The Power of Truth

“Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” -John 8:32

I am convinced that at the root of every anxiety is a lie. Lies are so powerful because they keep me in bondage. They tempt me to doubt who God is and what He says about me.

I find that especially when I’m tired or physically weak, the lies of the Enemy have more power in my life. During these times I need to be especially alert and aware of potentially dangerous thoughts that so easily creep into my mind.

I fear that God isn’t trustworthy.

I’m temped to believe that life is a series of disappointments and losses.

I question if this world is all there is.

I feel a need to manipulate and control situations in order to be safe.

I fear that I’m not enough.

I am convinced that I need to do more to earn the love of God.

I feel pressure to perform perfectly in order to be accepted.

It’s so easy to accept these lies from the enemy and allow them to take residence in my mind.

However, I also know from personal experience that the truth conquers every lie. The truth sets me free and brings light to every dark corner of my mind.

God brings the truth into my life in so many different ways— through His Word, a friend or mentor’s encouragement, an uplifting sermon or book, words prayed over me, or simply through time in the quiet listening to His voice. In these times I remember who God is and what He says about me.

I remember that God is trustworthy even when situations seem hopeless.

I am convinced that God is using every disappointment and loss to draw me closer to His heart.

I remember that the life I prize is coming. One day all things will be restored.

I know that I am safe simply resting in my Father’s love.

I am confident that I am more than enough.

I realize that there is nothing I could ever do to make God love me any more or any less.

I recognize that the opinion of man is insignificant compared to how God sees me.

Recently I started keeping a journal of the words and promises God has spoken to me. This includes Bible passages that have ministered to me, words and prayers that people have spoken over me, ideas from sermons and books that have resonated with my heart, and words that God has spoken to me during times of solitude. I try to read this list each morning when I wake up and each night before I go to bed. I can’t tell you how powerful this practice has been in reshaping my thought life.

Little by little, these truths are starting to seep into the deepest parts of my heart.

And the lies that have become ingrained in my mind have no choice but to flee.

The Present Moment

“We need to be fully aware and awake in the moment. Too much time in the past leads to depression: regrets, bad memories, shame, guilt, bitterness, old wounds— all that lies in the past. Too much time in the future leads to anxiety: what if that happens? What if this falls through? Fear. Worry. Concern. It’s all in the future.”

-John Mark Comer, My Name Is Hope 

This book has been so central in my healing journey. In My Name is Hope (highly recommend!), author and pastor John Mark Comer writes about anxiety and depression. One of my biggest takeaways was the importance of living in the present moment.

Now I do believe that it’s sometimes helpful to reflect on the past in order to learn, grow, and even heal from painful experiences.

However, I know from personal experience, that dwelling too deeply on the past can lead to persistent sadness and regret. I can waste precious time rehashing painful memories, analyzing past conversations with people, and regretting wasted moments and opportunities. The truth is that there’s nothing I can do to change the past. It has already happened. Therefore, all I can do is invite God into the pain of my past and choose not to let it define me.

The same thing is true about the future. On the one hand, it is important to consider the future and set goals and plans.

However, I know from personal experience that it’s easy to spend way too much time lost in future possibilities. I can always find something to worry about. And the truth is that most of the things that I worry about never even materialize. Even more importantly, I miss the beauty of the present moment because my mind is caught up in future moments.

Recently I’ve discovered several strategies for being fully present in the moment. The following are some ideas that are helpful to me:

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 mindfulness: This is a fun exercise for getting into the present moment. I discovered it by reading many online articles about fighting anxiety. Basically, I go through each of my 5 senses and notice what my body is experiencing. I call it “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 mindfulness” because I notice 5 things I see, 4 things I feel, 3 things I hear, 2 things I smell, and 1 thing I taste.

For example, right now I am sitting in my bedroom.

I see tiny rays of light coming through the partially closed window blinds, the soft glow of lamplight, my blue beta fish swimming in its tank, my waterfall photograph on the wall, and my tall, white bookshelf full of my favorite books.

feel the soft pillow behind my head, the cool comforter that I’m sitting on, the scratchy carpet beneath my feet, and the smooth keys on my laptop keyboard.

I hear the soft buzz of my box fan, the tumble of the clothes dryer, and the clicking of my laptop keyboard.

I smell the calming scent of lavender room spray and the subtle odor of sunscreen that I wore earlier today.

I taste cool, refreshing raspberry sorbet that I am eating as I write this blog post.

