When the idea of this series first popped into my brain, I thought perhaps there was too much similarity around the issues of stress, fear and anxiety. These three emotions are often used synonymously (I think that’s a word). However, as I’ve read and researched, although they seem to elicit similar responses they are very different emotions. While stress is felt when we allow ourselves to feel the pressure of the world closing in on us, fear is when we experience eminent danger causing us to fight or flee. Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. It can be a nagging and dragging emotion that drains us of our energy, focus and even our ability to move forward.
Anxiety in our world today is so prevalent that it also has a psychiatric definition along with numerous medications to help you overcome your anxiety. Anxiety disorder is defined as “a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.”
A state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, sound familiar? Do you spend large parts of your day trying to control all the circumstances around you and worrying that things won’t turn out as you hoped, then becoming fearful of the outcome of that disaster, and allowing the expectations of everyone around to crush you to the point you just don’t feel like you can breathe? Anxiety is absolutely debilitating!
Many years ago, like about 8, we were going through an adoption process. My youngest son and my oldest daughter were living in our home as foster children. Marcus was placed with us the day he was born and his older sister came sometime later. Both immediately became part of our family, I was actually surprised how well they fit in and how complete my family became with them now part of it.
That’s when it began. Every three months or so we had to go to court for an update. I would worry about obscure possible relatives showing up and claiming them, what if the Judge changed his/her mind, what if my lawyer didn’t think we should have them, what if, what if, what if. My brain was constantly filled with anxious thoughts about what might, could, possibly, imaginably, vaguely, happen. I would start calling our case worker asking questions about every ridiculous possibility and she would finally tell me, “yes Betsy, that could happen, but worrying about it won’t change anything.”
The Bible can be very simple and direct, we however, have a tendency to complicate it. In Matthew 6, Christ is very clear about or propensity to worry. “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” Matthew 6:27
In Matthew 6 from 25 through 34 Christ acknowledges that worry (anxiety) is something that plagues us all. “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on it. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?…But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:31-34
Yes, I hear you, I wasn’t worrying about clothes or food. I was worrying about losing my children. But, I was worrying about possible (not probably) outcomes that I had no control over. I was spinning stories in my head and letting Satan live in my brain rent free!
God already knows the outcome, and better than that, His outcome is always going to be far better than one I could pull off. Not to mention my anxiety isn’t going to make a difference other than to have a negative impact on my health, relationships, walk with Jesus, and, and, and.
“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.” Philippians 4:6-7
Marcus and Emily are a blessed part of our family. They were part of God’s plan for us all along, and my anxiety had nothing to do with it! Looking back I can see how allowing my worry to go unchecked and become a habit created so much tension that was unnecessary. It cast a constant, looming shadow across what should have been an exciting adventure and growth opportunity for my family. Luckily I serve a Sovereign and loving God whose Grace is sufficient. I don’t think I permanently scarred anyone!
Stress, fear and anxiety are NOT of God! At least, not in a perpetual ruin your day and darken your life kind of way. We are not meant to live in a constant state of any of these emotions. However, there is good news; Christ doesn’t want that for you either and He has provided relief in the form of the Holy Spirit.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8
If you ask God to help you find peace and freedom from stress, fear and anxiety He will be faithful to answer.
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It’s one of those verses… we quote it, pastor quotes it, everyone quotes it. They quote it at you, to you, near you. Do we really know what it means?
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
Talk about what seems like the ultimate contradiction, “consider it joy…whenever you face trials”? Yea, cause when I’m facing trials, I’m going to be joyful…that’s gonna happen!
I was driving to the office a couple of months ago, like I do every day and I got a phone call. It was a good morning, kids got out the door on time, hitting green lights, coffee in hand, KLOVE on the radio, I was feeling it. Today, only good things were going to happen to me.
“Good morning, this is Betsy”, I answered the phone. On the line was a woman I had been working with on a very large project. To clarify, winning this grant would be the equivalent of my entire fiscal year’s revenue budget. We had been working together on this for months. Today was the day we would hear who won the grant. Only good things were going to happen today, I could feel it.
As I heard her voice, I could tell it was not the news I was hoping for. The disappointment was palpable in the sound of her words. I think she felt worse having to give me the bad news, than she did receiving it herself. I was stunned for a full 30-seconds, perhaps more because she pulled me out of the silence, “Betsy are you still there, did you hear what I said?” “Yes, sorry I heard you. I am so sorry, it was a great proposal and we can try again for the next cycle (in three years)” She agreed, and we talked about how much we enjoyed working together, we wished each other the best of luck and hung up.
So much for only good things happening huh? The projected represented an enormous amount of time and resources invested. As I pulled up to my first red light of the morning, this verse popped into my head. Thank you, Holy Spirit! In that moment, I had an opportunity to decide. I could mourn the loss, spend time (in my case hours if not days) spinning in my head about where I went wrong, what more I could have done, what more other people could have done. I could have looked for who to blame and been angry. Or I could take a moment to consider God’s greater plan for my life.
