The art of stillness is not something I have to exhibit often. There’s just too much noise, far too many things going on. My natural ability to be calm has been at times severely impaired by my reality. The thought of laying down to rest and being still makes me laugh because it is something I cannot ever fully achieve, even when my health has plummeted. During those times the doctor has, a couple of times, seriously and firmly recommended I go home and rest in bed, as if that has ever been a realistic possibility in the last 8 years – five children live here!
However, I have come to learn that stillness has far less to do with my ability to rest when I am sick, or even my capacity to remain calm during that awful stint of madness at the end of the day that precedes bedtime, than with my ability to remain open and keep my eyes on Jesus. I feel challenged by God about what it actually means to be still and trust him.
I don’t regularly share this, I don’t hide it either but, I suffer from anxiety. This year I have suffered from a number of significant bouts that have threatened my peace and even impaired my ability to function. I feel even more aware that I have stepped out of my comfort zone more and more in spite of the very real war waged inside of my mind and body.
Exodus 14 is a story we all know: when God parted the Red Sea and saved the Israelites from certain death, Moses said, “The Lord himself will fight for you, just stay calm. Now who doesn’t know that whenever anyone is told to stay calm that usually the opposite occurs? (And for good reason too).
As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’” Exodus 14:10-12
I can totally relate to the Israelites who panicked when they looked up and saw chariots of Egyptians. Anxiety has often and at times felt like that for me. Like I am overtaken and there is no way out, or up from under it, but the truth is, just like the Israelites, I can react and get angry. I can stomp around and demand to know why, why me? Why can’t life be safe and cosy all the time, Why can’t I stay within my comfort zone? Or I can trust that God, who does not want for me to be a slave, will provide a way out. And provide a way out he does. It doesn’t mean I am void of all natural human reaction to the events in my life; I am the last person to minimise the harsh realities of suffering from anxiety but, my God who is patient and loving, always leads me out of it.
In Exodus 14:15, God said to Moses “why are you crying out to me? Tell the people to get moving!”. This highlights something so fundamentally true for me. Oftentimes we can stop still in our tracks, paralyzed by fear, stuck in the situation. And whilst I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t cry out to God, sometimes we have to speak to ourselves to keep ourselves alive, keep ourselves moving, keep trusting and bringing every thought captive under the obedience of Christ as in 2 Corinthians 10:5. What Moses did for the Israelites was raise his hand and staff and the waters parted, thus providing a way out. Of course, we know that the end was just as God had said: he led the Israelites out the other side and abolished the Egyptians.
The Israelites had a choice, they could stay and die or go out the way provided.
Even when we can’t see, feel or understand, God is fighting for us. Romans 8:34 says Jesus himself sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us. It’s not enough he went to the cross for us, no, his care for his children didn’t end there. He’s not up in heaven kicking back until he returns.
In the same way, God’s care and concern was for the Israelites. He used the Egyptians and Pharoah as a display of his glory (Exodus 14:17-18). There is always a purpose. God is always giving us a reason to strengthen our faith. How many of us have stories with unlikely outcomes? I know I sure have. Except for the very real power of Jesus Christ, I might not have walked out of addiction. I might not have overcome depression. I might not have had the courage to live through my life up until now. I might not have the courage to live without shame. I may never have stepped foot in church again, at all. The ways provided out were not always pretty, but they have lead me continually to the cross. Like the Israelites my unlikely story is continually unfolding and I will use my testimony to lead others to the truth of Jesus.
Living with anxiety has been debilitating at times but it has taught me to appreciate those times of calm. Instead of paying attention to the storm by being still eventually I can relax in the Lord. After all, He is in control. I remember the times that he has helped me, other believers, and people in scripture. And I stand on the promise that he will never leave me or forsake me.