I’m good at anxiety. I can’t keep our plants alive – but I can blow the tiniest flicker of worry into a furnace. Big ones, (health, wanting my family to know Jesus, scary letters, bills, The Future) and little ones (did I really say that? must remember to phone X…what’s that smell of burning?) …they gang up and tackle me when I least expect them. 3am (when no-one else in the world is awake.) First thing in the morning when the world feels too bright and loud. Chatting with friends (‘I can’t believe I said that. They must think I’m an idiot’). Running (always running), for the bus.
When I was little, it was fear of the dark. Then, losing my parents. Getting cancer. Being ‘fat’. Going to hell. Dying. Dating. Not dating. Getting sick. Getting better.
All of us have worries. But sometimes, they grow so big, they squeeze the breath – and life – out of us. Telling yourself to relax doesn’t help. Beating yourself up for being a weak Christian just adds guilt to grief. Channelling your fears into busyness silences them – but only temporarily.
In Philippians 4:6, Paul reminds us not to be anxious. Sometimes this verse can be used as a way of condemning or silencing us rabbit-hearts – like a holy version of the stiff upper lip. Keep it together. Keep it in. However, it’s actually an invitation; to acknowledge our fears and find freedom from them.
Let’s read it again:
‘Do not be anxious about anything; but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’
The point is not that you’re somehow weird for feeling anxious – it’s that anxiety is inevitable for everyone. It’s not that there’s a camp of weaker believers who just don’t have the emotional ballast to weather the same storms as the normal ones; everyone has worries; and they will consume us all – unless we take them in prayer to the Lord. So, instead of (like me), beating yourself up for ‘being rubbish,’ Paul says drop everything onto the Father’s shoulders. Don’t pour yourself into busyness or guilt or even box sets and chocolate…pour your heart out to God. If we do, He promises to give us peace; the peace of a Person, Jesus, who walks with us in every situation and fights for us in every battle.
What does this look like? Does it mean that we’ll leap, worry-free into each new day? I suspect not. For me at least, handing over my worry is a daily – sometimes hourly – struggle. It takes time, energy and guts to name the things that scare me. I’d much rather hoover the fridge or repaint the hall. But whilst “doing” defers my worry, what deals with it?
Turning my worries into requests. Every worry that churns around my belly is, at bottom, an unnamed request. It’s a prayer for relief / success / peace / happiness / something. But instead of being addressed to a heavenly Father, these unarticulated wants gnaw their way around the pit of my stomach. When they remain unspoken they take the form: “I need This or Bad Things Will Happen.” When prayed they become “I’ve got You and nothing Too Terrible can happen.” When we don’t pray, our problems become the big thing, dwarfing the power we’ve been trusting in: ourselves. When we do pray, our Father in heaven becomes the big thing and our problems are told firmly but politely, to sit down and shut up.
When we’re prayerless it feels like worries beseige us and only our busyness keeps them at bay. But here’s what God says: Pray and we’ll see that it’s not our worries that surround us but our Father, “who guards your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.”