How to Keep Worry from Winning

The Eighth reflection in a series, “Hope to See Us Through,” by the Rev. Terry Elsberry.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’”

—Jeremiah 29:11

 

I was talking to a friend the other day, and the two of us agreed this pandemic has made both of us more anxious than usual.

Some days it feels a little like having a low- grade fever, this ever-present sense of foreboding. What’s going to happen next?

I’m going to the grocery store. Is somebody breathing coronavirus on me? How much hand-washing and antiseptic wiping will it take to make sure you’re totally germ-free? How can you really be sure you’ll keep winning over an enemy this brutally virulent and viciously omnipresent? Is it true we can expect another major wave this winter? How long will it take to develop a vaccine?

Once launched, the worry chain stretches on, adding link after link of anxious thinking. Depending on where we are in our lives, the questions assail us. Will my children be back in school next Fall? I love my family, but how can I find even a little alone time? Is my job secure? Worse, I’ve lost my job; can I find another one in times like these? Will I be able to put food on the table? What’s going to happen to the economy? What if I or someone I love has some of the Covid-19 traits that make for greater than average vulnerability? How many more weeks of this enforced shutdown, locked-down, socially distanced, fenced-in life can I stand? Am I going to have to spend the rest of my life relating to people virtually?

BUT WAIT, I’M A CHRISTIAN. HOW’S A CHRISTIAN SUPPOSED TO DEAL WITH WORRY?

That’s the still more vitally important question for you and me in these crisis times.

And—good news for us!—the Bible gives us the answers.

ONE. Pray specifically.

See Philippians 4:6. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Don’t be vague. Sometimes we feel the Lord is too high-up and spiritual to understand our basic human needs. Not true. He knows us. He created us, after all.

Therefore, He calls us to pray with concrete requests, to lay our needs clearly before Him.

Sometimes I come to Him with what might seem like either absurdly mundane or absurdly grandiose requests. As I often tell myself, the Bible says, “You have not because you ask not.”

So I ask. So should you. And be specific. He doesn’t have to fill the requests you bring Him, but we can’t expect the answer if we don’t ask the question.

Notice another key injunction in these lines from Philippians: “in everything by prayer and supplication WITH THANKSGIVING let your requests be made known.”

In other words, to your worry and anxiety add thanks. You may be feeling so low, it may be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done. But even when you’re calling to God out of a pit of worry and doubt, when you bring your needs to Him, include thanks. Thank Him in advance for the help you’re asking Him to give you. It may seem strange. But it’s a spiritual principle. One of the ways to get the answers you want from God is by thanking Him in advance, often when you’re feeling the least grateful.

TWO. Look to God for peace of mind.

Philippians first tells us to lay down our anxiety, make our requests clearly and with thanksgiving. Now we read: “And the peace of God which passes all understanding shall guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

All Jesus had to say to calm the storm that almost sank the boat was “Peace, be still.” All He has to do is intervene on our behalf and our personal storms are stilled.

THREE. Balance bad thoughts with good.

Finally, Philippians puts it all together for us with guidelines for how best to go forward in times like these. The Apostle Paul didn’t know a pandemic. But he endured terrible hardships. And how did he not only survive but triumph?

By doing something he challenges you and me to do.

“Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.”(Philippians 4: 8)

It turns out what Paul asks us to do here is not only spiritually but also psychologically sound.

In a recent issue of “Harvard Business Review Digest,” Scott Barinato suggests that one of the things we can do now to manage anxiety is to balance bad thoughts with good.

That’s a big responsibility, isn’t it? To focus, concentrate, fix our minds on such positive thoughts when we’re riddled with worry and anxiety. But it’s our holy obligation. A crucial spiritual discipline sent us from the heart of God. And in these times, a pathway to hope.