A New Song

“How’s your health, Caitlin?”

This was a simple question from a caring Navigator staff woman, as we caught up during a wedding weekend in 2009. Suddenly, the room spun and I had trouble breathing. Heart racing, I lay down on her couch and tried to compose myself. What in the world just happened?

I was a first-year Nav rep, considered “fully trained,” serving with the collegiate mission. I guess I’ve always been a little high-strung and nervous. My EDGE teammates lovingly mimicked me as the neurotic squirrel from the movie Ice Age. But I didn’t think much of it. My life was full, and ministry was flourishing. That moment in 2009 brought the first hint of something wrong.

From there, though, things quickly got worse. I had trouble sleeping. I was physically in bed for 7 or 8 hours a night, but I felt aware the whole time. My dreams were interestingly vivid. When I woke, such energy pumped in my chest, I felt I could run a marathon—and I HATE to run! I couldn’t relax in the evening or take time off on the weekends. Watching TV made me anxious.

I compensated by constantly busying myself… anything to distract from the gnawing uncertainty that always lurked beneath the surface. Waves of panic started washing in, leaving me paralyzed. Eventually, I couldn’t be alone for even a few minutes without slipping into these waves. I couldn’t just snap out of them myself by reading my Bible or praying. I felt out of control.

When my campus director referred me to PRT for help and evaluation, my counselors there were very concerned with my high levels of anxiety. They suggested I see a psychiatrist. I hated the idea. I felt like a failure and was overcome with shame. How could this happen to me, a Nav rep? I was supposed to be the “spiritual” one who had it all together. Instead, I found myself sitting in a mental hospital straight out of a movie set, complete with creepy wrought iron gates that keep people IN!

My psychiatrist diagnosed me with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and depression, and prescribed medication that helped me sleep at night. I continued meeting with PRT to explore the roots of my anxiety. Inner healing prayer ministered deeply to me, and cognitive therapies challenged my distorted perceptions with reality. I also learned practical breathing exercises for when I felt a wave of panic coming. What a relief! It felt great to gain some help and tools to begin over-coming anxiety, rather than being ruled by it. Slowly and gently, the Lord “lifted me out of the slimy pit… and gave me a firm place to stand” (Ps. 40:2).

It’s been about 7 years since that dark season, and I’m amazed at God’s provision and presence through that time. I’d love to say my anxiety has gone away completely. But the reality is that although it’s been dramatically reduced, it might always be in my life to some degree.

Is anxiety a sin I need to repent of and “just stop”? Or is it a neurological, genetic condition, a result of the fall that I can’t help? I wrestled with that tension for years, and sometimes I still do. But one day it hit me that in either case, Jesus paid for my anxiety on the cross. Focusing on its origins leaves me frustrated and hopeless. But focusing on my primary identity as His beloved—who happens to struggle with anxiety—frees me to be strong in the battle. The joyful is that I’m not defined by my anxiety. I’m no longer a slave to fear, and my new nature is more powerful than my flesh (Rom 8).

Maybe someday I’ll be able to fully embrace my anxiety, invite Jesus into it, and watch it take me to new places of intimacy with Him. Already, I see our redeemer God using my journey for good. I now have the privilege of ministering with PRT, helping our staff with an issue I understand from the inside out. Self-reported anxiety is on the rise in this country, especially among millennials, and this includes Nav staff. Many are confused, having never heard Christians talk openly about anxiety. They feel the same shame I did, battle the same shame I did, battle the same tensions, and ask the same questions. It’s a joy to help them experience the hope and healing of the Gospel in the inmost places of their lives so they can serve in the outmost places of the earth.

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.” Psalm 40:1-3 (NIV)

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