God was NOT trying to ruin my day. There was a reason we were not selected. It would have been a HUGE investment in time and resources, embarking down a road we’ve never been before. Could we have effectively executed the plan, living up to the expectations laid out in the proposal. Did I really have the time, along with my other responsibilities to lead the project? In that moment, I took a deep breath and felt an unexpected calm. In that moment, the second part of the scripture came to mind, “because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:3-4
I can think of a dozen reasons that I didn’t get the grant, but that doesn’t really matter. My getting the grant was not in God’s plan. I know that working outside of God’s plan for my life is disastrous. No, seriously been there done that, not going back! I was joyful in that moment that God is in control, that He has so much more for me than this one grant that served to exalt me in my career but not Him in His Glory.
The joy in this scripture that James talks about is Joy in the Lord. Not joy in our circumstances. God shows us His hands-on involvement in our lives through our circumstances, that is where our joy comes from, not in the circumstances themselves.
The storms of life will come, full force and try to knock us down. It is in those storms that God shows us His glory, His intimate involvement in our lives and His love for us, for our future and wellbeing. That is our joy! God knows and loves us, He wants what is best for us and use any and all means, (And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28) to achieve His purpose for our lives.
Next time, you feel knocked down by the circumstances, take joy in the knowledge that God is actively working through them to make you more like Him.
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I feel the need to take a break from my normal rants to share a burden I feel. Recently I read about a young pastor in California who committed suicide. He was in his 30’s I believe, a husband and father; a beautiful family photo accompanied the article. I was dumbfounded. How is this possible? How can a man, that man in the photo, a man who dedicated his life to serving God, chose to end his life?
I am well acquainted with the hardships and trials of this world; having lost both a husband in a tragic car accident and a daughter after a long and painful battle with cancer. You can’t go through life without experiencing some form of pain and loss; however I don’t believe it’s the pain and loss that is causing so many people in our world to choose to end their suffering…it’s the loneliness.
I get to work with a group of wonderful youth, and they have had more than their fair share of struggles. I watch in amazement as they pull themselves up and continue to move forward each day, it’s truly incredible the resilience they have. However, as they get older what I see is an increased sense of isolation. The more ‘connected’ they are, the less connected they feel. They have 438 friends on Facebook, 397 followers on Twitter and Instagram, but no one to pick up the phone and talk to when they need a listening ear. They post, text, snapchcat and tweet and dozens if not hundreds of people will give a thumbs up or a smiley face, but none are a familiar voice, hug, smile or shoulder.
As we continue to age and move into the ‘real world’ the isolation increases in corresponding measure to the pressures of life; succeed, make an impact, increase profits, and look like we walked off the cover of a fashion magazine. We need to have the right college degree, the right job, make enough money to drive the right car, live in the right neighborhood, etc., etc., etc. Now this is not a middle class issue, at all socioeconomic levels of our country there’s an isolation factor. We don’t want our neighbors to know we can’t afford groceries or that our child struggles with an eating disorder. We don’t want the school to put us on the list for donated clothes or to know that we don’t have a cell phone.
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” 1Thessalonians 5:11
This concept that no matter who we are, or what we do, we’ll never be enough is driving our nation crazy, quite literally. I read recently that children of this generation (Millennial) experience the same level of mental stress as adults did in the 1950’s who were being institutionalized! WHAT!!!
The pressure we put ourselves and our children under is much higher than it’s ever been before. However, I still believe that it’s the isolation that causes us to break. Humans are social beings we crave interaction, intimacy and human contact. We seem to be missing these in our culture right now; in a world where we can instantaneously contact someone, send a message get an immediate response back; communication has become transactional not relational.
This vibrant young man reminded me of recent conversations I’ve had with several friends; some at church and some at work. Each of them have struggles that they don’t feel comfortable sharing. Some of them because of their position at work, some of them because they fear the reaction of those around them, and some because of the stigma attached. I myself struggle with several of these, all of which isolate me from most of the people in my life.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1Corinthians 12:26
I can’t tell you how many times I longed for a breakfast table with a cup of coffee and a friend just to share my thoughts with, and I know it’s not just me. I know there are literally millions of people in the world whose lives would be exponentially better because of a phone call, a drop by, or a surprise pumpkin spice latte (had to put that in there).
If each of us took just a few extra minutes during the day, let’s say 10, (everyone can find 10 minutes) to reach out to someone in our circle and let them know how important they are, that you are there for them, that they are loved and valued…you may be surprised at the result. You may be surprised to find one of your friends thanking you, because that was exactly what they needed to hear…you may be surprised to find you saved someone’s life.
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, …” Philippians 2:1-7
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