Anxiety has been an unwelcome companion of mine for as long as I can remember. Its urgent, nagging voice always has something to talk about. In elementary school, anxiety’s call would keep me up for hours at night. I had hoped that voice would shrink to a whisper and fade with time, but as I grew older, anxiety grew with me. Every stranger was a threat. Every cramp or pain was a symptom of a fatal illness. Every test felt like a capstone project, every paper was a senior thesis. I was so overwhelmed with anxiety, I couldn’t tell the difference between its voice and my own.
The first panic attack I remember having was on a Friday morning in September 2013. It was my senior year of high school and college applications were due that day, but I hadn’t been able to put finger to keyboard yet. Whenever I sat down to write, the only words I could think of were ones anxiety would shout: “You’re running out of time, you better write something!” and “Your whole future hangs on this!” and “You know you have nothing to write about, anyway!” The hours I spent staring at a blank Word document had cut into my homework time, and so I was already behind on school work three weeks into the year. Sitting in the parking lot of Oakton High School, I couldn’t bring myself to get out of the car. Instead, I turned it back on, pulled out of the parking lot, and drove straight to McLean Presbyterian Church.
My church has been a second home for me my whole life. Its sanctuary has always lived up to its name—a place of refuge and safety. In a world with so many voices, our church was the place I could come and hear the one voice I could trust: God’s word, spoken through his people. I knew that’s what I needed to hear. I couldn’t tell the difference between my own voice and anxiety’s screams. But Jesus’ voice was different.
I sat in one of the white rocking chairs overlooking the old youth house for fifteen or twenty minutes until I heard a door open behind me. Ed Baumann, the church’s Facilities Director (and the husband of my AP Government teacher, whose class I was currently skipping) came out, sat beside me, and asked me what I was doing here. As we sat and talked and eventually prayed together, my anxiety grew quiet. Ed was not a pastor, but he was a brother in Christ who could share Jesus’ words with me.
I have always been struck by the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples after the resurrection in John 20. After enduring the anxiety of death and all the chaos of hell, Jesus rose as the King of kings, the crowned Prince of heaven who was victorious over all his enemies. And the first words this champion king spoke to his fearful disciples was “Peace be with you.” Against all their anxiety, Jesus’ words cut through with perfect clarity and authority.
I don’t remember exactly what Ed and I talked about that morning, but I do know we prayed for peace. That was not my last panic attack. Anxiety still cries loudly in my head with annoying regularity. But just as often as anxiety screams, Christ and his church are quick to speak peace to my heart. Those simple, calm, victorious words “Peace be with you” set me at ease because I know the One who speaks them even now, to anxious disciples like myself. He is the Prince of peace.
* * *
This reflection is featured in the Capital Pres Family’s Advent Devotional, which we published to accompany our Advent series “Welcome the King.” As the pastoral intern of worship at McLean Pres, it’s been a joy to write this reflection, invite other members of our church family to reflect on the other titles for the messiah from Isaiah 9:6, and to create the whole devotional for our church to use throughout this season. You can find the full devotional online here. Additionally, if you are a metro DC resident, we’d love for you to join us at one of our locations on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day!
Christmas Eve services:
McLean | 4pm family service, 6pm & 8pm candlelight services (McLean Presbyterian Church)
Fairfax | 6pm candlelight service (Stacy C. Sherwood Center)
Reston | 6pm candlelight service (Hyatt Regency, Reston Town Center)
Christmas Day services:
McLean | 5:15pm unplugged service (McLean Presbyterian Church)
Fairfax | 5:15pm unplugged service (Mantua Swim & Tennis Club)
Reston | 5:15pm unplugged service (Hyatt Regency, Reston Town Center)