Anxiety likes to hang out in waiting rooms. If you’ve ever waited in a doctor’s office to hear the diagnosis, or in a surgical area to learn the results, or in a hospital room to get your pain meds, you know what I mean. Anxiety rumbles in the waiting room like tremors before an earthquake, unsettling our hearts and minds with its fearful imaginings. The good news of the gospel is that we have a powerful reason to “be anxious for nothing” (Phil. 4:6, NKJV) as we wait: the unshakeable God has a firm grip on us.
Our family’s season in the waiting room arrived, as many do, suddenly and without warning. One day in early August, our 22-year-old son had gone for a sinus CT-scan (Computerized Tomography) to explore the cause of his chronic congestion. That same day, we learned that my father-in-law would need open heart surgery. My husband flew to be with his parents. Shortly after 2:00 p.m., I received a text from my mother-in-law: my father-in-law’s surgery had gone well.
A few minutes later, I was in the car heading home when my husband called. I assumed he was just checking in, but his voice quaked when he asked, “Are you at home?”
“Almost,” I replied.
My husband is an orthopedic surgeon, rarely fazed by many things that frighten me. So when his voice quivered as he directed me, “Just call me when you get there,” it unnerved me. I could not understand; his mom had just texted me that his dad was fine, but my husband sounded like someone had died. I pulled the car over.
“But…your dad?? He’s okay!” I insisted. Then anxiety began its slow crawl up my heart into my throat. My voice changed, coming out as a little girl’s whine, as I asked, “Is it one of the kids? What’s wrong? I’ve pulled over. You have to tell me.” There was a pause; then I heard a sob.
“The ENT called. They found something on [our son’s] CT. He has a…mass on his brain.”
The word mass filled the air with all the weight of its awful possibility. For one long moment, everything went still. Then panic assaulted me. My face went numb; adrenaline zinged through my body. A strange metal taste swirled in my mouth; my stomach wound itself into knots.
Denial quickly tried to push panic aside: “That can’t be. I just saw him. He’s fine. He has sinus congestion.” My husband gently instructed me to go home and take our son to the hospital, where they were going to do an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to get more information. And that’s when it arrived. A quiet, almost eerie peace. I wasn’t sure if this was shock or the surpassing peace of God, or both at once.
In the months to come, as our son faced surgery to remove what was believed to be a brain tumor, I would discover the peace that subdues panic. God knows our fearful hearts; the most often repeated command in the Bible is “do not be afraid.” In our season in the waiting room, these commands flowed through my anxious heart, soothing it like a cool stream on a desert-day. There was one verse, in particular, Isaiah 41:10 in The Message Bible, that spoke powerfully into my anguish:
“Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you” (Isa. 41:10, MSG).
This verse met my anxiety with God’s peace and hope.
Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God.
When we were waiting for our son to come out of an 8-12-hour brain surgery, there were sound reasons not to panic:
- The surgery was being performed at a major medical center.
- The neurosurgeon performing the surgery was a specialist in brain tumors.
Sometimes, though, all the logic and human reason in the world aren’t enough to calm our anxiety. God gives us a more profound reason not to panic:
“I am with you.” The One who is with us is the Lord who not only created the universe but who continues to rule the entire cosmos. He knows the number of hairs on our son’s head, and he knows exactly how to minister to our son when his head is shaved. There’s no need to fear because our God is not a “no-god,” carved from “a block of wood” (Isa. 44:13, MSG). Our God is “the only true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King” (Jer. 10:10, NLT).
I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you.
Anxiety makes us go weak in the knees, soft in the head. Sometimes well-meaning people try to encourage the anxious by telling us we are strong. “You’ve got this,” they say. When we are waiting anxiously, such words fall fallow on our hearts. They have no power, because we know we’re not strong.
What we need is a powerful God who has the ability to help us. The God who promises to strengthen and help us is the same God who sets the boundaries of the sea and tells the sun when to rise (Job 38:11-12). The God who promises to strengthen and help us is the same God who conquered death on the cross and raised Jesus from the dead (1 Cor. 6:14).
I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.
Anxiety makes us shake, rattle, and roll, and not in a good way! The God who holds us steady is the one whose steadfast love never ends (Lam. 3:22). The God who keeps a firm grip on us is the One whose “mighty works” and “abundant goodness” prove his righteousness (Ps. 145:4-7, ESV).
To fully understand how God’s steady grip on us brings peace and confidence when our natural tendency is to feel anxious, consider this scenario. Many years ago, there was a balance beam at our nearby playground. It was about the size of a telephone pole and stood around three feet off the ground. One day, my friend’s 5-year-old daughter had seen my 7-year-old daughter walk across, and she really wanted to try it, but she was a little afraid. My friend’s 3-year-old brother tried to encourage her, “Don’t worry, I’ll hold your hand.” Somehow, the 5-year-old didn’t find that very reassuring. When her mother, a tall, fit woman, promised, “I’ll walk right beside you and hold your arm really tight. I won’t let you fall,” the little girl gained confidence. Her fear faded, and with her mom’s steadying assistance, she slowly made her way across.
In the same way, our anxiety fades as we remember that the One who holds us does not quake, shake or tremble. Our firmly fixed Lord, our gracious and powerful Father, has an unflinching grip on us. This is the God who replaces panic with peace.
The mass was removed from our son’s brain, and it proved to be non-cancerous. Because of a post-op wound infection, our son faces one more surgery, this time to place a synthetic bone in his skull. Anxiety still rumbles, threatening to throw us off balance with its unwieldy “what-ifs.” The voice of God, powerful and compassionate, calms us, reminding us not to panic, assuring us that we have every good reason to “be anxious for nothing” as we wait.