from Lindsey Funtik, Coordinator of Volunteer Ministries, Ashland First United Methodist Church, Ashland, Ohio
I spent almost an entire day this week feeling horribly anxious. I had made a small mistake in the morning and went on to spiral downward, blowing it out of proportion and ultimately convincing myself that I was terrible and that everyone hated me. This is not a healthy way to spend one's hours.
Though I am feeling much better today, I am certainly still reeling from the fact that my brain ran away without my permission. For those of us who struggle with anxiety (I am not alone, you are not alone), it can be so difficult to stop that train once it starts on its course. All it takes is one small grain of worry to cause the whole system to grind to a halt. Anxiety is the worst.
In the years that I have spent in this struggle, Philippians 4:6-7 has been a constant theme. It famously reads:
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (NIV)
I love this passage. Most people have heard it and love it as well. It is a favorite for a reason. However, when it comes to anxiety, I often recall "Do not be anxious about anything…" and clench my teeth to try to will myself into this reality. Well-intentioned loved ones will quote this at me when I express my unnecessary worries. I have written it on notecards and whiteboards; I have highlighted it in every daily Bible that I own. Come hell or high water: do not be anxious, do not be anxious, PLEASE JUST STOP BEING ANXIOUS.
The fact that this tactic has not worked should come as no surprise. Though disciplines and practices and tools given by counselors and friends can certainly help, I have not always successfully been able to convince my brain to just not be anxious when all it seems to want to be is really, really anxious. I have grown, but I still struggle. Who knew being human could be such an imperfect experience?
Once again, the Lord brought me around to this passage. Paul is wrapping up his letter to the beloved Philippians and encouraging them as he signs off. I have been spending my last few Sabbath days in Philippians and, I have to admit, when I came to "Do not be anxious…" I inwardly rolled my eyes. I don’t want to be anxious! It’s not that simple, God!
But I was reminded in a big way that Scripture does not merely demand that we not be anxious, but here directly relates that lack of anxiety to one thing: communication with God.
When we are spiraling, we can go to the Lord. We are to trade our worries for the gift of being able to lift up our voices, knowing He will hear. Not only that, but we have the freedom to petition for what we desire. Does this mean we will always get it? No. But we can pray, we can ask, and all of it is sweetest and most holy when it is held up on the scaffolding of gratitude. We can not only approach the throne with our thoughts and feelings, but we can do so with thanksgiving, knowing that the Lord is already on the move. Then, when those burdens have been unloaded, we can trust the Spirit to rush in with divine peace. No, I can't fully alleviate my anxiety on my own, but I am in touch with the God who can.
All of this might seem a bit straightforward, but these reminders of the "basics" of faith can do us a whole world of good. Feeling anxious? Pray, ask, be grateful, and wait for the peace. It’s as simple and difficult as that.
As I read this passage last week during Sabbath, I was struck by the fact that I was feeling peace about another situation about which I had been very anxious. (Why couldn't this week's anxious version of me have remembered what that felt like?) I realized that my half-hearted, unbelieving prayers for peace had been answered. He replaced my anxiety for that day with joy and contentment. Amen and amen.
To help the rubber meet the road here, I have developed a very simple breakdown that might help us organize some of our prayers. When you are feeling anxious about something and desire to take it to Jesus, list each element.
Notes on Gratitude:
Word/Peace from the Lord:
So, if I am anxious about a difficult conversation, it might look something like this:
Anxiety: I have a difficult conversation coming up and have so much fear about facing it. I am anxious that I might say the wrong thing and I am anxious about the outcome.
Prayer: I pray, Lord, that you would navigate through this. I pray that Your will would be done and that it would be for my good and Your glory. I offer it up to you.
Petition: Please let it go well, please let it be redemptive, please give me the words, and please be beside me and calm my beating heart.
Notes on Gratitude: I am grateful for this person with whom I have to speak and I am grateful that You are the God who brings light to dark places. Thank you in advance for unraveling a challenging situation and allowing us both to see how you are working.
Word/Peace from the Lord: This would be where I would write down what I hear the Spirit whispering or describe what I am feeling about lifting these things up to God.
Give it a try! I invite you to revisit this old favorite with me and see the new things that the Lord has in store for you. As ever, let us be reminded that we do not walk this path alone. Let us be anxious for nothing.
Cross-Posted from Reflections on Faith, Words, and The Holiness of Today
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)