Kendra lived with anxiety for twenty-four years before she realized that fear had a consistent hold on her life. Her unnatural worries began as a child. “I just remember never being able to go to sleep and always asking my parents if I was safe–like, are you sure you locked all the doors? Check again. One more time. Being scared was my normal,” Kendra said.
Her sisters jokingly called her Piglet. She would cry over the smallest things, but so did every little kid, right? Kendra never questioned those sleepless nights or her crying fits or those insurmountable feelings of paralyzing worry. But the physical manifestations of her anxiety only grew stronger over time.
Kendra was eight years old when her family moved from Idaho to Washington. She had no friends at school and would make herself physically sick so she didn’t have to go. “I missed half of third grade because I was scared to meet new people, scared to fail in front of others.”
Kendra recounted other moments of terror in her past. She was in middle school and then high school, often going home early because she felt ill. But it was never the common cold. The nausea always seemed to be induced by social circumstances–a class presentation or just trouble fitting in with other students. “I remember one day, I came home and fell on the kitchen floor and I couldn’t get up. I didn’t know at the time, but I was having an anxiety attack. I was just crying, curled up in a fetal position, paralyzed. And I thought it was something I had eaten.”
A couple of years ago, Kendra heard a friend describe similar moments of collapsing in fear. She was using that word–anxiety.
It finally clicked.
Kendra began to retroactively understand those dark moments in her past. She relived memories from childhood through adolescence and her years in college. It was a moment of liberating clarity, to be able to name her pattern of fear. But it was also a heavy, isolating truth. Kendra had lived her entire life with anxiety and now that she knew, what on earth was she supposed to do about it?
“I was frustrated. I had this blind fear and I was so lonely. I asked God, ‘Why did you not do anything for 5-year old Kendra who was terrified of everything? Where were you?’ I felt hopeless. I accepted that maybe this was how I was going to be for my whole life. I went from never knowing my fear’s name to taking it on as my identity. And that wrecked me. I felt suffocated by this huge weight and I couldn’t make any sense of it.”
But it was in the desperate questioning that Kendra found community and hope. As she sifted through decades of fearful memories with her mother and sisters, she saw God’s faithfulness where she hadn’t seen Him before–in the mornings that always came after lonely nights, in the safety of home. “I began to pray as an act of interceding for my younger self, as a way to retell these stories of terror as stories of God still holding me in the darkness, though I didn’t know He was there.”
Kendra’s turning point came when she confronted that anxiety exposed her deep need for control. She was learning to trust that maybe God’s presence was not only real, but enough.
“If you don’t believe that God is with you, then go to a place where you know you cannot escape Him.” For Kendra, that place was found when release of control became a daily practice. It was walking to a quiet waterfront on heavy days, seeking God’s voice. It was feeling the onset of a panic attack and knowing there were people in her corner who welcomed her mess and her late-night text messages. On one particular Palm Sunday at church earlier this year, it looked like worship.
“We were singing that song, “No Longer a Slave to Fear” and those words had always felt like a lie, because my whole life was consumed by anxiety. I would sing because it was something I hoped for, but I wasn’t there yet. But that morning, I meant the words for the first time. It was after reflecting on the tragedy and redemption of Easter–the promise that Friday will come, but so will Sunday. Fear is still part of my reality, but so is Christ. And that makes me free.”
Kendra sought comfort in the tensions of the Gospel, where divine healing lived on the other side of guaranteed suffering. It was grace that allowed her to experience anxiety and remain expectant, like looking at the cross and seeing an empty tomb. She feared honestly, with bold hope that peace would come too. She found freedom from paralyzing worry by trusting daily that where her control ended, God’s faithful presence began.