Infected with Anxiety
Our pediatrician blesses my kids with decades of experience and friendly, grandfatherly care. When the kids sneeze in his presence he says with flourishing gestures in several languages, "God bless you!" All of a sudden seeing the doctor isn't so scary.
Wise doctors know that part of the job also includes counseling parents. On one particular visit, I asked the doctor about the kind of day he was having. His brow furrowed as he answered thoughtfully, "The most infectious disease I treated was maternal anxiety."
Symptoms and Diagnosis
The doctor's comment was a good reminder to me it's worth getting a check-up on my own maternal anxiety. It seems like everywhere a mom turns these days there is some piece of information–article, conversation, book, commercial– that is designed to incite fear in her heart. Some nightmare or day-mare that makes her heart pound. Some incident to make her nurturing instinct go into anxiety overdrive. Raising children in this fallen world can make a mom want to wrap her kids in bubblewrap and never leave the house!
In a lot of ways, anxiety does behave like a disease. Where the truth is suppressed and you're lacking spiritual nourishment, the conditions are ripe for anxiety to wreak havoc in your heart. Sometimes all it takes is glancing at a newspaper headline for anxiety to drive your heart to the edge of the cliffs of insanity and incite you to take a leap of unbelief without looking back. A friend confessed to me that one night she was so worried about her baby's teething pain that her anxious thoughts multiplied in her heart until she laid awake for hours after the child had drifted off to sleep, horrified by the thought that one day she may have to attend her child's funeral.It might sound extreme, but we can all relate to struggle to hold on to hope in the darkness.
Maternal anxiety is no laughing matter. Every mom knows that our world is rife with danger, evil, and death. Even our non believing friends know this. So we scan the shelf of options for an antidote. Personally, when I'm hit with a case of maternal anxiety I'm tempted to dull my anxious thoughts with distraction. If I am busy with other good things, then perhaps that looming challenge will just go away and I won't have to worry about it. When another friend is anxious she wants to go on a quest for omniscience to control the outcome through research. If she just knows enough about the circumstances and solutions, then perhaps she won't have to worry about it. Other remedies like eating, spending money, and giving in to bitterness promise us an easy fix. If we can dull our senses, buy some more stuff, or vent our anger, perhaps we won't have to worry about it.
The barrage of anxiety-inducing situations and thoughts is unremitting. Dangerous fear mongering builds up like plaque in an artery, further restricting the circulation of life-giving truth. Anxious thoughts multiply like bacteria in a petri dish.
What's a mother to do? Back and forth we go– "positive thinking" meets horrible, fallen world, and back again. Is there any end to this rocking chair of anxiety?
Beware the Anti-Gospel
"Worrying is just part of being a mom," is not a cute job description to stencil over your kitchen doorway. It is an anti-gospel. And we must preach the gospel to ourselves day-in and day-out to combat that lie. We have to get off of the maternal anxiety rocking chair. We do not belong there. We must fight to remember that Christ died and rose again so that the worst thing imaginable–eternal separation from God–would never be reality for those whose hope is in him.
When we remember that we have been rescued from a fate worse than death and we are always running headlong into future grace, our maternal anxiety gets put in its place. Even though situations arise where anxiety seems like the only available option because you can't understand what God is doing, by faith you can believe that he is always acting in accordance with his redeeming love. The worries that lurch your heart back and forth like a rocking chair lose their momentum in the face of this wondrous truth. In Christ, a mother's heart can rest. "In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety" (Psalm 4:8).
Herd Immunity for Maternal Anxiety
Anxiety can go viral in a community, but so can gospel-saturated hope. We have to remember this for ourselves and for our sisters in Christ when they are struggling. Christ is exalted as moms point other moms to the gospel. As moms, we can remind each other of the hope we have in Christ and we can use the gifts God has given us to build up the body of Christ. We can hold out God's Word to our sisters who are weakened by anxiety and anemic for the truth of God's Word.
I've been the beneficiary of this kind of nurturing. This morning a friend asked me over the phone, "How is your heart?" When I rehearsed my To-Worry-About List and concluded with the finale, "And I just don't see how this week is going to come together," she paraphrased 1 Peter 5:7: "Gloria, cast your cares on the Lord because he cares for you." Then she told me to text her a list of things she could pick up at the store for me on her way over for a visit later in the week. The truth of the gospel is universally applicable and immensely practical.
The Death of Maternal Anxiety
The gospel is true whether or not we feel like it at the moment. A day is coming (quickly!) when we will all be raised together to life everlasting in the new heavens and the new earth. Until then, we get to live out our identities as new creations in Christ, encourage one another to put our maternal anxiety rocking chair out by the curb, and walk by faithtogether.
Newspaper headlines, worrying conversations in the doctor's office, urgent "buy this and save yourself" commercials, the chances of tragic disasters in our communities... the list goes on. All of these things have several things in common, but there is one thing they have in common that they will not tell you. Every single uncertainty in this lifeserves to point us to this profound certainty: because of Christ we can rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:2).
By Gloria Furman
Originally published in Be Still Magazine, Issue 1.