2020 was a year that anyone might label as out of control. These ensuing years haven’t shown much improvement. We like to have things under control. Our problems begin when we both desire and expect circumstances to be under our control.
When we try to clutch the reins of this out-of-control ride we call life, we will get thrown from our mount and it will hurt.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults.” That’s more than 18 percent of the population 18 years and older. That percentage would likely skyrocket if it included those of us who struggle with worry, anxiety, and depression without ever telling anyone.
The stress of a pandemic and its aftermath—both economic (job loss, business loss) and psychological (isolation, fear, grief)—has left many of us reeling.
Over the last year, I often wondered, what’s next?
Fires. The entire Left Coast seemed to be in flames.
Massive storms. Hurricanes, ice, and political upheaval pummeled this nation. And woven throughout these events were notifications no one wants to get—news that another friend or relative had died. Even small losses like not being able to have dinner at a favorite restaurant or finding out a trip was postponed felt like a big deal—not unlike standing in a boxing ring waiting for the next punch to land and wondering if any of us would remain standing.
The Peace We Long for
So what do we do with these uncomfortable feelings? Some of us get depressed. Some ignore them or bury them under recreational drugs or more socially acceptable addictions like exercise, social media, and entertainment. (My personal favorite is a super-sized scoop of cookie dough ice cream—but that started before the pandemic gave me an excuse.)
None of these idols can ever satisfy. They keep demanding more sacrifices from us and delivering less satisfaction to us. Obviously they provide no lasting rest.
Each person who claims Jesus as The Way will say they believe that:
- God is good
- God is all powerful
- Jesus loves me
- Jesus lived, died, and lives again
- The Spirit lives in me
- The Spirit always speaks truth
If God truly is good, powerful, alive, and in us, and if He created us and knows how He designed us to live, and if Jesus “came that we might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10), then following His lead will give us the peace we so desperately long for and that our idols cannot provide. “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you” (Psalm 55:22, NIV).
Find a New Focus
Max Lucado writes, “Think about what you think about.” And 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us, “Take every thought captive.” Psalm 131 says, “I have calmed and quieted my soul.” And Psalm 46:10 commands us to “Be still” or “Cease striving.” While seeking professional help for anxiety and depression is sometimes necessary, there’s much we can do on behalf of our own sanity. If God considers us capable of settling ourselves by remembering truth and trusting His Spirit, shouldn’t we at least try?
But how do we “still” ourselves? How do we “cease striving” and get off that debilitating hamster wheel that spins inside our brains? We will never have God’s perfect sovereign perspective, but we can stop and refocus our attention on the bigger picture when we begin to feel anxious:
- Where is God at work in this situation?
- If Romans 8:28 is true (and it is) how might the things you are most anxious about be “working together for the good of those who love God”?
Hint: “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation” (Romans 5:3-4, NLT).
Once I caught myself “what-if-ing” about the next possible catastrophe. I decided to turn the tables by asking, “What if God has suddenly fallen off His throne and no longer runs the universe?” That thought was so laughable I stopped worrying!
Stop, Drop, and Breathe
When you find yourself spinning in the anxiety cycle and can’t seem to find the exit, stop whatever you’re doing. Breathe…deeply…slowly…in…out…several times. And when your brain begins to quiet enough that you can slip in an idea edgewise, name—out loud if possible—what you’re anxious about. Keep breathing. As you relax, get curious. Ask questions about your anxiety without any judgment. Is it about sin? Is it about fear? Is it about an injustice? Is it about loss (of a relationship or of control)?
Again, without judgment, put each of your reasons into its own separate mental drawer. As soon as you are able, open those drawers one at a time and look hard at the contents. Are they worth keeping? Do you need help (from a professional or a wise friend) sorting out what to keep and what to toss? Do you need to forgive or ask for forgiveness?
Often, simply bringing these anxious thoughts out into the daylight shrinks them to their proper size and sometimes they disappear entirely! Like a troll in daylight an anxious thought becomes impotent.
Fight Like Jesus
Proactively allow the following scriptures to percolate deep into your soul. Pick one or two that resonate and post them in prominent places or schedule a phone reminder to pop up several times a day, putting these words of life in front of you. Better yet, memorize them (no, you’re not really too old or too busy) so the Holy Spirit can bring them to mind when you need them most.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself…Refrain from anger and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. (Psalm 37:7-9, ESV)
“Peace I [Jesus] leave with you; my peace I give to you….Let not your hearts be troubled.” (John 14:27, ESV)
[Jesus said,] “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:33-34, ESV)
The Lord is near. 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. (Philippians 4:5-7, NIV)
“Come to me [Jesus], all who labor and are heavy laden…Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-30, ESV)
My first panic attack was a nasty surprise. Never before had I felt like suicide was the only way to end the horror. The next time I felt one lurking I began to recite the following Psalm. I had to fight harder than I thought possible to get each word out but by the time I got through “the valley of the shadow” the words became easier and by the end I knew Jesus had led me to the other side. The third time, soon after I began speaking the words the attack stopped and has not returned:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not lack. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 23 NKJV)
Let the Joy of the Lord Be Your Strength
Finally, fall in love with Jesus. “Take delight in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4, NLT). Marinate in God’s words and surround yourself with others who radiate His love. Take regular Sabbath breaks to spend truly quiet times—just you and Him (not you, Him and your smartphone)—listening and sharing your heart and “you will find rest for your soul.”
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NLT). Jesus promises that for now, this seemingly out-of-control world is here to stay. So is Jesus. “Never, no never will I leave you. Never, not ever will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Since “the Lord IS near” you really can choose to “not be anxious about anything.”