Updated on April 14, 2016
The weight of anxiety is so heavy—much heavier in fact, than the weight of a gazillion stickers. Let me explain…
Circa 2000, the supermarket. While waiting for the endless line of groceries to move down the conveyer belt to be paid for and finally packaged, my two brothers and I grew restless and scoped out a place to sit—under the eye-catching display of crazy stickers, bouncy balls, and mini plastic animals—a feast for our eyes and almost too much for our little selves to handle.
We were more than happy to pass away the time beneath these see-thru treasure “boxes” that would dispense pure happiness for a mere 25 cents. While we sat, we laughed and chatted about nonsensical things, but to us, in that moment, we were engaged in the most important conversation in the world. Our blissful respite, however, was short-lived as stickers began flying in every direction. Any idea of a truly magical moment quickly dissipated as we realized the cause for the sudden “sticker storm.”
Much to our surprise, the sticker dispenser had fallen directly on my brother Matt, causing a blow to his head on the way to the ground. Still, to us, the flurry of brightly-colored cartoons and cheesy sayings created an atmosphere that even the loud metal thud of the heavy glass as it hit my brother’s skull couldn’t ruin. Thankfully, he emerged from the assault unscathed, laughing it off as no big deal. His reward was a massive bag of free stickers as compensation for any trauma he might have suffered from the accident.
Even then, at a young age, Matt could bear the weight…he always could. That is, until recently. Unlike gumball machine trinkets and treasures, and even the machines themselves, some things hit with a much greater force…such is the case with social anxiety.
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A few years ago during Thanksgiving dinner, at my prodding, each of the members of my family took a personality test. Matt’s test results indicated that he was the “caretaker.” I clearly remember how we all joked about it—yes, Matt is the one who breaks the awkward silence when no one is speaking…he is the one who broken people flock to…he is the one who attempts to rescue anyone drowning “emotionally;” he is the one who walks into a room and instantly changes the energy. And this, while one of Matt’s most endearing qualities, is also his biggest downfall.
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As author Anais Nin remarked,
“you cannot save people, you can only love them.”
Yes, we are all in need of a savior.
But no earthly person can fulfill that role.
Only Jesus can.
He already did.
We can only supplement what Christ has done by loving others.
And that needs to be enough.
But many times, the line between loving someone and saving someone is quite blurred.
So often, we think we are more powerful than we actually are. We begin to carry the burdens of others—burdens which we soon come to discover are actually boulders. In time, these boulders begin to consume and eventually crush us, as they slowly become our own.
Unfortunately, my brother is currently being crushed by such a boulder—a boulder masquerading behind the guise of guilt, fear, and anxiety. My caretaker brother is desperately trying to save someone in need of God’s loving embrace and all-encompassing love—someone suffering from a social anxiety disorder, a demon I know all too well.
I’ve said it before and it bears repeating—mental illness is real. Social anxiety is real. Please—if you are struggling with this demon, reach out, seek help. I know how negative thoughts can quickly become your reality as they cripple you and cause you to spend your life in fear – fear of rejection…fear of abandonment…fear of loneliness…fear of incompetency…fear of…
I know how living in the fear of never being enough can metamorphose you into an insecure, selfish, controlling, manipulative, and condescending person.
I know because I’ve seen it.
I know because I have become this person time and time again.
I have felt powerless and helpless.
I have felt alone and abandoned.
I have felt like I wasn’t enough.
I have desperately sought help from others…others who could never meet my expectations.
Yes, we were made for community. And yes, we all need help carrying the weight of our burdens (Galatians 6:2). However, having suffered from debilitating anxiety, I am too familiar with burdens that easily become boulders. I know how those who love you will do almost anything in an attempt to help you, including putting at risk their own emotional well-being. So many times their love and good intentions not only completely consume them in the process of offering salvation, but they also become a detriment to the recovery of the very person they are seeking to save (aka enabling).
And sadly, so many times, their efforts go unnoticed. Despite all the pain and anguish these “onlookers” go through, to the one suffering with anxiety, nothing is ever good enough; their cries for help turn into screaming matches with loved ones and an endless trail of tears.
There is no easy answer. Even for those fortunate enough to experience some relief with the aid of medication, there is no easy fix. Even therapy can’t necessarily fix sufferers. Recovery takes a willing spirit. Recovery takes an immense amount of work. Recovery takes a great deal of time. But most of all, recovery takes God – a lot of God. Recovery takes surrendering to a force greater than ourselves. Surrendering.
So, stop trying to save people…because sadly, you can’t. You weren’t meant to.
Instead, love them. Encourage them. Pray with and over them. Love them enough to love yourself and set healthy boundaries.
Matt, please, stop trying. You will never be able to win a war with anxiety. Despite your best caretaking…despite your love…despite your best efforts to carry the burdens of another, you’ll only fail until that person completely surrenders to God. Please don’t allow yourself to be crushed in the process.
Remember, only God saves.