You might be reading the title of this post and thinking no. There are NO benefits or perks or gifts to anxiety. It’s frustrating and limiting and sometimes debilitating, not a bringer of gifts. God tells us not to fear for a reason, because anxiety is just lousy.
Well, I agree with you. Mostly. But as I’ve aged, my perspective has changed, and I want to challenge you to find the blessings God sends even on the darkest of paths. Strangely, I found all three of these in James. Anxiety seems to produce a lot of attitudes that James felt God wanted to see in his people. How cool is that?
Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord
It’s James 4:10, and the King James version also been turned into a worship song (I’m sure some of you are humming it.) I believe the fight through anxiety breeds humility. There is a level of failure that comes with anxious thoughts, a constant need to stop, breathe, realign, and fall on God’s grace. It’s seldom, if ever, a one-and-done. It’s a journey, and it leads right into the heart of humility.
I am nothing without God. I fail even WITH God. But I know God cares and holds me whether I succeed or fail. Those thoughts can lead to humility and a caring, gentle patience with those around me. I fall on God because there is no other route through. My own mind sabotages me at every step, so it’s a good thing God asks me to see things through his lens, his mind, and not with my own damaged lens. And my knowledge that my lens is faulty keeps me from getting a big head.
Humility isn’t worthlessness
Right after I wrote this my pastor spoke on humility, and I think he said a few things that might help here. He suggested humility comes from a place of dignity. We choose to humble ourselves. We know our worth—and to God we are of great value—and we set aside that worth to focus outside ourselves. I think we anxious people can also set aside some of our fears when we look outside ourselves. Maybe this isn’t true for you, but the same outward focus that leads to humility can also distract a spinning mind from the internal ravages of anxiety. Anxiety can breed humility, but humility can also ease anxiety.
But the important part there is knowing your worth, and for many of us this is a problem. I said two paragraphs ago that I am nothing without God. Fortunately, I am NOT without God, and because of Him—his love, his sacrifice, his compassion—I am crazy valuable. And so are you, my anxious friends. That’s so easy to forget in the depth of the battles, but it is true.
With Him as our God, we are worthwhile and beautiful and valuable. And because we understand more than most our frailties without Him, we can set that value aside and look outside ourselves. Humility isn’t putting myself down. Humility is setting myself aside for the sake of someone else.
So, to cultivate this humility that anxiety breeds, strive to know your value. Look in the Word and discover what God says about who you are to Him. (I loved this article on the subject.) Knowing that I am a sinner saved by grace bought with a huge price—this is where to start. Knowing God has purposes just for me, even broken me, is another truth to remember.
Rewards… with anxiety?
James suggests God gives rewards for many of these actions. Humility, he says, is followed by God lifting you up. A few verses before this he says God shows favor to the humble. The entire passage deals with submission to God, and the promise is that when we lean into God, He will lean back to us. Our desire for closeness brings Him ever closer. Humility, focusing on what God wants from me and not what I want for myself, leads to a great and grand desire to be close to God.
I don’t want to experience anxiety. But I want to experience close, deep intimacy with God. Funny that the humility my failure produces leads me exactly where I want to go. God’s pretty canny that way.
Quick to listen, slow to speak
This time we go to James 1:19, where we are told to be quick to listen and slow to speak.
Okay, raise your hand if sometimes you hang back at a social gathering and listen. Some of us anxious people are the world’s best eavesdroppers. We care about people and want to be involved, but fear holds us back. So we sit on the fringes and soak up the truths of the people around us.
The result of that is that we learn to listen. Most anxious people I know are deeply insightful and thoughtful. They see deeply because they spend more time watching and observing than making themselves known. James is all for this.
We are good at hearing those who need to be heard. Take an extra step, friend, and engage. Wrap your arms around those who need held, and use your insight to offer comfort and encouragement. Find a setting you can handle—maybe one-on-one at a coffee shop, or a late-night conversation sitting on the edge of your child’s bed, or an early-morning conversation with your spouse while holding him or her close. Make safe places where those you love can talk, hear them, and then speak your insightful, thoughtful, careful, limited words into their hearts.
For some of us, this one is rough. That step from listening to speaking, from sitting back to engaging—oh, that one is so, so hard. Which is why I mentioned some of the venues above. Quiet, intimate venues. Venues that naturally occur, like time with a child or spouse.
I grew up in an era when there was a huge push for evangelizing strangers. And I admit I tend to think engaging strangers is somehow more godly than speaking into the hearts and souls of my people. As an anxious person, yes, I should be open to God’s call to speak to strangers. However, I have no doubt God is happy with the time I invest in those closer to home. If ever there is a situation where we are quick to listen and slow to speak, it’s when we have time for real, deep relationships, and that will happen with our closest people.
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial
We got this one. I already said healing the anxious soul isn’t a one-and-done. We wrestle and fail and succeed and then repeat. If anyone knows how to persevere in the face of trial, it’s someone who faces mental illness or chronic illness or anything else long term. Anxiety, I am sad to say, is often long term, but it produces endurance and perseverance. James, in 1: 12, says the reward for our hanging on is a crown of life. Anxiety can feel like death, so how wonderful that the reward for holding fast is life, certain and secure and eternal with no fears in sight.
I don’t always feel like I’m persevering. I feel like I’m stuck and failing. But anxiety is a trial. Paul said he had a thorn that he asked God to remove, and God said no. I don’t know what that trial was, but God said no, Paul needed humility and perseverance in ways only that trial could produce. I sure wish it wasn’t that way, but in the world of sin, growth and forward motion cannot be easy. So trust that even if you fail, the fact that you still open God’s word, still read blogs about loving God from the depths of that failure, still seek God’s people and God’s face and God’s healing, means you are persevering.
Lessons from both balance and imbalance
After writing this I looked up benefits of anxiety on the internet and found there are others, but always within a balanced life. A little anxiety is helpful in many ways—to motivate us, protect us, warn us, among others–but when it spirals, then it’s a problem. (Here’s a great article about some of these benefits.)
What I’m suggesting is that we can learn from the spirals. I hope one day to get to the place where the spirals and the clinical symptoms are gone. Until then, I hope I can use the experiences of my journey to grow toward God. He is an amazing God, able to use any experience I have, good and bad, to lead me closer and closer to his heart and further and further from the human weaknesses that plague me.
Have you experienced any benefits from anxiety? Or from any trial that you are praying to overcome? Go ahead and share your thoughts in the comments. I think on our worst days we need to hear positive stories about God using our weakness.