I will never forget that night at the mall. My husband, Robby, and I had just finished dinner and were headed shopping to look for jeans. He came out of the dressing room and said he wasn’t feeling well. He was light-headed, pale, and didn’t feel right. I encouraged him to sit down and drink a Coke®, thinking it might have been his blood sugar. After a few minutes, he felt better, so we left and went home. Little did we know, this was the start of a long and painful journey with anxiety.
After that night, Robby began to experience these episodes often. We didn’t understand what was going on. He visited multiple doctors to determine the reason for his problems. His symptoms were always the same: he felt like he was going to pass out and needed to get out of the room or building we were in, even when he was in the middle of preaching on Sunday mornings. Naturally, he wanted to stay home more and not leave the house. Since I was unaware of what was happening, I would encourage him to get out of the house; I was afraid of him becoming a recluse.
As the episodes got worse, our doctor suggested Robby wear a holter monitor for forty-eight hours. This led to the discovery of his heart rate occasionally dropping to eighteen beats per minute. The doctor was afraid one of the leads had come out of his monitor. Unfortunately, a faulty lead wasn’t the issue, and the following day, he was admitted to the hospital to receive a pacemaker. He was thirty-five years old. We hoped all of his problems were solved.
However, after he came home from the hospital, the episodes still occurred. After much researching and seeing different specialists, we determined his problem was anxiety resulting from stress and burnout.
Robby was finishing his dissertation, traveling to preach, raising two little boys, getting acclimated to a new city and church, graduating with his PhD program, and writing multiple books over a few years. No wonder he was experiencing anxiety. The poor man was an Energizer Bunny® for years, and now when life was supposed to slow down and resemble some normalcy, he bottomed out.
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The immediate solution was medicine, which was a lifesaver. Here is the fact of the matter. You can read your Bible every day. You can foster a vibrant prayer life. You can lead a booming ministry and growing church. You can be plugged in to your community, doing all the “right” things, and still experience anxiety. Often it is our body telling us something is not right.
Our job is to listen and address it, not ignore or neglect it.
There are times when our health is taken entirely out of our hands, and we can’t do anything about it. But other times, we can be proactive. It may require medicine, counseling, and making changes to our lives to be as healthy as we can be.
If you have never experienced recurrent anxiety, it can be hard to relate to someone who is going through it. In my mind, he could just push through it. He could just overcome it. But that isn’t often the case. The irony is that after years of helping Robby adjust to his own battle with anxiety, I had my own struggle with it.
I can honestly say it was one of the worst seasons of my life. I was able to identify it early on after walking with Robby through his struggles. I could totally relate and understand what had happened to him.
The best way I could help both of us was to help us both establish a slowed-down spirituality. We drastically trimmed his schedule for a bit, stripping away everything that wasn’t a priority. We implemented weekly sabbaticals and daily resets. We ensured we truly took a rest day.
A question we ask often is, “At the end of the day, what is the Lord holding me accountable to?” Asking yourself this question may help you—or your spouse—dull the ache anxiety leaves in your life, mind, and body.
Be intentional about making time to check in.
When you start to feel better, it can be easy to forget and fall back into some old patterns of doing too much, being too busy, and taking on too much. It’s an ongoing task to monitor and keep these things in check and balance, but Robby and I work together to manage our schedules. We have a team that helps decide outside events or functions that we are asked to participate in. The kicker is we don’t get to vote on our own events. For example, if a request comes in for Robby to speak at an event, it gets sent to a team of six people (I am one of them). We all vote yes or no, and he doesn’t get to vote until it passes through the other team members. The decision is based on certain criteria: events already on the calendar, location, the length and size of the event, and the distance to travel.
We already have a completely full schedule with pastoral duties and parenting responsibilities without adding anything from the outside, so we must be good stewards of our time. Robby tries to be intentional to Sabbath once a week. He takes a break from his phone and technology, which would typically consume his time. He attempts to work from rest and not work for rest. If there is an emergency, his staff knows how to get ahold of me. I told Robby for years to put the phone down, but it never worked. As soon as the Lord spoke to him, he obeyed. I should have just committed it to prayer long ago.
The greatest thing to do as a spouse of someone who experiences anxiety is to support and work to figure out what needs to be done to live a healthy life. Spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental health all blend together. Time with the Lord should not be neglected but should be held to the highest priority. Diet and exercise, as well as getting enough sleep at night, are all extremely important. Counseling or coaching is sometimes necessary to experience well-being.
My challenge for you is to pursue support if you’re presently struggling. Do not neglect getting help for you or your spouse if you need it. I would venture to say we all want longevity in life and in ministry, so let us be good stewards of that which the Lord has given us. Soul-care is never selfish, but always strategic. If we neglect this, everyone in our life suffers. However, if we prioritize our ministry to ourselves, everyone in our lives will benefit.