“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”
For millennia, these verses have been a source of comfort for many, many people. Jesus gifts listeners and readers with a sweet tranquility that softens the edges of life’s pressures. It is an invitation—even permission—to ease our grasp on fear and to ground ourselves in a reality of contentment. For many, it has been a beautiful and an empowering passage.
Yet, for most of my life, I have hated these verses. Anxiety has been a part of my reality for as long as I can remember. Sometimes there are reasons behind why I feel anxious, but other times, I wake up to an anxiety attack for no apparent reason. In moments of panic-induced hives and hyperventilating terror, I have sought help from others only to receive a quote of this passage in return. It is almost always followed by:
“You only need more faith.”
“If you had more faith, you wouldn’t have anxiety attacks.”
“You’re not trying hard enough to trust God.”
I began to view this passage as a weapon to condemn me for my mental health struggles. When anxiety attacked, I would simultaneously experience world-crumbling terror and soul-crushing guilt. An anxiety attack meant I didn’t have faith. It meant I let God down.
It took me years to realize that this passage isn’t about anxiety disorders, and therefore it isn’t condemning those individuals with anxiety disorders. We wouldn’t tell a person with a broken leg to only have faith so they’ll be healed. In the same way, we shouldn’t be telling those suffering from anxiety that the only thing they need is faith in God to be healed. This passage offers so much more than “Just have faith.” This passage offers us the promise of God’s presence.
A few months ago, I suffered an anxiety attack worse than I’ve experienced in a long time. I sat in my car, having difficulty breathing. Not knowing what else to do, I called my dad. No answer. I called immediately a second time—our family’s signal for an emergency. My dad answered, “Is everything okay?”
“Dad,” I croaked. “Anxiety.”
I broke. Tears poured out. I struggled to get in the oxygen I needed.
“Mandy, you’re okay. Breathe with me.”
Through the phone, I heard my dad take a deep breath in. I followed his lead, and tried to breathe too. He breathed out. I breathed out.
We stayed with each other on the phone for several minutes, simply breathing together until the anxiety passed. My dad’s presence—his breathing—brought me to a place of stillness, and it empowered me to address my worries and stresses with a level head.
When I think of Matthew 6:25-34 now, I think of this moment. Breathing in. Breathing out. This passage isn’t about forgetting worry or pretending problems don’t exist. This passage isn’t about the need to have more faith so as to erase anxiety. No, what strikes me about this passage is God’s presence throughout it all.
Through the stress of critical life tasks, through the crushing anxiety attacks, through life’s crippling heartbreaks, God—the Breath of Life—is there.