I grew up in a setting where anxiety was like air—always present. I didn’t know an adult woman, inside or outside my family, who didn’t struggle with some level of anxiety. It colored words, shaped choices, eroded faith, and drained the life out of relationships. I vowed early on that I would not let fear rule me. I would be different.
And I was, in the beginning. Helped along by the naivete and enthusiasm of youth, I set off to do hard things. If I felt afraid to do something, I would force myself to do it anyway. If I felt anxiety or panic, I’d square my shoulders and dare it to beat me. I memorized Bible verses that empowered me. I made every matter of fear a matter of faith and pressed on.
The astute reader will pick up on the theme here: ME. But this obvious truth eluded me. I moved from married to motherhood and my life grew fuller, as we added five children to our family and decided to homeschool them. I became the queen of planning and organization. How else to keep up with this life? How else to keep away the anxiety always threatening to nibble at the edges? My radar constantly scanned the horizon of my days, detecting potential problems and upcoming dangers to my carefully kept status quo.
By the time my children were all school aged, I was tired. Not just physically tired, but deep-down soul tired. I was always living three steps ahead, thinking, preparing, preventing. I was never really fully anywhere. Friends would ask whether I enjoyed this event or if that family trip was fun for me, and I would just look at them blankly. I was there, yes. But did I enjoy it? Did I even know? My memories were usually less of the time, people, or place and more of keeping things on track and disasters at a distance.
Not surprisingly, my spiritual life was dull and dry as well. I did all the things—read my Bible, participated in studies and church activities, prayed. But I didn’t really see the Lord at work in me, and I longed to have the deep relationship with Him that others seemed to enjoy.
Despite the weariness, I pushed ahead. While homeschool days are always busy, the constant that everyone has most looked forward to is daily reading time together. Sharing stories is a huge and precious part of our family culture. We’ve read adventurous tales, living history, and so many good biographies. It was at this point in our reading life that I felt everyone was old enough to appreciate The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. Having read it before, I looked forward to sharing it with my children.
As we experienced life through the eyes of the Ten Boom family and saw how they extended love and compassion toward each other and their neighbors, including Jewish families experiencing Nazi persecution in Holland, everyone was spellbound. I knew reading this book would change my children. What I didn’t anticipate was how much it would change me.
As Corrie and her family’s work aiding and hiding Jews expanded, she knew that the threat of arrest was very real. She persevered, but she also planned. She packed a “prison bag”, a suitcase carefully and thoughtfully packed with all she thought she might need. There were toiletries and clothing, medicines and necessary comforts. If the day came, if her fear walked through the door, she’d be ready.
The day did come. When the German soldiers searched the Ten Boom home, invaded Corrie’s bedroom, and ordered her to come with them immediately, she put on a calm face, dressed, and turned for her bag. Only then did she realize in the haste and commotion she had pushed it up against a panel concealing the door to the hidden room. To reach for it now would draw the watching officer’s suspicious eye to what she most didn’t want him to see—the false wall that led to the secret hiding place where her Jewish friends huddled, silently holding their breath. Reluctantly, Corrie turned away, leaving the precious suitcase behind. Empty-handed, her heart in her throat, she turned and followed the officer down the stairs.
Have you ever had one of those flashes of clarity, when the Lord allows you to see something about yourself that just undoes you? I was right there with Corrie as she packed that bag…yes, vitamin drops. Thread and needle, good plan. Of course, a Bible. Warm scarf. Yes, if you have to do prison, you should definitely prepare. In that instant, reading those words, the thought came to me urgent and unbidden, “God, why? I don’t understand why You would not let her take that bag.” And just as quickly, I knew. Because if she took that bag, it would be Corrie’s plans providing for Corrie’s needs. And she would miss God’s tender love for her, miraculously providing just what she needed just when she needed it.
My heart melted in that moment. How many “bags” have I packed in my life? How many situations have I managed, possibilities have I pre-empted, opportunities have I skirted around all in the name of what might cause me fear? And how many miracles have I missed? How much time have I marched on ahead in lonely “strength” when the Lord desired to show me His power in my weakness and His steadfastness in my need? As Corrie’s tale unfolded, she suffered much hardship and many difficult days. But she also saw God’s hand in amazing ways and felt and shared Christ’s love from abundance, not lack. Avoiding places of need costs treasure we can’t gain any other way.
As I pondered this, I realized in a fresh way that faith is not me managing my life and emotions. It’s not constructing safe realities, working to keep things all together, and trying desperately not to feel afraid. I realized that the issue wasn’t really that I was packing a bag…but that I was packing the WRONG bag. The bag that the Lord wants me to pack, calls me to pack, is the bag stuffed full of truth from His Word. His promises. Testimonies of the times He has been faithful to me in things both large and small. This…this is a bag that persecutors can’t take, disasters can’t destroy, and airlines can’t lose.
I wish I could say I am completely reformed, but my default is still too often to try first to meet my own needs before turning to the One who promises He has already supplied everything I lack. But more and more I catch my thinking and remind myself, “You’re packing your own bag again!” Now, my days intentionally include time packing the bag that really matters, capturing Truth and treasures that nourish my faith and strengthen my soul. And I can honestly say, having carried both kinds of bags, that peace doesn’t lie in preparation. Instead, there is a true heart freedom in traveling light and living in dependence on Him.