I love this exercise because it helps me to notice all of the things that are happening right around me and to thank God for them.

Exercise: Exercise always helps me get into the present moment. Although I’m not the most athletic person, I love running. When I run, I find myself focusing on my breathing and my running pace. This helps me to stay focused on the moment. I also am a major hiker. I love getting out in nature and experiencing the beauty of God’s creation. I find that I most readily embrace the present moment when I’m out exploring all of the sights and sounds of a new hiking trail.

Worship: I love listening to worship music. Especially when I’m feeling anxious and afraid, music always brings me into the present moment. Especially when I’m driving, I like to sing along to worship songs and really focus on what the words are saying. These are such peaceful times with the Lord, spending time in His presence.

Written or verbal prayer: As someone who struggles with anxiety, I find that my mind often wanders when I try to pray. Therefore writing prayers to God in my journal helps me to stay focused on my conversation with Him. Sometimes I find it even more helpful to actually speak my prayers out loud to God. When I’m driving in the car, sometimes I’ll simply talk to God out loud and process life with Him. It’s amazing how this helps me to stay focused and present with the Lord.

Silence and solitude: I’ve mentioned this before, but silence and solitude are such important practices in my life. In many ways, silence and solitude discipline my mind to stay present. When I remove all of the distraction and noise, I’m left with just myself and God. It’s then that I can most clearly hear His voice and experience His presence.

Intentional time with others: Although I’m an introvert, I love spending time with people, especially in one-on-one settings. I find that I most readily embrace the present moment when I’m face-to-face and communicating with someone I care about. Something I try to practice is intentional listening— seeking to hear what the other person is truly saying and feeling without just waiting to jump in with my own thoughts. It’s amazing how fully present I feel when I get outside of my own mental orbit and seek to truly understand what’s going on inside another person.

I’d love to hear from you! What are some strategies that you utilize to more fully engage in the present moment and experience God there?

The Next Step

As someone who struggles with anxiety, I regularly get overwhelmed with the big picture in life.  Especially in seasons of uncertainty, I find myself over analyzing and over thinking. Sometimes I feel paralyzed to take action because there are so many potential outcomes and possibilities.

Recently my pastor shared some simple advice that I can’t get out of my head:

“When you’re not sure what do next, simply obey the last thing God told you to do.”

What a simple but profound thought.

God doesn’t need me to analyze every possible outcome. He doesn’t want me to waste time worrying about the things I can’t control. Instead, He invites me to listen to His voice and simply obey the last thing He told me to do.

Sometimes trying to understand the big picture in life is just too much. And it causes me to become overwhelmed and weary. In times like these, God reminds me that He is God and I am not. He has the big picture of my life under control.

I don’t need to worry about the mountain that rises before me.

I simply need to take the next small step that is right in front of me.

Think on These Things

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

-Philippians 4:8

As someone who is no stranger to anxiety, I’ve discovered just how important it is to guard my mind.  I think that everyone struggles with negative thoughts from time to time. However, for people with anxiety, this battle can be especially intense.

In an earlier post, I wrote about strategies I use to fight the battle for my mind. In this post, I want to share some specific ways that God is teaching me to combat negative thoughts. 

Being wise about entertainment: The honest truth is that for much of my life I didn’t give enough thought to the media that I consumed. However, several years ago, the Lord challenged me that the TV and movies I watched were affecting me more than I realized. I asked God to make me more sensitive in this area and I quickly realized that most media focuses on things that are completely opposite of Philippians 4:8. Rather than filling my mind with lovely, pure, and peaceful things, I was consuming negativity, impurity, and anxiety. Now I’m not saying that I think that all movies and TV shows are evil. I think that film can be a powerful tool for conveying important stories and messages. However, I do believe that as Christians we need to be a lot more careful about what we’re consuming and the way that the things we watch affect our minds. Although, I definitely still watch movies and TV shows from time to time, I am much more careful about what I’m consuming. And this has done wonders for decreasing my anxiety.

Reading/listening to uplifting content: While I’ve found that many TV shows and movies are harmful to my thought life, there are other types of content that support good thoughts. I’ve always loved reading, especially books about faith, psychology, and personal development. Reading opens my minds to enriching ideas and perspectives which have such a positive impact on my life. The same is true about listening to podcasts and sermons. Over the past few years I’ve become a bit of a podcast junkie. 🙂 I always feel so encouraged and inspired by my favorite podcasts. I’ve found that this is a much more positive and productive way to spend my time than on other forms of media.

