Wrestling Through: Moving through Fear and Anxiety Toward Greater Freedom and Faith in God
September 24, 2021
by Kelly Ann Snyder
I have spent years struggling with generalized anxiety. From early childhood, well into adulthood. It wasn’t until shortly after turning 30 years old, after hitting rock bottom with anxiety and fear, that I finally surrendered my will and humbled my heart enough to take hold of God’s hand so that He could lead me out of the darkness of gripping anxiety and fear, into the light of His perfect love.
This faith journey, as I like to call it—out of the darkness of anxiety and fear—was not at all easy. It took time to peel back the layers of life choices, trauma, and misguided beliefs that had all contributed to my ongoing struggle with anxiety and fear. Five years to be exact. There were times along that journey I doubted I’d ever experience sustained relief from the torment that bondage to fear brings. Fortunately, God never gave up on me.
As I continued to wrestle with God for a greater understanding of His unfailing, perfect love for me, He faithfully showed up to help time and again. God wanted me to wholeheartedly believe that I could rely on His love for me, and that there was nothing to fear. When I opened my Bible to seek out God’s truth for the lies the enemy was using to cripple me with fear, the Holy Spirit would lead me to the exact Scriptures I needed to know the truth and be set free. Over time, I learned to trust God more, believing He would never abandon me in my weakness, pain, or suffering, but would always be with me to lead me through to victory. As a result, my faith grew and fear left.
When I think about wrestling through, I think of the story of Jacob, who once spent all night wrestling with God. To “wrestle,” means to show forth strength and fight, or to grapple with. Looking to Genesis 32, it’s clear that at this point in Jacob’s life, he was fighting fear. First, we see that Jacob was afraid of his father-in-law, Laban, whom he feared would come after him for leaving with all his wealth. Next, we see Jacob terrified of his brother, Esau, whom he feared would be seeking revenge after losing his birthright to Jacob’s usurping. Wrestling with his fears and fleshly desires to hold onto his will, Jacob fought fully submitting to God’s sovereign will and plans for his life. Jacob was not yet ready to lay it all down—his wife, his children, his possessions, or his life. He wrestled with God and man as a result.
Genesis 32:24 says, “And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:24). As we read through this section of Scripture we come to learn that this man he was wrestling with was, in fact, God himself! While Jacob was still wrestling God, refusing to let go, God touched Jacob’s hip socket and put it out of joint. My speculation as to why God would wrench Jacob’s hip is that God needed to break Jacob’s human strength, or will, so that Jacob could become humble and submit himself to God’s will. If God hadn’t wrenched Jacob’s hip, maybe Jacob would not have become the righteous man he was otherwise destined to become. After Jacob’s hip became wrenched, the man wrestling with Jacob said, “‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’” (Genesis 32:26).
Wrestling Toward Blessing
Isn’t that just like us when we go through various trials and suffering? We receive these thorns of the flesh, encumbrances if you will, or in my case a struggle with anxiety and fear—not to limit us, but to cause us to see our need for God and reach out for Him. If we are wise like Jacob, we will not give up pursuing God until He blesses us. We will not give up believing in the good that He has in store for us because of His great grace and love for us. It was after Jacob persevered in wrestling with God that God blessed him. The blessing, of course, wasn’t the wrenched hip socket. But that impairment became the means through which Jacob was made ready to receive God’s blessing for his life. The blessing was a new identity and a new name. No longer would Jacob be known as a supplanter (one who wrongfully seizes that which belongs to another), but Israel, because he had wrestled with God and man and prevailed (see Genesis 32:28). No longer deceitful, but made righteous, Jacob was destined to become the father of a great nation. His descendants would be God’s chosen people, through which Jesus Christ the Savior of the world was born!
Holding Tight to Hope
When we pursue God for help in our struggle with anxiety and fear, God will reveal to us more of who He is, and who we are in Him. He will help us grow in our faith and empower us to continue to follow Him. He will use our fleshly desires or external circumstances, to bring about the internal changes of heart or spiritual changes, that are needed for us to grow in Christ-likeness. When we choose to “wrestle” with God for His blessing through the pain, His promise is that we will prevail. We will become who God has destined for us to become. In Christ, we will overcome.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
I hope this message brings you great comfort and encouragement as you continue to faithfully wrestle with God through all of life’s struggles. Knowing God and growing in faith is worth the fight!
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Kelly Ann Snyder is a Christian writer, teacher, and Founder of Living Perfectly Loved Ministries living in San Diego, CA with her loving husband, teen boy, tween girl, and furry dog. In her spare time, Kelly enjoys spending time with her family and friends, reading God’s Word, non-fiction books, walking/hiking/Pilates, relaxing poolside, and drinking chai tea lattes. She is passionate about encouraging, equipping, and inspiring others to live free from the grip of anxiety and fear in the perfect love of God, having struggled for years with anxiety herself. Her hope and prayer is that through her blog and small group ministry, people will experience more of the perfect love of God deep in their hearts and in their everyday lives.
A note from Terri on the topic of anxiety:
I know that the topic of anxiety is very nuanced and often a contentious subject among believers. There are many who have biochemical, neurological, or physical sources of anxiety that need to be treated by a physician/professional. If you struggle with deep depression and debilitating mental health issues, please seek medical help. It takes courage to ask, but God wants us to take care of ourselves in every way. There is no shame in struggling with anxiety or fear. Scripture is full of teaching on this topic, because it is common to us all as we live in these frail human bodies in a fallen world. This is why He repeatedly tells His children to not lose heart, to take courage, and be strong in the Lord. Kelly’s story is similar to many. Even those in the pages of Scripture wrestled with depression, anxiety, and fear. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.”
These statistics represent people in our families and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that sit in the pews every Sunday. It’s definitely a topic that needs to be covered with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Wherever we are on the anxiety scale in our lives, the truths for overcoming are all throughout Scripture. While empty platitudes don’t fix deep rooted fears or medical issues, the truth is that Jesus can give victory as we contend in belief. We need to ask God to help us. We need to ask others to pray for our battle. We need to keep fighting through false thinking to rest in truth. And we need to practice gratitude in our daily lives. Like Kelly experienced, we can receive freedom from things that imprison us. Merely saying this is how God made us is not going to lead to a life of flourishing in our faith. God may not choose to take all of your struggle away, but He will provide a way through it and tools to manage and live at peace with God and ourselves. Don’t doubt that God can heal you…keep trusting and pursuing Him in the smallest of ways. Kelly and I have both seen God break strongholds in our minds through wrestling toward the hope of blessing. God will grow you through your wrestling, guaranteed.
Don’t fall prey to the world’s thinking that our situations are hopeless and impossible. Let’s avoid swinging to one extreme or the other in this situation — never underestimating the power of God in our lives and never ignoring the human struggle as real for so many. It may require you to stop and pray repeatedly through a situation. It may involve seeking counseling or medical help. But it should always lead us to draw near to God in utter dependence. For it’s in our weakness that His strength will be made known. Don’t look at the journey of others for a timeline or route of healing. Yours will depend on your willingness to surrender to Christ and keep seeking until. And I will be here praying for the endurance for each of us to run well. I love you, friends. Even if we haven’t met.
May we be an encouragement to one another as we learn and grow together in grace.