In serving others, one young woman learns to forget herself and her crippling anxiety
The conversation went a little something like this:
Me: (before mass) Lord, I desire to be your servant. But I am so broken and weak. How can I serve You without my anxiety getting in the way? How can I bring Your love to others when I am crippled with chronic fear?
Me: (during mass) Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. …
God: Can you repeat that part again? That part in the middle, there? Thy will be done.
Three and a half years ago, if you would have told me I would fly five hours solo, over 3,000 miles away from home, go on mission with absolutely no one I knew, and survive without one single anxiety attack, I probably would have collapsed on the floor and started balling my eyes out from pure gratitude. It’s an extremely dramatic thought, but it’s true. I would have been a mess.
Because the idea that I could not just survive but thrive with my newly diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder seemed nothing less than impossible.
I’m going to be very real with you. Anxiety sucks. It’s scary, crippling, heavy, hard to accept, and harder to bear. But there was a cross carried 2,000 years ago that was scarier, more crippling, heavier, harder to accept and even harder to bear. This is the cross Christ bore for me (and you). And it was with this that the Lord gave me strength to carry my own cross with love and apply for a trip I never thought I’d be capable of going on.
As I sat there, staring nervously at the FOCUS Missions home page, something occurred to me. I’ve never sweat blood. “How strange!” you say, “I do it all the time!” I know it sounds weird, but it’s true. However, at that moment I was so nervous that blood vessels were pushed through my pores by the sheer weight of the fear and anxiety my body was enduring.
“He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.” – Luke 22:44
Jesus Christ was and is not a stranger to my suffering. Not only had He undergone much more agony and pain than I ever have but He was there suffering with me. When we discover the existence of a God that plunges into the very depths of our anguish and takes on our suffering right there with us, this sacrificial, unconditional, monumental love cries out to be made known. It is a fruitful, life-giving, saving love. The only thing that makes sense is to share it.
In just a few short months, I found myself on my way to Alaska, “The Last Frontier.” It’s one of the last parts of this world considered true uncharted wilderness. As one of the Alaskans put it, it’s a place you have to choose to live in. It can be a very unforgiving environment, with harsh weather and strange lengths of daylight.
I would love to tell you our team spent 20 hours a day saving people from hypothermia, wrapping up frost bite wounds, and exercising our lumberjack skills on the nearest oak, but we didn’t do any of that.
The desolation we encountered wasn’t necessarily physical (being in Fairbanks, Alaska, which is more forgiving than other areas). It was spiritual.
One night, when we sat down as a team to share how we had seen God working in our day, a diocesan priest, Fr. Fred, joined us. He’s a jolly character and approaches daily life with such joy that I didn’t expect his sorrowful words.
What he said was this: The Diocese currently had 46 parishes and only 16 priests. This diocese makes up two thirds of Alaska and over half of the parishes are located in the “bush” (northern villages that can’t be accessed by road). Without enough spiritual food, the people were losing all sense of hope. My heart ached for them.
And then a thought occurred to me. The more I united myself with the people of Alaska in their suffering; the more grace the Lord gave me to hope – a severe, unrelenting hope. A hope that transcends all barriers. Even my anxiety.
In forgetting myself and seeking to share the cross of another, the weight of my own cross of anxiety became less.
When I stepped onto that plane to go to Alaska, I had still been struggling with worries and fears directed toward my own self. Will I have uncontrollable anxiety attacks? Will I have too much anxiety even be able to do what I was supposed to be doing? What if I spontaneously combust?
But none of that ever became real. When I stepped onto the plane to leave after the trip, my heart was consumed with love, by the acts of hoping and praying for the people of the Diocese of Fairbanks. My questions were now directed outward, instead of towards myself. And I had a newfound hope – Christ is faithful and love will always prevail.
And so, now what do we do?
We unclench our fists and open our hands to receive, so that we can give. Before Mary gave her “yes” to being the Mother of God, the angel Gabriel said “Do not be afraid.” Even Mary needed gentle reminders that there is no reason to fear what the Father has to give us. It is always given out of abundant love.
Are you being called by Christ to go on a mission trip? Bring your fears and anxieties to the foot of the cross. I think you’ll find your answer there.
Becca Kohl is a senior at Fort Hays State University in Kansas. This article and photo originally appeared on focus.org the website of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.