It started with paper towels.
Aaron Lee was on a Walmart run a couple of weeks ago because his family was out of paper towels, but came home empty-handed.
He began searching online with no luck.
Before long, Lee found himself second-guessing if he could provide for his family.
“I started panicking,” he said. “My wife had to talk me down.”
Lee, who serves as worship pastor at Southeast Christian Church’s Elizabethtown Campus, is one of millions of Americans who deal with anxiety.
“It’s something I’ve struggled with since I was a kid,” Lee said. “As I’ve grown in my relationship with the Lord, He has strengthened me and He’s brought me to a much healthier place, but there are still days when I need a little extra help.”
About a year ago, Lee felt God was calling him to use his experience with anxiety to encourage others with vulnerability, authenticity and the hope of Christ. He started “The Anxious Pastor” podcast, where he shares anecdotes from his own experience with anxiety and talks with others about their experiences.
“I’m no expert,” Lee said. “I don’t have a psychology or counseling degree; I’m just an anxious guy trying to walk with God every day. Around the same time that I started working at Southeast, three years ago in August, I spent about a year and a half in study and prayer, just trying to find my ‘why.’ To what purpose was God calling me? And one day, the Lord showed me my ‘why’ in life is to inspire others to embrace their journey so that they can live authentic lives. And podcasting is a really great way to reach people to do that.”
In a recent episode, Lee talked about anxiety and the coronavirus.
“I read an article that said that this pandemic will be what triggers anxiety in a lot of people for the first time,” Lee said. “That blew me away. I hadn’t really thought of the mental, emotional and spiritual impact this crisis would have on so many people, many for the first time. There are thousands of people who, like me, are experiencing anxiety over paper towels, but have no idea how to handle it.”
On March 18, Lee uploaded a podcast titled, “Three ways to deal with your anxiety toward the coronavirus.” He lays out three practical tips for those who are feeling anxious about the uncertainty of the current crisis: Understand but do not obsess, choose loving others over selfishness and look at this as an opportunity.
Understand, do not obsess
Several psychological studies have already shown that significant time watching the news and scrolling through social media creates disappointment, anger, fear, insecurity and anxiety, so it’s no surprise that the flood of media coverage of the coronavirus has left the world feeling on edge.
“While this virus is spreading quickly, it hasn’t spread nearly as quickly as fear,” Lee said.
Lee said that in times of feeling overwhelmed, the first place to turn is the One who holds the world together.
“Did you know that ‘do not fear’ appears 365 times in Scripture?” Lee asked. “God knows far more about fear than what our minds can comprehend. He knew that sin would cause our trust and faith to waver and result in living a life of fear. In my opinion, one of the most powerful times in all of Scripture that we hear to ‘fear not’ is Isaiah 43:1 (NLT): ‘But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.”’”
“What is required of me in this situation is not to try to will it to go how I want and freak out when it doesn’t,” Lee said. “What’s required of me is to know that I am His and to trust that He’s got it.”
Choose love over selfishness
Lee, like many other Americans, has spent the last few weeks working from home. With three sons, Jedidiah, 8, Abram, 5, and Josiah, 3, at home with him and his wife, Jerrica, day-to-day life can get a little overwhelming.
“It would be easy for me to grow impatient with my kids when they’re being rowdy boys and I’m trying to get my work done, but I have a choice: I can choose to be patient, even take a break and play with them, or I can choose to be selfish with my time and my interaction with them,” Lee said.
Lee said that the shift in his current circumstance also has helped him spend more time in God’s Word.
“I’ve suddenly become more of a morning person,” Lee said. “And even though that’s not in my nature, I’ve been able to take that time and see God’s Word in a fresh way that I had never experienced before. It’s deepened my love for Him.”
Look at this as an opportunity
While social distancing and self-isolation cause physical separateness, Lee said that if we lean into our relationship with Christ in times of crisis, He gives us eyes to see other people better.
“I had a moment a couple weekends ago where I was worshiping at home with my family on a Sunday, and I thought of this idea of forced rest,” Lee said. “While I have an amazing opportunity to serve others by leading them in worship each weekend, this was the first time I was home on a Sunday morning in a long time. As I sat there and watched my boys worshiping God, I couldn’t help but get emotional. God, in His goodness, had given me an opportunity to see my family worship Him.”
Lee said that when anxiety starts to creep in, we can take back joy by thanking God for the opportunities He has given us and by looking for new opportunities to meet others in their need.
“When we look for God’s hand at work in our lives, we’ll find it,” Lee said. “You have relationships all around you, and you have a great opportunity to bless them by spending more time with them.”
Choose trust over fear
Lee’s own journey with anxiety started decades before the current crisis, and Lee said that he is grateful for the journey he’s been on.
“In a way, this season has made me more grateful for the work the Lord has been doing in my life,” Lee said. “As my faith grows, my fear decreases. I know if I wasn’t in the place I’m in now, this virus would’ve hit me emotionally much harder. I’m grateful that God has given me this opportunity to be authentic with people and share how God has carried me through some of the darkest times in my life, and the freedom that’s found when we cast our burdens on Him.”
Long before Lee was able to share his story of hope in anxiety with others, he felt controlled by it.
“I was a really sensitive kid growing up, so I was an easy target for the other kids at school,” Lee said. “I can remember about six years of my life where I was just constantly bullied. And any time I showed my emotions, people used that against me.”
Lee said that as a child, he grew more and more insecure, and as he grew insecure, his anxiety grew with it.
“When I was 12 years old, I was introduced to pornography, which I battled with until about four years into my marriage,” Lee said. “It was when my addiction came to a head, and I started going to counseling that I started to deal with my anxiety. By the grace of God, I broke free from that addiction, and I started peeling back the layers of myself. I found out that my anxiety was rooted in my insecurities that I hid for so long. It had become like a defense mechanism for me.”
But Lee said that as he began to open up and share his struggles with others, God made His glory known.
“I’ve learned that my emotions are normal, and it’s OK to feel that way, but it’s what you do with your feelings that matters,” Lee said. “Picture yourself on a path inside the forest. It’s a beautifully sunny day …. What if the beautifully sunny day turned into a thunderstorm? Do you continue to treat the situation like it was before the storm? Probably not. Your walk with the Lord isn’t deepened merely from the ease of the path or the downpour of the rain. It’s deepened by a trust that in both situations, God is there.”