Everyone’s journey with anxiety is different and I do not wish in any way to trivialize anyone’s struggle, especially not my own. That said, I’m beginning to think my anxiety might have something to teach me.
Growing up in church culture, I often had catalogues of sins and “shalt nots” recited to me. Over time, I began to wonder why certain things were considered bad. While I am generally comfortable with a trustworthy authority giving me guidelines that I cannot yet completely understand, I still believe that Christian moral and ethical teachings ought to be what they are for a reason.
A lot of the things I questioned (or still question) can be sorted under the header “It’s not like I’m hurting anyone.” Why does the Bible tell me not to envy, for example? If I’ve resolved not to steal, why is envy wrong? What I’ve come to appreciate is that some seemingly innocent thoughts and actions can, in fact, be subtle acts of violence against one’s self. Envy is agitating and unpleasant. Envy creates dissatisfaction, whereas gratitude (both for what you have and who you are) fosters peace.
My experience of anxiety often leaves me stuck in memories of feeling humiliated. Subtle and unintentional things can really impact me, whether it’s the body language of a customer I’m serving, the well-meaning criticisms of an artistic director, or the subtlest nuance of a word that a friend uses in conversation. Other times, people are actually just jerks and actively trying to be rude. In any case, I can feel wounded for months or even years after.
And in comes the voice of Junior Asparagus saying “God wants me to forgive them!?!”
What I’ve learned through my anxiety is this: to not forgive is a subtle act of violence against the self. It goes without saying that forgiveness is usually very hard, but for me to willingly hold on to the ways people have hurt me is to limit and encumber myself. If I want to fully enjoy the present and be my most real and uninhibited self, I need to let go of the ways people have hurt me.
Grudges and revenge are re-active. Forgiveness is pro-active.
For some reason, there were several instances when I was a kid when I was taught how physical pain is essentially a good thing because it lets you know when something is wrong with your body. If you leave your hand on a hot stove and don’t feel pain, you’re not going to have a working hand pretty soon. As I struggle with my anxiety, I’m realizing that it can (sometimes) act as a kind of compass or alarm to tell me when I’m paying attention to unhelpful things or thinking in unhelpful ways. With forgiveness, I need to remind myself that my value and dignity comes from my creator, and not from the occasional acts of rude or absent-hearted people.
Like gratitude, forgiveness isn’t just an obligation to my neighbour, it’s a gift. And though it’s difficult, I will continue to work at it.
But seriously, I’m still really looking forward to the day that my anxiety goes jump in a lake.