Limiting social media: I have such a love-hate relationship with social media. On the one hand, I love the way that it connects me to dear people in my life, especially people that live far away. At the same time, I’ve noticed that when I spend too much time online, I end up feeling discontent, self-critical, and restless. I think that for people who struggle with social anxiety, social media magnifies our sense of unworthiness. Seeing the “highlight reel” of everyone else’s lives quickly causes me to feel like not enough—not social enough, not pretty enough, not busy enough, not successful enough— and this is a very unhealthy place for me to dwell. Additionally, social media is such an inauthentic representation of reality. Social media fails to show the mundane, ordinary, and unexciting parts of life that we all experience. Therefore, I’ve realized that in seasons of anxiety, it’s helpful to limit my social media use or take a break completely. It’s amazing how much more peaceful and comfortable with myself I feel. And I also have more time and energy to invest in meaningful relationships with the people around me.

Spending time with uplifting people: This one is so important. As someone who tends to take on the feelings and emotions of others, I am very impacted by the people around me. Although I strongly value having ministry relationships in my life where I can pour into others, I’ve realized that it is vital to also prioritize mutual, life-giving relationships. I need time with gracious and compassionate friends who will listen and seek to understand. I need to be surrounded by people who are also pursuing peace and joy in their lives. Finding this balance is challenging, but so critical in maintaining a positive perspective.

Prioritizing beauty: Spending time in God’s creation does wonders for my anxiety. There’s something powerful about getting away from the day to day worries of life and soaking up the beauty that God has made. In these times I gain new perspective about the things I’m worried about. I also have such a profound sense of peace and rest. The same is true about listening to beautiful music, reading a well-written story, or watching a beloved movie. God’s world is overflowing with beauty and it is such a healing remedy for my mind.

Practicing gratitude: Although I mentioned this in an earlier post, I think it’s worth mentioning again. Having a daily (or at least weekly) practice of gratitude has revolutionized my thought life. It’s so much easier to focus on what is true and lovely when I’m operating out of a posture of thankfulness. It’s almost impossible to be self-critical or anxious when I’m thanking God for all that is good in the world.

Spending daily time with the Lord: This is by far the most important way that I combat negative thoughts. I believe that daily time with God is a necessity for all Christians. However, as someone who struggles with anxiety, solitude with the Lord is absolutely vital. In the quiet place, I remember who I am and how God sees me. I gain God’s big picture perspective on life and get out of my self-centered orbit. And my soul finds true rest. Honestly, in seasons of busyness and stress, daily time with God seems to be the first thing to go. However, I’m realizing that during these times, it is all the more essential! I am definitely still a work in progress on this one. However, I’m slowly discovering that daily time in prayer and in God’s Word radically transforms my thought life.

I’d love to hear from you! What are some practical ways that you fight negative thoughts?

Weakness

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

-2 Corinthians 2:9 & 10

I think that the reason I am so hesitant to share about my social anxiety is that it feels like the weakest thing about me. As humans, we prefer to share our strengths with others— the areas where we have things figured out. It’s so much harder to talk about areas of our life that are works in progress.

However, God has been showing me the power of embracing my weakness. I would rather Him use the strong areas of my life where I feel confident and able. However, I’m realizing that if I can fully embrace this part of my story, God can use it in the lives of others. Only by journeying through anxiety can I understand the anxiety that others experience.

Even more importantly, God has showed me that my social anxiety is actually in many ways a gift. It reminds me that I’m human and desperately need God’s help. My anxiety forces my normally independent and self-reliant self to depend on other people to help me.

Although I am confident that Jesus wants so much freedom for me (which I am starting to experience) I often wonder if anxiety may continue to be a struggle in my life. Like the Apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”, my anxiety is a constant reminder of my humanity and need.

Moreover, my anxiety is an opportunity for Christ’s power to be evident in my life.

I’m learning by experience that His strength is made perfect in my weakness.

The Battle of the Mind

“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”

-Romans 8: 5&6

This verse has had such an impact on me lately. Oh how I want a mind governed by the Spirit, filled with life and peace!

Since anxiety always begins in the mind, I think that as Christians we need to pay more attention to our thoughts. I once heard it said that our minds can be one of two things. The mind can be a Wild West where anything goes and criminal thoughts are allowed to enter and wreak havoc. Or it can be a Garden of Eden, disciplined by the Spirit and ruled by truth and peace.

