At some point in our lives, we have all experienced anxiety, fear, and stress keeping us up at night. As children, this might have been caused by the thought of monsters in our closets or under our beds. We might have gotten scared by a movie or maybe a story one of our friends told us. But as kids grow older and mature, they see that none of those fictional creatures or characters exist. They can’t hurt us, and this newfound grip on reality helps us avoid losing sleep.
That’s not to say that adults don’t get kept up at night. Different types of thoughts distract our minds, though. They take on a much more grounded appearance. The culprit could be anything from the fear of an upcoming interview or a high-pressure meeting, to unresolved financial troubles or difficulty with family. And oftentimes, these situations are out of our control! We’ve done our due diligence, attempted to resolve them to the best of our ability, and now it’s out of our hands. But we can’t help but worry.
Recently on The Inner Life, Josh Raymond recalled such a time years ago when his wife convinced him to perform in a musical competition at the county fair. It was a two-night performance, and he played the first night with no problem. But when he was called back to perform the next night, it all came flooding back: memories of nervous anxiety before musical recitals as a teen flashed before him. Knots formed in his stomach. But why?
“Did I really care if I was judged the best of all the musicians there in some small county fair in Oregon? If I really did end up winning that night, would it have changed one thing about my life and where it was headed? Because I wasn’t going to all of a sudden change career paths. I wasn’t going to start touring as a professional musician. That worry and that anxiety that I experienced, it was all for nothing,” he said.
Even if there’s nothing to worry about, we worry anyway. We stress and end up overloading our minds with the most inane things that we shouldn’t be thinking about. It affects our sleep, our memory, our health, and our lifestyle. And Jesus tells us not to worry, but how?
Josh welcomed Father James Searby onto the show to talk about ways to spiritually battle against anxiety. Father James began by differentiating anxiety from stress and excitement. Excitement is the rush we feel when we anticipate the performance of some action, whether we’re looking forward to it or not. Stress is the exertion of some outside force on us and our response to it. He noted that there are good kinds of stress, like when we go for a run to stress our hearts or lift weights to stress our arms. That stress results in the exertion and thereby growth of our muscles. In that same way, we should be stressing our souls through mortification and prayer and stressing our minds through study and reading.
Father continued, saying that oftentimes, people avoid good stress in their lives because what they really fear is anxiety. He has seen that most of the time, anxiety is a result of “negative processing bias”. And negative processing bias comes from one of two things. It can come from worrying about or dreading the future, anticipating the worst-case scenario, or it can come from regretting the past, whether it be one’s sins, troubles, or traumatic experiences.
Father James also pointed out that one of the biggest traps for anxiety is complaining. “That really comes a lot from complaining. And that can be at the heart of a lot of anxiety. Because what happens is when we complain, we immediately see life as a threat, whether it’s the present or the future. And anxiety ultimately is our minds, our bodies reacting to threat.” Like a gazelle grazing in a field, our mind becomes constantly on alert, constantly looking for the next thing that’s out to get us. That anxiety is what holds us back from engaging in the positive stresses.
Father offered that it is a good thing to have an operational threat detector, but it should not be controlling our life. We should be controlling it, vetting what is worth our time and what is not. The most powerful tools at our disposal in controlling these anxious feelings are mental prayer and having the ability to remain present. We need to ensure that we are forging a relationship with our Father in Heaven and by doing so, we can effectively shed the worries of the past and future and put them in His hands so we can live in the moment.
We are like a child at a carnival holding the hand of our father. We look around at the sights and scenes around us, feeling excited, confident, and safe. But as soon as the surging crowd bumps us and we lose our grip on our father’s hand, that confidence vanishes. We are panicked and scared. Let us return to the presence of our Father and give all our worries, anxieties, and fears to Him.
From fear, deliver us, O Jesus.
Listen to the full conversation below:
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