Originally published Wednesday, 22 February 2023.
I do not know if there has even been a time in my life when the term “anxiety” has come up more than it has in the last five years. In doing some cursory research, it appears that even the secular world is noticing an increase in diagnosed anxiety, including a noted 5.12% increase in cases over the last ten years. (Social Psychology and Psychiatric Epidemiology, June 2021) I hear medications being advertised on television about it. I hear people referring to a difficult situation and saying “my anxiety was so high that…” I was even recently talking with a colleague about ministry and the women we serve, and she was acutely aware of the increase we’ve seen in that terminology, as well. There seem to be a number of women that are battling some level of anxiety during this season – anxious thoughts, racing hearts, panted breathing, immobilizing worry.
Maybe that is you, today. You are at a place, where peace seems to have been replaced by worry and anxious moments replaced by calm. Perhaps you wake up thinking about challenges in your life that cause your heart to palpitate and the fears drive your thoughts most of the day. While this article is not meant to be a medical diagnosis or in lieu of medical treatment (mandatory disclaimer here), there are some things that the Lord has taught me about my anxious thoughts and how to calm the raging seas of worry and anxiety, when they rear their ugly head.
We’ll start with our recipe for peace. One of my favorite all-time sets of Scripture is found in the book of Philippians.
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then, you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” - Philippians 4: 6-8
- Don’t worry about anything // The scripture doesn’t teach us to not worry about anything, except if we’ve received a cancer diagnosis or except if we’ve gone through an ugly divorce or except if we’re a single parent who struggles to put a meal on the table for our three children. Scripture teaches that we should lay down the worry for all areas of our lives. I love what Jesus says in Matthew 6:24-27: "That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?" In other words, what does worrying do anyway? Does it change our situation? No. Do you know what I’ve found that worrying actually does? It causes health issues (e.g. racing heart, sweats, increased blood pressure, headaches, etc.). It causes a bad attitude (e.g. screaming at my children, short with my coworkers, etc.)
Pray about everything // In the most anxious moments of my life, I can take the burdens to the Lord in prayer. I can cry out to the creator of heaven and earth. I can call out to the One who is in the mountain-moving business, the One who has faithfully delivered me from my past hardships and trouble. Pray without ceasing, day and night. The more engaged in prayer we are, the more we can palpably feel the presence of the Holy Spirit with us. It empowers us to lay down worry. Pray about old wounds of abuse. Pray about festering unforgiveness. Pray about rejection that has caused you to make poor choices. Bring it all before the Lord.
Tell God what you need // God knows the plans he has for us to give us a future and a hope (See Jeremiah 29:11), but He wants to hear from us. Tell God what is going on. Tell him what you need. We often have not, because we have asked not. As you are in prayer, tell the Lord in honesty, God I don’t know how to work this out, but I trust that you do. I need my electricity bill paid. I need my health restored. I need transportation. I need joy restored. He wants to hear from his children.
Thank God for what he’s already done // Gratitude cannot co-exist with complaining, grumbling, and whining. I know that for sure! But I am also pretty convinced that anxiety and worry will have a hard time co-existing when we have a heart and mind filled with the grateful spirit of all God has done. As we are reminded about all he has provided – family, friends, church, job, transportation, health, joy, salvation, laughter – we become less consumed with how he’ll provide for the next thing. We begin to move into a feeling of trust that we don’t know how, but we know he will.
War against your thought life // I love that Philippians 4:6-7 is followed by the words in verse 8. What are you spending most of your time thinking about? Do you dwell on how it will never work? Do you think about how you’ll never find “the one”? Do you focus too much on comparing yourself to others? The list goes on and on. We often accept Satan’s lies of manipulation as truth for our lives and it rules us. But, we are to think on what is true, admirable, praiseworthy, pure. Is what you are thinking about actually true? Is there really NO WAY that God can work this out? Well, His word says that we can do ALL things through Christ who gives us strength. His word says that faith of a mustard seed moves mountain. His words says He will supply all our needs and place lonely in families. His word is our truth, despite how we feel, so we must think about what we’re thinking about!
Peace is a fruit, so check your soil // Have you created an environment of rich ground for peace to flourish? The Holy Spirit gives us peace. Have you created an environment in your home, work, car, family, and mind where the Spirit can move freely, gently correcting when needed? As a Believer, God says when you love Him, you keep His commandments. We do what he asks of us, because we love him and want to honor him. Sin can overwhelm our hearts and become a rabbit hole of painful wounds, offense, and manipulation that seems impossible to get back out of. We can’t allow the things that don’t honor the Lord into our lives (immorality, greed, pride, dishonesty, etc.) and expect that we’ll still experience the peace of God. Peace comes when we’ve been planted and rotted in the soil of holiness and righteousness, communing with God daily. It is the truth that sets us free. We must be honest with ourselves about unconfessed sin and bring it before the Lord. Or else, it will eat us alive, as I like to say.
Jennifer Maggio is a mom to three, wife to Jeff, and founder of the national nonprofit, The Life of a Single Mom Ministries. She is author to four books, including The Church and the Single Mom. She was named one of the Top 10 Most Influential People in America by Dr. John Maxwell in 2017 and 2015 and has appeared in hundreds of media venues, including The New York Times, Family Talk Radio with Dr. James Dobson, Joni and Friends, and many others.