I’m going to confess something to you all…since we’re friends here.
I struggle with anxiety. Not the cute romanticized version of anxiety where sometimes I get scared. Oh no. The crying, heart racing, shaking, I-want-to-pass-out-and-I-feel-like-I’m-going-to-die-please-take-me-away-from-here anxiety.
A Christian who reads her bible, sings worship songs, and goes to church struggles with anxiety. I know the scriptures that remind us that, “Perfect love casts out all fear.” And God is Love. I know there is nothing to fear, because He has overcome the world. One of my favorite passages of scripture is Psalm 27, where the first verse speaks about not being fearful and trusting God. I can even logically explain away most of my fears.
But, sometimes, it hits me like a truck barreling through a red light at 90 miles per hour. And I don’t see it coming. I have no time to hit the brakes or get out of the way. Sometimes, there’s just no way to prepare for it.
I’ve spent many days staring at a building, wishing I could go in, but instead I stay frozen, paralyzed by a fear I can’t name. I’ve spent many days crying, begging myself to get over it because life can’t stop. But in those moments, I can’t seem to even open my car door.
Some people would tell me it’s a lack of faith. That I don’t believe God will do what He says He will. That I’m choosing not to trust in the God who has proved Himself faithful and strong in the past. Some days I agree with them. I end up criticizing myself so deeply, that I find myself questioning if I’m even a believer. I’ve told myself that if I truly believed God, I wouldn’t wrestle in this way.
Others, would like me to wrap myself in a blanket of victimization and say that this is hopeless and meaningless, and that I should make myself comfortable in my suffering because this is never going to get better. Sometimes, I join this chorus, and I’d like to curl up into my blankets to weep over my plight. “Eh, so you peaked at 18. Just stay in bed and suffer…nothing else good can happen anyways. Anxiety will always ruin it.”
On the in between days, when I’m simply living life, I question God honestly, “Lord, I read Your word. I believe Your word. I love to worship You. I love Your people. Why am I plagued with this? I’ve done what I know to do. Why do you allow this?”
In the midst of my questioning, my mother shared one of my most favorite quotes with me. It’s by Charles Spurgeon, and it says, “I have learned to kiss the waves, that throw me against the Rock of Ages.” I’ve loved that quote, and thought of it many times in my struggle as I’ve prayed that the Lord would just use this battle for His glory. That maybe, just maybe, I could see more of Him because of it.
Last summer, on a family vacation to the Oregon Coast, I went to a small cove made up of cliffs and all things lovely. When the tide is out there are tide pools galore, but when it’s high tide the waves crash loud and hard against the cliffs of rock, barnacles, and mussels. We went during high tide and I climbed up onto the cliff that was absolutely covered in barnacles and sharp rocks. It was here that I chose to crouch down and watched the bluish-grey, and green water slam into the cliffs over and over again. I was mesmerized by them. Morbidly, I imagined what it would feel like to fall in. The feeling of freedom as you fall would be short-lived. One can only imagine the sheer agony of being slammed against the jagged rocks and barnacles. I watched as the waves didn’t just gently kiss the rocks like they did the sand on the shore. Oh, no. These waves were angry. They beat the rocks with cold fists of fury.
I felt the weight of this as the Lord reminded me of the quote, “I’ve learned to kiss the waves that throw me against the Rock of Ages.”
How could anyone kiss the waves after being thrown against these rocks? How could anyone learn to love something that has caused so much pain?
Frustrated by my own questions, I moved on from my place on the rock. I rounded the corner, and climbed down and into the cove where I was met with more massive cliffs. Only, these ones had caves that had been carved into them after years of the ocean beating into the rock. Some of the caves were huge, some of them were only big enough for one person. But each one provided warmth, shelter, and rest when the ocean was just too powerful. They provide a break from the heaviness of the ocean. They don’t take away the power of the ocean. They don’t make the ocean disappear. But they provide rest for when the wind and waves feel unbearable. I walked into a cave for shelter and gazed at the ocean before me. In the quiet, I let the quote wash over me again:
“I’ve learned to kiss the waves that throw me against the Rock of Ages.”
Everyone wrestles with an “ocean,” at least once in their life. Maybe even more than once, and for years. Others, live on the ocean. It can feel like we’re drowning, like we can’t get our heads above the waves.
In some seasons, the waves immediately push us into the cleft where it’s safe, and that’s a beautiful thing.
But, maybe the sea is raging, and we begin to find ourselves pushed into the “Rock,” only this time, it doesn’t feel safe like the ones before. This Rock isn’t soft and gentle. It actually cuts and breaks parts of us. Maybe a rib, or an arm. A leg. It genuinely hurts us…and of course it does. Because suffering is painful. Being stripped of our flesh hurts deeply. But if we wait, and endure that which feels like death, we may find ourselves pushed into the safety of the cleft where we can find rest in the Rock of Ages. We may grow to find a deeper intimacy with Him that we’d not known before. We may see that the suffering wasn’t worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed. (Romans 8:18.)
The Rock of Ages is both just and loving. There will be seasons when we are pushed into the safety of His hand, and there will be seasons when he allows suffering to help shape and mold us.
So maybe now you’re asking, “Okay, Alyssa…but what does this have to do with your anxiety?”
Anxiety is my “ocean.” It is unpredictable. It is beyond my complete control. It is bigger and stronger than I am. I can manage it better. Keeping my eyes heavenward makes the ocean easier to survive. When my eyes are on Jesus, or the heavens where He sits enthroned above all, I can stay alive. Sometimes, my anxiety and I coexist.
Or, when I’m sure it’s going to drown me and kill me, instead, I find it pushing me into the safety of Jesus’ arms, or the clefts within the Rock.
And yet, even still, sometimes my anxiety pushes me into the jagged rocks. My anxiety throws me against it so that I have nowhere else to look but Him, and cry out. Here, my flesh is slowly stripped away to create a new person. Always for my good. Always for His glory.
Anxiety and mental health issues are complicated. It is frustrating to the one who struggles with it, and to those they love. There are people that I love deeply who struggle with deeper wounds, and bigger oceans. I often wish I could reach to them, and pull them out. But I cannot. And they cannot pull me out of mine. It feels unfair. It’s painful and confusing. I won’t try to convince you otherwise. I’m no fool. This pain is real. These struggles exist.
But I will say this: It isn’t meaningless. It’s producing beautiful fruit. My struggle with anxiety allows me to know Jesus in a deeply intimate way, that those who don’t struggle with anxiety won’t get to experience. My friends and family struggle in other areas that I do not, and they will know Jesus in an intimate way that I may never experience.
Maybe this is you too. Perhaps, you have an “ocean” and you’re questioning God. But I promise it is worth it. Every ounce of physical and spiritual pain, and exhaustion is worth it. Because I know, like Paul, that for those that are in Christ, “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us,” (Romans 8:18.)
Let the “ocean” do the job it has been allowed to do. Let it push you into Jesus…both His suffering and His rest. There you will find contentment, and dare I say, joy. Our peace isn’t found in our ability to withstand the ocean. It’s bigger than us. We cannot withstand it. If not for Jesus, it would consume us. We must find peace in the knowledge that it is Christ who works through it, so that we might know Him deeper.
So, I have learned, and am learning, to kiss the waves, that throw me against the Rock of Ages. I pray you join me.
“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down but not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus Christ, so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.”
2 Corinthians 4:8-10