How Music Gave Me Hope in the Midst of Anxiety

October 2, 2018

I woke up in the grip of anxiety, heart thumping and body tense. It started more than a year ago, when actions beyond my control led to a strained relationship and left me feeling wounded and vulnerable. Though I slept well at night, the anxiety returned with a vengeance each morning.

The way I felt reminded me of a college friend who went to see his doctor because he thought he had a throat problem. Each time he would try to eat, his throat would close up, and swallowing was difficult. But when he went to the doctor, he was told that his physical symptoms were simply a manifestation of the inner anxiety he felt.

Now, 13 years after hearing my friend’s story, the erratic beat of my heart felt like a reflection of my own inner turmoil, and I wondered how to fix it. Outwardly, I looked fine. And most of the time, I felt fine—until I let my guard down enough to feel the anxiety that bled out of the soul-deep hurt I felt inside.

Seeking peace, I searched out Bible verses that spoke to my distress, penned them with a careful hand through tear-blurred eyes, and tucked them into the edges of my bathroom mirror. And when my thoughts started to spiral, I would hum or turn on music to distract myself from my negative patterns. My Dad always said that if you’re not singing the gospel, you’re singing the blues. I actually love the blues, but I get what he means. Because it was in that time of trial that I began to once again really hear the songs I was listening to—and they reminded me of a time, years earlier, when I also listened to the words of the songs and took them deep into my heart.

As a child, my Mom would sometimes sing along to music while we drove. Sitting in the backseat of our blue Astro minivan, neon hi-tops on my 9-year-old feet and mile-high bangs intact, I would listen to her alto voice accompany the audio cassette. One of the ones we listened to was set to the tune of upbeat 90s beats, the lyrics of each song a scripture. In my mind, I can still hear one of the songs now, inspired by Philippians 4:6-7:

Do not be anxious
about anything
but in everything
through prayer and petition
with thanksgiving
present your requests to God
and the peace of God
which transcends all understanding
will guard your heart and your mind
in Christ Jesus.

So many years later, I can hum that tune without thinking. And with my anxiety pushing my stress level higher, I found myself humming the song on repeat, a litany of praise, a request for peace. Do not be anxious about anything. 

I’m sure that my Mom had no idea those lyrics would linger into my adulthood. But as a mother myself, it strikes me deeply that the words my children listen to now may be exactly what they need to recall when they face their own battles, later in life. Words hold the power of life and death in their grasp, and what we choose to hear echoes long after the lyrics have faded.

Now, as I drive with my own three daughters in the backseat, I can't help but smile when I hear them:

My 8-year-old sings, After all, you are constant. After all, you are only good. After all, you are sovereign. Not for a moment, will you forsake me.

My 6-year-old sings: Who the son sets free, oh is free indeed! I’m a child of God, yes I am.

My 3-year-old sings, You are good, good, oh yeah! You’re never gonna let me down.

With praise and prayer and deep breathing exercises, my anxiety has lessened. But I know it’s something many friends struggle with in ways that make my own challenges pale in comparison, so my ongoing prayer for myself is a prayer for them, too: Lord, may the words on our lips praise you in times of joy and times of pain. Make us aware of your presence; guide us as we seek peace and healing. Let us find comfort in your great love for us, and encouragement in the words we hear. Amen

Looking for hope? This year's Thrive Conference is centered on the theme of "Tenacious Hope." We'd love to see you there this weekend!

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