What anxiety has taught me about myself

When I was a young girl, I remember standing in PE class next to my best friend. I just so happened to notice that her bare feet were white and slim and elegant and as I moved my eyes to my own feet, I was suddenly aware that mine were not. They were shorter, more square and less pale. At seven years old, I shifted my position to try and conceal the feet that I now thought were less than what they ought to be.

Now that I’m older, I don’t think too much about my feet. They do their job quite well, getting me from A to B. I have two of them, each with five toes and sometimes I like to put nail polish on them. I have dear friends who are anticipating with eagerness the day that they will walk on their two feet and that helps to bring perspective to my Grade One woes of not having a slim-enough foot.

I do however find that escaping the comparison trap is more challenging than it seems, even as an adult; even ‘knowing better’ than I did as a child. Comparison is not usually out and out with me. I don’t find myself cognitively saying, ‘oh look at her. She is such a good mother. I wish I could be like her.’ So often, comparison, with me, starts out as something good and pure; it’s an observation; the joy of seeing a human thriving and operating out of their gifts and talents with confidence. As I scroll the latest artwork of my favourite instagramming illustrators, or as I admire the outfit of a well-styled friend or the gentle way a family member nurtured her baby, I find myself in quiet awe. God is good and He has made Himself known to us through the gifts, blessings and gentle ways of our friends, family, and those we admire. Stopping here, would be good. Unfortunately I don’t always do what is good.

My admiration gradually (or quickly) turns into a standard. I find it difficult, as perhaps some of you do, to see the beauty of another without turning back to myself to see how I measure up.

Before I know it, I have subconsciously accumulated all the best attributes of all the most wonderful and diverse people in my life and turned them into a whole: a single image of perfection - or, an idol - that I think I need to attain.

Can you relate?

I can’t tell you how many hassled, hurried and guilt-led days I have experienced in my early (or not so early) motherhood that could have been avoided had I simply stopped at admiration. Instead, admiration if my friends turned to standard, standard turned to striving and striving, eventually sent me in tears to God, because I could never measure up to what I thought He expected of me.

Psalm 139:1-6 says,

‘O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me. It is high; I cannot attain it.’

In all of God’s rich understanding of me, I have so seldom understood myself; myself, that is, as I’ve been made to be. I am not the culmination of all the best attributes of those around me; I am not perfection. God is. The more I have laid burdens and ideals on myself that were not for me to carry or attain, the more anxiety I have created in my life and the poorer the blanket of grace has been to cover me from chin to toes. (I’m vaguely referencing a line from Dead Poet’s Society here, although perhaps a little out of context.

The point I’m making is this; there isn’t going to be grace or ease for a burden that I’m not supposed to carry and so long as I burn through my day with ideals that are not part of my design, the more mental, emotional and physical discomfort I’m going to experience.

Light-load living is accepting who you are; where you are at, today. It doesn’t shrug responsibility nor make excuses for poor choices. It takes the next step, but leans heavily on the Father. Light-load living doesn’t try to bench press 100kg when it hasn’t been to the gym since the birth of its firstborn ten years ago; it is comfortable to go for a long slow walk or dance like no one is looking. Light-load living is easy. It comes free and it comes as promptly as we are quick to lay down the comparison rod and take up acceptance; acceptance of who we are, where we have come from, where we are going and what unique and beautiful facet of God reveals itself through our individual expression of self.

Made in the image of God, but His hands. That’s me. Not the clumsy blind funblings if my hand as I seek to make an idol which can neither see nor hear nor help me in any way.

Anxiety has taught me to be kind to myself, as I would a friend, because I was not made for any less.

‘Search me [thoroughly], O God, and know my heart; Test me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.’ Psalm 139:23-24