This sounds ideal but in reality, a mind governed by the Spirit requires so much discipline and intentionality. I know from personal experience that controlling the mind is a battle that is not easily won! In this post, I want to share some practical ways that God has been helping me win the battle for my mind.

Questioning anxious thoughts: When I’m overcome with an anxious thought, I first try to carefully examine it. It’s almost like I’m putting my thoughts on trial to see if they actually hold up.

In her book How to be Yourself: Quiet your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety (highly recommend!), author Ellen Hendriksen suggests two important questions to ask oneself in an anxious moment:

  1. What is the worst that could happen? Although this might seems dramatic, sometimes playing out an anxious thought to its end is actually very helpful to me. It helps me to realize that no matter what happens, I’m going to be ok. As a Christian I can rest in the truth that no matter what happens, I always have Jesus and He is all I need. This may sound simplistic, but honestly this reminder is so important when I’m in the midst of anxiety.
  2. How would I cope? This question is equally important because it takes away feelings of powerlessness. I remember how much support and love I have in my life through dear friends, family, and especially my faith. Remembering my support system lessens the power of anxious thoughts and ideas.

Distinguishing truth from lies: There is so much power in identifying lies, many of which are the root of social anxiety. However, I’ve learned that I have to be close to the Lord in order to recognize lies from the Enemy. Only by spending time in God’s presence, reading His Word, and studying His character can I be equipped to identify thoughts that are harmful and untrue.

I’ve also realized that it’s not enough to simply identify lies. Victory comes through replacing those lies with truth. Sometimes I’ll keep a list on my mirror of truths from God’s Word. I will read them each morning as I’m getting ready for the day. In another season, God laid it on my heart to journal every scripture I could find about His love for me. This is something that I can go back to when I feel overcome with lies and need to remember the truth about myself. 

Healthy processing. I don’t think it’s every helpful to wallow in anxiety. However, I have found that healthy processing can be a good strategy for releasing anxious thoughts.

Journaling is one of my favorite tools. If I go to bed feeling overwhelmed with anxieties of the day, sometimes I’ll write an “offload list” in my journal. This is a place to write anything that I feel unsettled about that is absorbing my attention. Sometimes I’ll even draw a picture of a present next to each item as a visual reminder that I’m giving that anxiety to God and refusing to dwell on it any longer.

Sometimes processing with a friend or family member is also helpful. We aren’t meant to walk through challenges alone. Sometimes it’s so relieving to speak out the things that are swirling around in my mind. Additionally, I’ve found that someone coming from an outside perspective can more easily identify the lies that I’m accepting as truth.

Self compassion: I am a big fan of self compassion, but I don’t love the terminology. I think that a better term might be “God compassion”. When I’m in the midst of anxiety, I need to talk to myself kindly, treating myself with the compassion that God has for me.

As someone who is very self-critical, this is a challenging strategy to implement. Sometimes I find it helpful to imagine that a dear friend is experiencing the anxiety I’m facing. I then try to to talk to myself in the same way that I would talk to them— with grace, compassion, and validation of their feelings.  The following are helpful phrases to speak to myself:

“This is hard for you right now and that’s ok.”

“You’re feeling really anxious and that’s not a good way to feel.”

“This anxiety is going to pass.”

“You’ve been victorious over anxiety before and you can do it again.”

Gratitude: This is probably my favorite strategy for reclaiming my mind. In my opinion, gratitude is the most helpful remedy for critical, negative thoughts. A few years ago, I started documenting “evidences of grace” in my journal. My habit is to daily (or at least every few days) make a list of the places where I’ve seen God’s grace in my life. This could be anything from a warm cup of tea to a moment of connection with someone. This practice has been revolutionizing my mind. I am more aware of the beauty, gifts, and blessings in my life that I so easily miss. When my mind is filled with thankfulness and gratitude there is no room for anxieties and worries to enter.

The battle for the mind isn’t easy, but it’s so worth fighting. I don’t want you to think I have this figured out. The truth is that sometimes my mind still feels a lot more like a chaotic Wild West than a peaceful Garden of Eden. However, I no longer feel powerless when unruly thoughts enter my mind. I have tools that I can use to discipline my mind, allowing it to come under the government of the Spirit, not my flesh.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. How do you combat anxious thoughts in your life?