Sorting Through our Anxious Thoughts

Gem Fadling

by Gem Fadling

Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.



Anxiety has been a struggle my entire life. At one point as a young adult, I wondered if anxiety was my unique “thorn in the flesh” like Paul mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12. As overly dramatic as that may sound, I truly thought I would never overcome my anxious thoughts.

Over the decades, I have learned—by the grace of God and therapy—how to deal with my anxiety in a more healthy way. Things are generally a lot less dramatic these days.

Ambushed by Anxiety

However, a while back I found myself on the wrong end of an anxiety attack. A few years before that my husband and I founded our own non-profit organization, working with Christian leaders. It takes concerted effort to begin something new and I found myself in yearly cycles of pushing and then crashing.

Unwelcome voices rushed in: “You’ll never get this done in time. What will people think? The work you’re doing isn’t reaching a high enough standard. You’ll never meet that deadline. This could be so much better.” And on and on it went. These unhelpful, spiraling thoughts hummed along in the background, loud enough to affect my emotions, but quiet enough for me to leave them unattended.

Each cycle, I was able to dust myself off and start again. I re-engaged my spiritual practices and found my bearings. But the fourth time it happened (yes, fourth) I was unable to pick myself up. I had to reach out to my former therapist and get some refreshed tools to deal with my anxiety.

I am embarrassed whenever I tell this story because our organization is called Unhurried Living. I am a spiritual director and I’ve been on my own formational journey for over 30 years. And yet, I still succumbed to the siren call of ambition and perfectionism which led to severe anxiety.

‘Show Me a New Way’

A few months after my anxiety attack, my husband and I planned to celebrate our thirty-fourth wedding anniversary in Italy and Spain. As much as it was a romantic getaway, under the surface I was really on a pilgrimage. Along with my trusty luggage, I carried a deep inner prayer, “God, show me a new way to live and work, because my ways are no longer working.”

Of course, it is easy to move to a prayerful posture while you are touring the cathedrals of Florence and Assisi. The soaring architecture, the inspiring chapels, and the glorious art all drew me into a receptive heart space.

God was so gracious as he shared with me some new thoughts as I connected with the voice of the Holy Spirit:

As I was looking out over the rooftops of Florence from the top of the Duomo, in my heart I heard: Why don’t you move to gratitude (1 Thes. 5:18)? A sense of presence can replace the reach for excitement.

As I sat in a small chapel inside the Cathedral, I remembered our common communion invitation: This is my body, given for you (1 Cor. 11:24). And the Spirit gently added, Stop pushing, stop trying, stop angsting.

As I wandered through the Cathedral of St. Francis in Assisi, I was reminded: You already have what you need in Christ (2 Peter 1:3).

The Holy Spirit was leaving me clues for a refreshed way of thinking and a renewed way of being.

Open, Aware, and Willing

Out of sheer desperation I clung to every word. Later as I took time to reflect and journal, I pulled all these helpful and gracious thoughts together:

Move to gratitude.
This is my body, given for you.
Stop pushing, stop trying, stop angsting.
You already have what you need.

The Spirit himself helped me sort the voices in my head, replacing my critical, stressful, and overbearing thoughts with his own.

I was on a journey. I had dug myself into a pit of anxiety. I was desperate for a change and God graciously met me as I listened and remained open. This is the process.

Even though I still struggle from time to time, I intentionally make the consistent choice to remain open to the Spirit’s promptings, aware of my own inner workings and willing to engage transformation. Over time my ability to listen for the Spirit has been enhanced. This is the invitation: in the midst of our weaknesses or struggles, will we remain open, aware and willing to hear from Him? When anxiety comes crashing in, remembering that God is with us can lovingly redirect us in a more helpful way.



Gem Fadling, CLC, is a founding partner of Unhurried Living, Inc., training people to rest deeper, live fuller, and lead better. She is a certified life coach and a trained spiritual director who coaches women at the intersection of spiritual leadership and soul care. Gem is the host of the I Can Do That! Podcast and the coauthor of What Does Your Soul Love?: Eight Questions That Reveal God's Work in You. Her latest book is entitled Hold That Thought: Sorting Through the Voices in Our Heads.