A year and a half ago, my husband was working a night exercise, and I was home alone. As I turned off the TV and began to head to bed, our home alarm screamed, "Glass break!" and began wailing relentlessly.
My heart raced, but I tried to remain calm. I hadn't heard any glass break moments before. I disarmed the alarm and picked up my phone. My husband isn't usually available at work, so I called my mom, but there was no answer. I sat down on our couch trembling. In a twist of fate (which is a story of its own), my husband had been near his phone, heard the text alert, and called me.
But as I assured him it was a false alarm, a loud bang rang out from somewhere else in our house. We quickly learned that my fight-or-flight response is ALL flight. And a lot of screaming. Fear propelled me out our back door and into our yard, where I waited for police to arrive.
It wasn't until a year later, after we’d moved out of that house for a deployment and back into a new one, that I realized the toll those panicked moments took on me. Panic attacks overtook me on a regular basis when I was home alone.
This time, though, my fear was unfounded, no matter how real each flashback felt. With this heightened anxiety, all of my other anxieties became more visible. In time, I realized that I’d lived with anxiety and worry for a long time, dating back to well before the attempted break-in. They had become such constant companions that I no longer recognized them as unhealthy. It finally hit me that near-constant tightness in my chest was never normal.
That's how worry is, though. It’s seemingly innocuous — you could even construe it positively as being responsible. But it’s one of the last things God wants for us. In His great wisdom, He knows that worry and anxiety aren't good. He knows they destroy us. That's why He commands us not to let them enter our minds.
Looking back on my counseling and the breakthroughs that helped free me from that crippling anxiety, I can see how each step forward aligned with the strategy Christ had already supplied for me.
“Do not be anxious about anything, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:6-8 ESV).
Step 1: Pray Humbly
The very first thing Jesus tells us to do is pray. It may not feel natural to pray when worry comes knocking. However, turning to God first demonstrates our willing reliance on Him. God shouldn't be our last resort after we've tried to solve a problem alone. Asking for God's help should be our first stop. When we truly believe that He's in control, it becomes more natural to turn to Him, instead of relying on our plans.
The word "supplication" also instructs our prayers. Although we often think we could solve our problems (and may want to pray specifically for our solution), Jesus tells us to humbly ask God for help. It's okay to ask God for a specific kind of help, but it's important to trust that His solution will be the best one, even if it isn't what we want.
Step 2: Give Thanks
When you're having a crisis (small or large), being grateful doesn't seem logical. In fact, it almost seems like a waste of time if you want to jump in and solve a problem. But giving thanks to God for the provisions He's already placed in your life can put your problems into perspective. Today's problems are smaller in comparison to all the ways God has moved in our lives — they’re minuscule in light of eternity.
For my anxiety, it's been helpful to use "thanksgiving" as a reason to remember the times God has been faithful to carry me through similar situations in the past. Since the night of the break-in, I’ve spent many nights alone with God's protection around me. Even on that terrifying night, I am thankful that He protected me from any physical harm. If your worry is about your finances, for example, you may also find it helpful to give thanks for the times that God has provided for you.
Step 3: Lean Into Christ
It is incredibly significant that this verse tells us that peace that surpasses understanding lies in Christ. In one sentence, our worries are put into the eternal perspective that Christ died to give us. We see a pixel in a photograph where God sees a whole movie. Not everything will make sense to us. In fact, some of the things that bring us worry and anxiety might make us downright angry at God. But if we surrender to His eternal view of our lives, He will give us the peace He alone can offer. The Father who gave us Christ to secure our souls cares deeply about all of the things that worry us, and He is good, loving, and more than capable of healing.
Step 4: Refocus Your Thoughts
What goes in must come out. That's usually said crudely, but it's true of our thoughts as well. After we follow Jesus' instructions, He tells us what we should think about instead.
Sometimes, our thoughts require the same intentional discipline as a diet or workout. We have to choose to refocus them on the things that nourish us, rather than the things that tear us down in some way.
If I had to tell you the sin that I struggle with most, it would be worry, and that may always be true. But now, I know that there is no worry that God can't conquer. God is always waiting patiently to conquer our failing trust in Him and our desire to control things ourselves. Sometimes, if you’re like me, you need to reach out for help and that’s okay. In fact, having someone to spur you on toward God when you’re struggling to see your way ahead may be essential. At the end of the road, there is rest.
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What are the things that cause you most anxiety? Why?
Oswald Chambers says that in light of Matthew 6:33, worrying means that we imply to God, “I know your intent is to leave me unprotected and vulnerable” (My Utmost for His Highest). How have you been falsely accusing God with your worry and anxiety?
What do your fears reveal about your relationship with God? What do they reveal about your desire to control your life?
How can you see giving up worry/anxiety as an act of obedience to God? How can you tangibly put the above points into practice in your life?
Identify the biggest worry or fear you have right now. Then consider how that worry doesn’t align with God’s promises for you. Identify unhealthy thoughts and messages you allow in your life that encourage your worry. This week, make a conscious effort to monitor your thoughts — when your worry comes to mind pray and make a conscious choice to focus on something that will build you up.
Monday: Philippians 4:4-7, Matthew 21:22
Tuesday: Philippians 4:8-9, Ephesians 6:18
Wednesday: Psalm 9
Thursday: Philippians 4:10-13
Friday: Proverbs 4:23, Luke 6:45
Saturday: 1 Peter 1:13-16