthew 6:25-32:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
The thing is, fear and anxiety are NOT from God. The Bible says over and over again not to fear, not to worry. God fills us with peace, self-control, patience, and love. Go on social media for about 2 seconds and you see fear and anxiety everywhere. Conspiracy theories abound. People are putting way too much faith and trust in an incredibly broken political system. There are never-ending reasons to worry – we are in a world full of really scary broken things. BUT we have hope. We have hope for right now and we have hope for our future!
I went and saw a counselor (who I honestly felt like wasn’t 100% helpful…he seemed really flabbergasted by our family’s whole story and then told me I needed to spend more time being sad. I DO think that counseling would be really beneficial if you find the right personality fit and I’m sure I will seek out counseling again if Oliver does end up relapsing or we spend a significant amount of time inpatient again). One thing the counselor said that was helpful though was recognizing anxiety or anxious thoughts for what they were.
We made a few changes. Seth offered to take Oliver to his monthly cancer appointments instead of me since that massively helped. I also mentioned to a friend that someone told me that sugar causes cancer so I would worry and feel guilty that maybe I was causing Oliver to relapse. That friend called me out and said “that is NOT from God. If you think you can control what happens to Oliver, then you are living with the view that you are in control, not God.” She was totally right. It helps to constantly remind myself that God has all of Oliver’s days planned out already. Of course I will still take care of him to the best of my ability and feed him healthy foods, take him to his appointments, and make the healthiest choices possible for him. But I don’t want those feelings of guilt and anxiety to creep in, because they are not from God.
The thing is, by trusting God, I’m not saying that nothing bad will happen. I know it very well could, but I’m trusting that God controls the outcomes right now and in the future. It also doesn’t mean that I don’t deeply grieve for the bad things that happen in our world, of course I do. I will never be ok with kids (or anyone) getting cancer, injustice, racism, etc. but I will have deep peace while fighting for health, justice, and peace.
The book I mentioned at the beginning had a great quote:
“As believers, we often think life is a formula, that two plus two always equals four, that following Jesus equals happiness. I would love nothing more than for that to be the case. My life has hope because I follow Jesus. However, I don’t believe that makes my life happy. Or that the happiness stays for long. I don’t believe it’s what Jesus promised either. Two plus two sometimes equals five. Your spouse dies unexpectedly just when you’re starting a family. Your career never takes off in the way you imagine. Two kind parents don’t necessarily make for a kind, easy child. Still, I believe God never makes mistakes. There is good and life and light this side of heaven. And yes, there’s also trouble.” – Sissy Goff “Raising Worry Free Girls” p. 170Sissy Goff “Raising Worry Free Girls” p. 170
I’m not saying I will never worry or even that I don’t worry or. I have been able to have the feeling go away of an elephant sitting on my chest or thinking about what-ifs with Oliver as I’m falling asleep. I’m saying that I recognize my worry as not from God and if you are struggling with worry or anxiety, that isn’t the way our bodies or brains are meant to function. Recognize when your thoughts keep repeating what-ifs. Remember the many times we are told not to fear in the Bible. Sissy Goff’s book had some great anxiety-reducing strategies, reach out to a friend, or one of the many pastors and counselors out there that can help as well. Be kind and give grace to others because so many struggle.