Day 17: anxiety and peace

Anxiety is a serious joy-squasher. And a feeling I am quite familiar with. I remember the first time it settled in: I was living in L.A. during what should have been the fall semester of my junior year in college. I didn’t know how I was going to pay my bills, I was lonely and aimless among other things, and the anxiety left a constant feeling of sickness in my stomach. Later, when I learned I was pregnant with Hadley and my whole world was going to be radically altered, I lived in a constant state of fear and anxiety. When I lost my job at LSS and faced the thought of being a solely self-employed single mom, anxiety became a very physical reality I could not escape. I walked around clenching my jaw. There were butterflies in my stomach at all times.

Though I would say I wasn’t exactly walking with Jesus during these times, I’d be lying if I said that anxiety has completely disappeared as I’ve become a follower of Christ. I still battle the physical symptoms that creep up when I least expect it. But in His grace, the Lord has taught me so much about battling these feelings and placing my trust in Him, beginning with memorizing and abiding in Scripture. (In combating anxiety I memorized 1 Peter 5:6-10, Luke 12:22-34, and Philippians 4:4-8. And I’m going to go ahead and challenge you to do the same if anxiety is a battle for you!)

I think, among other things, anxiety is the symptom of misperceived control. I think I have control of my circumstances, and when reality proves me wrong, I respond by feeling anxious as I consider all the possible outcomes (about which I can do nothing). When I saw a counselor at some point years ago, she began having me recite this mantra: I am not God. I cannot control the future. I cannot change reality. And despite my lack of understanding at that point of who God really was, just that fact alone was enough to bring a sense of calm and rest.

But over the past couple of years, God has built upon that truth. Yes, I am not God. But there is an even better truth that must not be ignored: He is.

In my opinion, the opposite of anxiety is peace. But so often we hear peace associated with a decision we are trying to make. “I was considering between this and that and God gave me peace about choosing this.” Now, we could get totally derailed with a conversation about how God speaks and what His will is but I will resist the urge to digress. 🙂 Instead, since so often a decision remains unclear and we have to just pick something or wait on what happens (often producing anxiety) I will offer what I think the true source of peace is and ought to be in most situations.

In 1 Peter 5:6-7 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Casting our anxieties upon God is an act of humbling ourselves under His mighty hand. It’s acknowledging that we don’t know what He’s doing, why we’re suffering, what to do next, but we trust Him nonetheless, because we know He cares for us. Later, verse 10 says, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” This is the source of peace! We serve the God of all grace! He has called us to eternal glory in Christ. He will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us. Peace is found in who God is, not in being certain one decision is better than another.

The beauty of this is that it doesn’t change with our circumstances. We can have peace in the midst of uncertainty because we know that our God is never uncertain. We can let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts (Colossians 3:15). We can let the peace of God, which surpasses our understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

As I’ve been reading Knowing God, I’ve been struck more and more how much comfort there is in knowing the character of God. Even when our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts. Knowing God is the source of peace, and it is the source of joy.

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him,
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er,
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus,
Oh for grace to trust Him more.