Natalie Hasse grew up facing fear and anxiety on a daily basis. She can remember feeling the physical ramifications of her anxiety as she dealt with pain from the ulcers in her mouth when she was as young as 9.

But what caused this fear and anxiety? It all started with her relationship with God.

A Works-Based Relationship

Natalie’s parents raised her with love, supporting her and caring for her. Despite this home environment, Natalie still struggled with anxiety. Her fear began when she attended church as a child and heard from her pew how God’s love for her was based on what she accomplished for Him.

“My relationship with God growing up was extremely works-based,”Natalie said. “I was mostly in churches that taught across the board that you’re deceitful and wicked no matter what. That is your core. You are just horrible. And Jesus is just this wonderful, amazing thing looking down at you saying, ‘You better be thankful for grace.’ So I think I internalized that and thought (Jesus) would never look at me with delight.”

As Natalie thought through her concept of Jesus, she began to fear God in what she describes as an unhealthy way. She lived in constant fear, believing she would stand before God one day, and He would accuse her of not doing enough for Him. It began a road of shame and guilt for Natalie.

“It affected every area of my life,” she said. “I was a constant ball of fear.”

The Scales Came Off Her Eyes

With her fear came anxiety attacks and the need for control. She worried her family would die. She tried to learn all she could about any signs of sickness felt by loved ones—afraid symptoms meant their approaching death. As she entered adulthood, she began to also fear abandonment.

In the midst of this fear, Natalie learned how to give people the impression she had her anxiety under control. She began hiding behind the pride of knowing how to look the part. But with a boyfriend who lived hours away, the worry that his promises to marry her someday would fall flat caused the anxiety of abandonment to grow.

That’s when she had an affair with a married coworker.

“Because I had that pride about me, I did not have very good guardrails up,” Natalie explained. “So that’s how it happened. My heart was not protected. I had this deep-down fear that maybe this wasn’t going to work out (with my boyfriend). I don’t ever make it sound like it was the other person’s fault, like they seduced me. I say it was 100 percent their fault (and) 100 percent my fault because I did not have good guardrails up in place. And I believe it happened because of pride and the control and the fear that I had.”

Natalie describes her two-month affair as the time she lived in darkness. The fear and anxiety did not leave her, and she felt a lack of joy in her life. Then, one day, it all ended. Their secret turned public.

“Well, I got caught,” Natalie said. “I would love to say that it was like God just woke me up. No, I got caught.”

As she left her office building after her boss fired her and her coworker, Natalie said another coworker approached her, grabbed her by the shoulders and physically shook her, saying, “Natalie, what are you doing?”

In that moment, Natalie said it all became clear.

“Everything got so bright,” she explained. “It was like slow motion. I put my hands up to my eyes. I had to shield my eyes from the sun, and it was like I woke up. It was like I had been under some spell for two months, just darkness, and all of a sudden there came the weeping and the grief and the ‘What have I done?’ It was like, in that moment when she shook me, literally scales (fell off my eyes).”

The Healing Process

Natalie says she is incredibly grateful for the elders of her church at the time of her affair. On bended knee, she asked for their help, and they lovingly gave it to her. Despite her need to regain their trust, they guided her, protected her and forgave her. They helped her change her passwords and locks when the man with whom she had an affair tried to re-enter the picture. They also asked her to leave town for a time to protect her from heading back toward temptation.

“It was me, and the (Bible) and the Lord,” Natalie said, describing the loneliness she experienced. “I felt so lowly and so horrible, but He was still showing me … that He would love us even in our lowest states.”

Over time, Natalie gained back the trust of her friends and family. Her boyfriend even approached the elders of her church, asking for counseling because he still loved Natalie and wanted to forgive her. Now, they’re approaching their 10-year wedding anniversary.

What proved the most difficult, however, was forgiving herself.

“It took several years,” Natalie said. “It was like peeling back an onion. But for the past two or three years, I’ve had radical, deeper levels of freedom through inner healing and through really diving into identity and really understanding what it means to walk daily with the Holy Spirit. … It’s been a long process.”

Natalie says she has learned to find freedom from fear by knowing her identity is in Christ, not in the mistakes she made in her past. It took years to learn how to forgive herself and live with joy. Now, living in Alabama with her husband and their son, Natalie understands she doesn’t have to live in fear of death or abandonment or a lack of good works in her life.

“It’s so true that perfect love casts out fear,” Natalie said. “For the longest time I thought, even though I knew that scripture, I needed more of the opposite of fear, which is peace. I thought I needed more peace. No. If you know how much (God) loves you, there’s no place for fear.”