September 20, 2014 was not an easy day for me. I was going on six months since being diagnosed with clinical anxiety, and I’d been struggling especially with social anxiety. Over the summer I had a panic attack at a conference dinner that I attended with my husband and several of his colleagues. I spent most of that evening in the bathroom, breathing deeply and trying to figure out who I could talk to without having to make a sudden exit. I remember staring at the salmon on my plate while friendly folks around me talked about how good the food was, and the room started to spin.
We had to leave the dinner early because I couldn’t compose myself. I couldn’t attend church the next morning because I was so shaken by a night out attempting to eat great food with people I used to enjoy. I had persistent anxiety through that summer and into the fall, and then I caught a cold that turned into bronchitis and asthma. Breathing issues were a big anxiety trigger for me; I was convinced that my bronchitis was lung cancer. Between my social paralysis and physical illness, I was a mess. So naturally it was a good time for us to attend a wedding, eight hours away, with all of my husband’s best friends from college.
September 20 dawned, the day of the wedding. I was somehow able to attend each festivity, but it was an effort. The reception was in a museum, which helped with my social anxiety as I was able to take many breaks to peruse the exhibits. Still, I was exhausted by the end of the day, and we left the wedding earlier than my husband wanted to. Away from home that weekend, my anxiety about asthma and breathing grew, and the next day I found myself at an urgent care clinic, seeking treatment for a problem that was mostly in my own mind. When we finally got home, I went to several more appointments and had two panic attacks that week.
[Jesus said], “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down’” (Luke 13:6-9).
Leave it alone for a year.
I never thought on September 20, 2014, that exactly one year later I would welcome a beautiful baby boy into the world. I never imagined during that entire stressful season that I would be able to care for another human being; my children tended to increase my anxiety, so why would I have another? Who would have thought that a surprise pregnancy would calm my mind, and an additional child would stabilize my brain chemistry?
There are struggles that last years, or a lifetime, but sometimes God has answers to our prayers and our problems that we cannot imagine. They often take time to be worked out in our lives, time that leaves us uncomfortable and impatient. We try so hard to come up with a solution ourselves, when the answer is to wait, to do the small things, to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Frederick Faber was an Anglican hymn writer in the 19th century who wrote about waiting on God:
In the spiritual life God chooses to try our patience first of all by his slowness. He is slow: we are swift and precipitate. It is because we are but for a time, and he has been for eternity…. There is something greatly overawing in the extreme slowness of God. Let it overshadow our souls, but let it not disquiet them. We must wait for God, long, meekly, in the wind and wet, in the thunder and the lightning, in the cold and the dark. Wait, and he will come. He never comes to those who do not wait. He does not go their road.
Have you planted a tree that is not bearing fruit? A dream or a hope that never seems to materialize? Perhaps it’s time to let God do the digging and the fertilizing in his way and time. Perhaps it’s time to wait a year.