When You're in the Crosshairs of Anxiety
A beloved relative is dying before your eyes; the syncopation of an EKG monitor punctuates each heartbeat. Bleep . . . Bleep . . . Bleep . . . . It's not the sound of hospital equipment, however, that is dragging your soul into despair; it's the conflicted thoughts and emotions swirling within. Memories, tender and most lovely, give way to the cold sterile confines of a deathbed. You seek to apply your faith in God's providence, but the torrent of emotions rains down mercilessly upon you, causing you to feel hopeless.
Such an experience can be replicated in a thousand different scenarios. We've all been there at some point. Some of us live there. You understand quite well the concept of Philippians 4: think on things that are praiseworthy and true, with prayer and supplication, shunning worry in favor of thanksgiving, and God's inscrutable peace will guard you heart. Indeed, this is a precious, altogether true promise. But in some moments of crisis you're so exceedingly distracted that you feel unable to control your thoughts and thus incapable of finding peace. What then?
The Lord of glory unifies creation under the reign of Christ in the Holy Spirit's bond of peace; the Devil, on the other hand, comes to steal, kill and destroy. He divides and conquers. It is a strategy that has been around from the inception of sin. The Son of Man sows good seed into his field, producing a harvest of life that redounds to God's glory; the Devil sows weeds that threaten to choke it out. Such is the pattern. The Father extends his hand of redemption to subdue and organize the chaotic creation under his care; sin manufactures more and more chaos.
When the chaos of sin engages one's soul, anxiety naturally follows. The word translated anxiety in Philippians 4:6 comes from the Greek word merimnao. It gathers meaning from the words merizo "to divide" and nous "mind." This divided mind is the unhappy condition of the man whom the Apostle James describes as "double-minded, unstable in all his ways" (1:8). Such instability routinely focuses on the object of anxiety to the exclusion of God. In such moments, the sick feeling in our stomach and shortness of breath in our chest confirms that flaming darts have pierced our spiritual armor. We've been hit, and we are in trouble.
If you find yourself in this situation, seize the first opportunity to get before the Lord. Anxiety imposes a hypnotic trance, which must be broken. If you've ever read The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis, for example, this sort of phenomenon is depicted in the scene in which the evil Green Lady, ruler of the underworld, seeks to bewitch Prince Rilian and his friends. You may recall that just when she seemed to have enslaved them with her lies, Puddleglum stamps out the enchantress's magical fire and breaks her spell. Rilian then awakes, kills the serpent, and leads the travelers to safety. Our Prince of Peace, Jesus, says, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).
The truth of God's Word, regardless of our feelings, constitutes reality. The challenge, though, is opening the eyes of the heart to embrace this truth, especially when fiery darts are flying at us fast and furiously. A time of solitude before God is precisely what we need in such moments. Even as I write this sentence, I am looking out upon a quiet pond. Only water with this degree of calmness can possibly reflect heaven above. Likewise, we will reflect the Lord's peace when we sit in the quietness of his presence.
Truth is recognized in quietness and galvanized in prayer. While the Greek legacy says "know thyself," the Roman says "rule thyself," the Buddhist says "annihilate thyself," the Muslim says "submit thyself," and New Age religion says "love thyself," Jesus says, "Without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Why nothing? Because without Christ we are stuck in the underworld of anxiety without hope of release. Sure, one can pretend to have escaped anxiety, distracting himself through drink or amusement, but these merely provide a momentary release. Only in childlike dependence on Christ, expressed through humble prayer, do we realize genuine liberation.
When you're in the crosshairs of anxiety, get alone with God, read aloud his promises of salvation—which are more certain than the breath that we breathe—and, as you cast your cares upon him, may the peace of Christ be yours.