Saturday, August 15, 2015

On Anxiety, Part Three: Gratitude

Having addressed some of the sources of anxiety, it is only fitting to (finally, three months later) close these thoughts On Anxiety with the route to overcome. We are all too strangely familiar with the unknown, than we are with the One we know.  We are familiar with the loneliness and stress of "what ifs," and impossibilities, and denial, and worry.  It starts taxing on our minds and we can't even concentrate on the now, because all possible scenarios (and only the worst ones) play in our minds.  Even our spirit sinks a little, and physically, we want to crawl into a storm shelter and Netflix with a tub of ice cream.

And in our vulnerability, we open up to someone, who says with such cute naivety:
Do not be anxious about anything...

Philippians 4:6

Many of us have heard this verse countless times, shoved in our face like sidewalk flyers.  "Don't be anxious!" and it's laced with "Just pray!" or "Just believe!"  Real talk: instead of it cheering you up, doesn't it aggravate you a little more, doesn't it provoke you even more, doesn't it make you feel misunderstood and cheap, like your feelings aren't valid...? It's never that simple to "just" pray or "just" get better.  It's never that simple to, instantaneously, "not" have anxiety. The notion is summed up by this meme that a friend recently texted me:

But even if it isn't simple to rid ourselves of anxiety, it is still a command.  It is a hard command.  It is hard especially when everything else it your life persuades you that failure, abandonment, rejection, etc- that these things are inevitable.  The unknown is like a black hole that, often times, every happy/secure thought falls into and gets lost.  Why would we want to fall into a black hole.  Who would ask to be lost.

So I too have brushed off that verse.  It's exhausting and a little more lonely when you feel patronized by overused Scripture, cheapened by kitschy stationery and mugs and plaques.  Nonetheless, by the power of the Spirit, the remainder passage came back to life:

...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.

Philippians 4:6-7

My friends, He has shown us the most excellent way.

There's something about gratitude that keeps us humble.  And the place of humility denotes someone greater than us; it recognizes someone else's strength.  Surely, to be humble before God denotes that He is greater and stronger, and in the case of anxiety, in control.

When our minds are flooded with anxiety and worry and worst-possible scenarios, gratitude reminds us that we are indebted to One who has been consistently faithful to our hearts.  Remembering His presence and provision calms our thoughts, brings rest to our bodies, and surrounds us with peace.  He has been in control.  He still is in control.

Do not be anxious, about anything.  And in gratitude, tell your requests to God.  This too is key - we aren't ignoring the situation, we aren't denying the unknown.  But we're bringing our concerns, our needs, our humanity before Him.  We confess our fears and recognize our doubts, we are honest with our inability to be satisfied apart from Him.  We point out the holes that still feel empty, the ache in our hearts to have something tangible, or some word of hope to hang onto.  And with that, we are grateful for what He has done, and confident in what He can do.  We remember His faithfulness, if not just to us, but to those we know, and those we've heard of.  We recount His goodness and His relentless love and His forgiving mercies.  We are grateful, and we are humbled, and we lean on His strength.  And He is faithful to bring peace to our hearts.

A pocket of gratitude is enough to keep us buoyant.  Maybe we won't be near the shore or even at arms reach to a vessel. We may still feel lost in a vast ocean. But at least we will be afloat.  At least we are where we can breathe.


And so this was the case for me, with that large decision I wrote about.  I was leaving everything I knew for 2.5 years, cutting ties, and severing a commitment- and the thoughts plagued my waking life.  I was afraid to leave, and a part of me would be tamped if I stayed.  And I had little courage to stand up for myself and walk away.  I questioned if I had to do this - did God really tell me to leave?  And what if I leave, and what if I'm wrong?

But it was the moment when I expressed my gratitude for this season (and there are many blessings still to count), that I was filled with an unexplainable joy: "Thank You, God, for this season, and what it was.  Thank You for the relationships I've gained, and the skills I've learned, and the unknown impacts I've made.  Thank You for choosing me and trusting me to carry out Your will, and thank You for those who will grow in my place.  Thank You for all the greater things You have planned, and for creating a space in my heart to trust You more..."

Remembering His goodness restored my hope.  He has never once left my heart alone.  And I am still walking into the unknown, but gratitude has kept be buoyant.  It's allowed me to breathe again.


currently reading: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
currently listening: Rules of Civility