Recently I heard a reporter say, “The struggle is real, global, and multi-generational.” He wasn’t talking about anxiety, but he sure could have been. Because it turns out the same words could be used to describe anxious thoughts and feelings.
Anxiety’s a human struggle that spans generations and affects every culture on the planet. It’s a complex emotion that touches all of us in one way or another. And if left unaddressed, it can undermine the most important relationships we have.
As I said in my last post, I’ve wrestled with anxiety for decades, and I’ve pursued almost every treatment for it, from medicine to therapy to exercise to ice cream. At times, I’ve found it to be completely overwhelming — not even Ben and Jerry could help. (With that said, it’s hard for me to believe that their Milk & Cookies ice cream doesn’t have at least some healing properties.)
I realize I’m not alone. A lot of us end up floating down the rivers of What If and If Only. (Thanks to Max Lucado for naming those rivers so well.) Worse, some of us have bought house boats there.
What if I don’t pass the exam, get the credential, receive the award? What if I don’t get the job, win her approval, sound smart? What if I’m sick — really sick? What if my retirement savings run out? What if the Philadelphia Eagles never win another Super Bowl? (Sorry, but I had to throw that in there.) You get the idea. The current is so strong on the river of What If — and it leads to an ocean of anxiety.
If only I were thinner. If only I were richer. If only my skin were clearer, my kids were smarter, my home were bigger. If only I had a spouse who understood me or a boss who liked me. If only I had her life, his charisma, their net worth. Nothing elevates negative emotions like time spent on the river of If Only.
To the what-if-ers, Jesus asks a provocative question, one that’s intended to make us stop and think about the life we’re wasting when we’re consumed with worry: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Luke 12:25) Worrying drains the battery of our souls and has the potential to leave us estranged from the only Person in the universe who can quiet the questions and bring lasting relief, what the Bible describes as peace.
And to those of us who have a habit of if-only-ing our way through life, Jesus offers an alternative: “Seek first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Prioritize the pursuit that matters — embrace it wholeheartedly — and, amazingly, God will take care of the rest. If you’re anything like me, you need to remind yourself of that on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis.
What’s clear from Scripture is that no matter what life throws at us, our future good is settled: there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39). And as that unbreakable love works its way into the deepest parts of who we are, it changes us, frees us, sets a new course for our lives, one marked by a deep trust in the One who knows our struggle and walks with us through it.
Between now and my next post in this series, I hope you’ll take the time to read Philippians 4:4-9. It’s so good and hopeful, full of actionable insights that help us find freedom from anxious thoughts and feelings.