The Language of Grace
One year ago I began experiencing some extremely challenging anxiety. I’ve always struggled with worry, situational insomnia, and difficulty turning my mind off. I’ve always been able to get myself back to a stable place.
But this was a whole new level.
It caught me completely by surprise, and my usual methods of grounding myself were not enough. This past year I have been doing the work to learn how to control the anxiety instead of letting it control me. And I’ve realized that through doing this, I am learning to speak the language of grace.
I shiver from the inside out; my limbs are tingly and weak. The breaths I take are shallow and rapid, and my chest feels like something is weighing on it, keeping my lungs from fully expanding. With shaky hands I firmly ask my three young kids to be quiet.
Mommy needs you to be very quiet and listen to the music now.
No talking please.
They comply. I turn on my song with the sweeping fiddle and the soothing voice of Allison Krause. Your grace provides for me, she quietly sings. I take out my frankincense oil and rub it in my palms. Cupping my hands over my mouth, I breathe in deeply like I was taught. I close my eyes, exhale, and let my breath and the fiddle slow my body and brain down. The kids are still quiet. They know. I tell myself that it is hard to get all three kids ready and out the door alone, it’s hard to tend to their needs when so much heaviness is upon my heart. I accept what is happening to me. I turn the key in the ignition and start down our road. This routine has become an almost weekly occurrence. The first time it happened I thought I was going to pass out, alone with my children. I had to call my family for help. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced.
At my church women’s group, anxiety seems to be a common theme. A couple of weeks ago nearly half our group asked for prayer for this. The more I have shared and asked for prayer and support for myself the more I hear me too. One woman told me she had anxiety when her kids were young like mine, with tears in her eyes, recalling how difficult it was. One woman said she has been having panic attacks off and on since adolescence. One woman said she feels like she can’t breathe just talking to me about her anxiety. Another tells me how her limbs get tingly like mine. Another says she wakes up in the middle of the night in a complete panic.
Is this just a random coincidence? I’ve been wondering. Is there some deeper sociological influence?
Or is it that no one feels comfortable talking about it?
I tend to think it’s the latter.
Nearly every woman I have talked with who has struggled, or is currently struggling with anxiety tells me about it in whispers, eyes down, with shame. Why is it that we are open to talking about back pain, a low functioning thyroid, high blood pressure, but we are ashamed of talking about our battered and bruised brains?
I have learned that not openly talking about it, stuffing it down, and pretending you are fine only encourages the anxiety to continue. I’ve learned that grace is the key to overcoming it. My counselor calls it mindfulness. She has taught me to accept it, voice it, and talk to myself with compassion when it hits.
I have three kids under the age of five.
I’m healing from some painful things.
I’m feeling anxious.
It’s ok that I’m feeling anxious.
Anyone in my shoes would feel anxious.
I’m doing the best I can.
I am not alone, God is with me.
Just this little bit of self talk can bring me back down to a semi normal state. I have been amazed at how simple it is. The simplest things are often the hardest to learn though, right?
A few weeks ago I was at a women’s retreat at the beach. I was with a small group out to lunch when my friend became frustrated over something and felt her anxiety symptoms come on. She verbalized that she was frustrated with herself for being frustrated about something so small. Our pastor’s wife (who speaks grace fluently) gently said, give yourself some grace. Later back in the car my friend explained how hearing that had really helped her calm down. We all had a good discussion about how we are too hard on ourselves, and how difficult it is to learn grace when it hasn’t always been modeled for us.
It’s not something we see in our culture. It’s not always present in our families or communities. We are taught to come down hard on ourselves, figure it out, pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps, solve our own problems, pretend that we are fine.
But that’s not the language of grace.
That’s doesn’t reflect my relationship with God.
God doesn’t communicate with me in that way.
Instead, God speaks gently to me, even when I mess up and especially when I’m struggling.
There was a period of time when I didn’t hear grace spoken from God because I was confused about how to have a relationship with Him. I was projecting my own image of who I thought He was back on to Him. It was only when I learned to be my true self with God -no pretending or justifying- that I began to hear and experience grace. God’s grace means that I am deeply known and accepted. Every personality flaw, negative attitude, mistake, and poor reaction is met with:
It’s ok Tara.
I can see why you think that.
I know why you reacted that way.
I know where that comes from.
I know who you are.
I made you.
Let’s try something else.
I will help you.
I love you.
That is the language of grace, of the Spirit at work, and it is what I am trying to learn. It’s present all throughout scripture. It is the upside down new way of living that has been given to us through Jesus, which our culture does not always understand and does not fluently speak.
I’m not usually one for silver linings. Sometimes things are just plain hard. But it has been a great gift to not only learn grace for myself, but teach it to my kids at the same time. When my son screws up big time, gets his Legos taken away, and finds himself worked up into such a massive crying fit that he can’t sleep, I work to speak grace to him. He sobs, I can’t stop crying. I don’t know how. I teach him how to breathe and help him think of something happy. I tell him that he made a mistake tonight but he can try again tomorrow and I give him a long hug. He is calm within minutes. The next morning I cup his face in my hands and tell him I love him and that last night was rough, but that God says each day is new. At a birthday party when his temper escalates over a specific cupcake that he didn’t get, I take him into the other room, hold him on my lap, tell him I understand how hard it is, and help him breathe until the emotions subside. He didn’t get the cupcake, but he got help and grace from me and is learning how to self soothe.
I am teaching him the language. We are learning together.
I don’t know how long this level of anxiety is going to be with me. I get so frustrated by it, wishing it would stop so I can get back to a place where I feel like I can manage life. But I know now that those kinds of thoughts are counterproductive. So I accept where I am, try be honest with myself and with others about it, and thank God for allowing me to learn His language through these trials. I learn it through singing hymns, writing little mantras on my chalkboard, sticking cue words on my refrigerator, and writing verses in my journal. I practice it by talking gently to myself, accepting what is, and slowing down so I can hear the Spirit speak grace to me.
Teach me your language, I pray. Tune my heart to sing thy grace.
I love Jesus. I think my two daughters can change the world. I think you can too.
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