A friend recently said “I struggle with anxiety.” Those words are familiar and my friend is not alone. Using struggle and anxiety together in one sentence is more common than any of us imagine. I’ve been in that pit before and know the surrounding slippery slope makes it difficult to climb out of and easy to slide back to. The causes of anxiety are vast and individual, defying specific cause or even symptoms, but these were evident in my anxiety of the past: worry all the time, always expecting the worst or stressing over what was going to happen next, frequently exhausted, but unable to sleep, found no happiness in participating in activities, panic attacks with sudden overwhelming anxiety and fear, irrational fear of circumstances that caused deep sadness, fear of being embarrassed or criticized, and if I thought about it long enough I could probably add a few more manifestations of life lived inside my skin. If you’ve been there, or if you’re there now, you don’t want to stay there. I know you don’t want to stay there, and I have every confidence that you don’t have to.
I don’t have the answers for the plague of anxiety. I can tell you that the debilitating effects of anxiety are real, but so is the peace and optimism of a life escaped from anxiety. I have learned through much trial and error and many starts and stops, that the only way to escape anxiety is to consistently and persistently give my fears to the Lord. I’m guilty of taking them back, then realizing what an insane act that is. Why do I want that burden back again, when I gave it to God? Listen, God gets to decide anyway, so give that circumstance to him, and forget it. Start by turning it over to God, then do what it says in Philippians 4:4-7 “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” It can be habit forming – giving things to God to handle. But there’s more to the story.
Remember the slippery slope. For someone who so easily slides toward the pit, it takes more momentum than human strength to move us out of the danger zone. In those times we have to practice peace. In Psalm 63:1 we are reminded “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” That’s how it is with anxiety. If we are parched from lack of water, we panic. If our spirit is sucked dry by worry, we panic. Where can we find peace, before we make the descent back to the pit? First, yell at the mountain – get out of my way. I like the way the Message translation says it: Mark 11:22-25 ”Jesus was matter-of-fact: “Embrace this God-life. Really embrace it, and nothing will be too much for you. This mountain, for instance: Just say, ‘Go jump in the lake’—and it’s as good as done. That’s why I urge you to pray for absolutely everything, ranging from small to large. Include everything as you embrace this God-life, and you’ll get God’s everything. And when you assume the posture of prayer, remember that it’s not all asking. If you have anything against someone, forgive—only then will your heavenly Father be inclined to also wipe your slate clean of sins.”
The best prescription for peace that I know is attitude and total reliance on God to be the constant in my life. Every morning, and repeated all day, acknowledge total reliance on the one who designed us and created us to be the way we are. I think of it in this way. When I put my creativity to work and make something with my own hands, I’m proud of it and I take care of it. God does that for each of us. Armed with that knowledge, we can begin and end our day “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6