“I feel anxious,” my friend confided in me. “I have too much to do. God seems distant and I have a hard time sitting still long enough to pray.” Sound familiar? When our busy lives accelerate our stress levels, it may be time to stop and reflect on some eternal, calming realities.
For some, anxiety is a complex, serious issue and should be treated by a doctor or a counselor. Yet all around me, it seems, most people are expressing some level of anxiety, wondering how to calm their internal storms. Maybe it is a disease of our culture which tends to be narcissistic, goal-oriented and constantly restless. It is certainly a disease of the soul that disturbs our peace, undermines our confidence in God, and focuses our minds upon things temporal and often irrelevant.
Leaders who are inclined to be highly responsible and future-focused seem to be especially prone to the condition. I certainly am. Some even wear their anxiety as a badge of honor to demonstrate how hard they are working. This can be even worse for leaders in campus ministry where the work is not clearly defined and seems never-ending.
Hovering anxiety may be a life-long, unsolvable condition, but we can learn to identify it and, with God’s help, disarm its power over us. Only then will our spirits stay energized as God intended when he gave us breath in the first place.
Strangled by anxiety
The root sense of the word anxious means to strangle. Picture a helpless sheep attacked by a pack of wolves that lunge for its throat. Anxiety can strangle our sense of hope and leave us feeling like we are being pulled apart.
The Bible tells us the story of a woman who was stressed out in Luke 10:38-42. Martha was anxious and distracted by all that she had to do when Jesus and his team of disciples stopped by for dinner. She even ordered Jesus to tell her lazy sister Mary to help her in the kitchen. Anger often accompanies anxiety.
Marjorie Thompson, author of Soul Feast, writes, “The problem is not work or service. It is the pervasive anxiety that we have too much to accomplish in too little time; the worry that what we do will be inadequate, unappreciated, not thought ‘good enough.’ It is the inner turmoil, felt in the rush and pressure of conflicting concerns, that does us violence.”
There can be many causes of an anxious heart, but two reasons leap out at me. The first is an obsession with the future. We become future-focused trying to shape or control our destiny. As a result, we are unable to live in the present, enjoying and embracing now. We lose our spontaneity. We spend unnecessary energy trying to control things that are beyond us.
Second, we become overly responsible. We have a small view of God and a big view of ourselves. When this happens to me, I become a practical atheist, forgetting about God’s role in my life.
So, what can you do in anxious times?
- Breathe. Get comfortable, take some deep breaths and relax your tense muscles.
- Focus on the present.
- Notice where your thoughts lead you and head toward God.
- Ask yourself, “What am I carrying that I don’t need to carry?”
- Cast all your cares and anxieties upon the Lord in prayer, as we’re encouraged to do in 1 Peter 5:7.
In addition, set aside an extended time to reflect on the presence of Jesus in your life and how he wants you to live. The following Bible texts and other material will help identify your fears and expand your view of God. He is able to calm your anxious heart and give you peace.
Jesus said, “Don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes” (Matthew 6:34, The Message). If you’re under stress, it’s worth exploring this bold admonition by Jesus more closely. Here is the complete text, along with some questions to guide your reflection.
Also, this short, inspirational reading by Marjorie J. Thompson unpacks some reasons why we worry. She reflects on the words of the Psalmist who said, “It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil …” (Psalm 127:2).
“Live in me,” Jesus said. “Make yourselves at home in my love.” But how do we do this? This meditation from John 15:1-17 centers on abiding in the love and joy Jesus offers his followers. As you read this, ask the Lord to renew and refresh your heart and help you put anxiety and stress in perspective.
I pray that you will take steps to rejoice in the Lord, live in the present, and cast all your cares on Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who can restore your soul. This prayer from the apostle Paul sums it up:
“I ask the Father to root your feet in love so that you may take in the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19, The Message).