It seems to happen when I’m just minding my own business in the mundanity of life: you know, driving on the highway with some head-nod worthy music streaming through the speakers, brushing my teeth while inspecting the wrinkle that wasn’t there yesterday, or pulling hot sweet potatoes out of the oven just picturing that slice of butter melting on the fluffy middle.
I don’t think it ever happens when I’m doing the big stuff, like in a coaching session, speaking engagement, or meeting. Nope, it always happens when I’m alone and engaged in a starkly ordinary part of the day. Come to think of it, it also happens when I’m “doing just fine;" when I’m neither high nor low, not contemplative, nor excited.
I hesitate to give “it” a name because “smear,” “taunt,” “lie,” or “jeer” doesn’t fully capture its intentional duplicity. “Scheme” seems too clinical. “Violation” comes closer to reflecting those moments when my thoughts are pierced with a memory or intruding thought that begs shame or fear to follow. “Sneak attack” is valid because there I am, just minding my own business when the violation occurs. My breath catches in my throat, my heart starts pounding, my cheeks burn with shame, and I’m physically weakened by a sinking feeling in my gut. “It” is when the enemy attempts to violate my safety and peace by way of a sneak attack, a.k.a. when I least expect it and with weapons tailor-made for me.
It’s been almost a decade since my first battle with “it;” certainly not the first to occur, but the first that I clearly recognized as spiritual warfare through the medium of my thoughts. Ironically, that months-long thought war was waged as I practiced as a Clinical Psychologist in a system that had given “it” a name: Anxiety.
When I wasn’t doing therapy, I was alone. As a fledgling practitioner, I couldn’t yet budget for administrative or other support. I found myself doing the work, continuing education so I could keep doing the work, insurance billing and collections, website creation and maintenance, marketing, networking, and, of course, answering the phone and scheduling clients. Because my office and home shared a roof, I “gained” time by eliminating a commute, but the weight of it all began to wear on me.
One evening, I left the house/office just to take a drive and grab take-out for dinner. Walking across the street to my car with my head hung low, I murmured, “God, how long am I going to have to do this alone?” That moment may have been a catalyst for the war with anxiety I was about to wage, although I cannot say so with certainty. It was, however, after this confession of feeling so alone that “it” started to happen when I was alone.
At first, “it” was an attack on my competency and professionalism. Thoughts like, “You’re a fraud,” “You’re going to be found out,” and “Your mistakes aren’t mistakes, they’re malicious wrongdoings;” they tumbled into my mind like projectiles, one after another, leaving no room for recovery. Notably, not one of the thoughts had merit, but that didn’t stop them from producing fear.
Soon after, the thoughts morphed into an attack on my status as a secured child of God, namely that I wasn’t saved, I just thought I was. There were more uninvited, hideous thoughts that appeared: “You’re a fake. You might even be an ‘angel of light’ that the bible talks about;” “You’ve gone too far, God can’t forgive that. Well, He can but He’s fresh out of grace for you;” and, “You feel alone because God left you.”
Anxiety, or any thought war, takes shape in (1) moments of vulnerability, and (2) nuggets of truth.
Single, childless, and petless; if I wasn’t at work or socializing with others, I was alone. Perhaps that sounds like heaven to you. It can be, yes, but not when the enemy spits arrows of shame and fear at you, with no end in sight. At least when I was working, my mind was tied up, unavailable to the assault. When there’s nobody around, however, there’s also nobody there to “protect” you from the torment simply by giving you an alternative point of focus. Being alone was my vulnerability. My confession that I felt alone was like a flare to the enemy to strike me when I was.
My professional license to practice depended on my adherence to completing continuing education courses, compliance with board regulations and HIPAA guidelines, not to mention state and local business operations standards of practice. “It” started out as a nugget of truth: Oh, wait, did I get all my CEs done? Oh no, I forgot to file my business license on time, now I’ll have to pay a fee. These were legitimate concerns, and because I was so overwhelmed with operating a business alone, that was also the enemy’s point of entry.
Reflect on your personal experience of “it.” Where are you when it hits? What are you doing? Who are you with? Is there an identifiable pattern? Is it day or night? What are your own nuggets of truth? What and who are you responsible for? In what role do you feel the most vulnerable, inadequate, or cautious? Answering these questions leads to the alertness mentioned in I Peter 5:8. You must know your enemy, because he doesn’t show up in the same ways to all of us.
Check out part two of this blog where you’ll learn the second part of that 1 Peter passage: to resist the lie of anxiety and slay it with truth.
Dr. Sherri shares her gifts of compassion, learning, and truth-telling to inspire and equip women to thrive. She serves as a Thought Coach, Podcast Host of Thriving Thoughts with Dr. Sherri, Blogger and Creator of Thriving With Jesus, and Founder of Thriving Thoughts Global, a 501(c)3 dedicated to teaching women how to fortify their mental health and prevent mental ill-health. She loves to stay connected to the hearts of her fellow sisters. Follow her on Instagram @dr.sherrispeaks, Facebook @drsherriyoder and @sherri.yoder.3, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.