Anxiety: Fight It or Feed It
With determination and the right weapons, we can conquer this enemy of peace.
by V. Neil Wyrick
Have you heard about the man who had a plane to catch at an early hour? Having set his alarm, he sat on the edge of his bed all night long to make sure it went off on time.
This man earned his PhD in anxiety; he had worry down to a science. He believed that living one day at a time meant never sleeping so he would always know what time of day it was.
Then there was a little boy named Donald, whom Erma Bombeck wrote about. Getting inside Donald’s head is a good way to emphasize how foolishly we all can capture more uptight bugs than we know what to do with.
Just before his first day of school, six-year old Donald proved he had worrying down pat. His thoughts? My name is Donald. I don’t know anything. I have new underwear, a loose tooth, and I didn’t sleep much last night. What if a bell rings and a man yells, “Where do you belong?” and I don’t know? What if the trays in the cafeteria are too high for me to reach? What if my loose tooth comes out when we have our heads down and are supposed to be quiet? Am I supposed to bleed quietly? What if I splash water on my nametag and my name disappears and no one knows who I am?
Fear can be a friend when it keeps us from walking on glass, ingesting poison, or running from a pit bull. But foolish anxiety the kind we feed runs around wearing holes in our brains, creating ulcers in our stomachs, and making any peace we might have had break up in pieces. Anxiety does exactly what the Greek translation of the New Testament says it does: It strangles the living daylights out of us. It curdles; it crumples; it cripples. We have only so much time and energy, and it wastes both.
We must fight, not feed, anxiety by wielding spiritual and physical weapons.
A pound of fortitude
So then, where and how can a pound of fortitude be found to control a pound of fear before it becomes a ton of anxiety? Therein lies the rub, because many a fear that was wise can become an anxiety that isn’t.
Second Timothy 1:7 offers a weapon and way of weighing worrisome things properly: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity [fear], but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (NIV). Joining hands with David (who wrote many of the Bible’s psalms) and his words has a winning to it: “Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass” (Psalm 37:5).
If there is a truth that should be written across the roof of the sky, it is this: Saying and meaning “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (Psalm 23:4) is an affirmation that has the touch of miracle in it. Why? Because when one is not afraid to die, one is not afraid to live.
Professional worry warts abound, camping on doctors’ doorsteps with imaginary ills until such anxieties produce the real thing. Others fall victim to the 9/11 syndrome and refuse to fly, though driving is still more dangerous.
A big part of any solution is to seek out proper authorities. Once we have read the first-class authority, Jesus “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:31) it makes common sense to find outstanding examples of those who have taken His words to heart.
One is John Wesley. It was said of this founder of the Methodist Church that he arose each morning at four o’clock, preached more than 40,000 times, and traveled more than 250,000 miles on horseback. In the course of all this, Wesley never hurried, never worried, and never let foolish anxieties wear him down.
Connie Mack was a baseball manager, not a preacher, but he early learned a truth that allowed him to perform brilliantly the intricacies of life. He used to say that he forced himself to spend time preparing to win future games rather than wasting time and energy worrying about games he had lost. One of Mack’s favorite booster phrases: “You can’t grind grain with water that has already gone down the creek.”
Quoting Satchel Paige, one of the field hands in my first rural pastorate often mused, “When I work, I work hard. When I sit, I sits loose. And when I starts to worry, I just go to sleep.”
“The future ain’t what it used to be,” said Yogi Berra as he sought to explain that whether things are bad or better, we are most often bothered when they are different than we thought they would be.
Courage and peace
Today we have Iraq, but remember Y2K not that long ago. Remember Vietnam, the Korean War, WWII. It is hard to picture a time when there has not been some kind of political, economic, or social turmoil. Therefore, when problems come to call, let history be a teacher as you wisely “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall [let Him] strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord! ” (Psalm 27:14).
It is good to stand on your own two feet, but some proper propping-up by God certainly isn’t out of order: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3). Call it prayer partnership. Call it linking with your Creator. Call it spiritual common sense.
I like the way one lady, with ninety years linked up behind her, approached life. She lived far out in the country, all by herself. When asked if she was ever afraid, she replied, “Why should I be? Faith closes my door at night, and Mercy opens it in the morning.”
Cooperate with the inevitable
Whatever anxious moments find our doorstep, we must learn to cooperate with the inevitable if we’re to accomplish well the art of living. An appointment made, and our watch stops. Gone fishing, and the only thing we catch is a bad cold in a rainstorm.
When such things happen, we don’t have to like what is happening. But at least we must learn to learn from a problem. This way, it is not a complete waste of time.
Before we traded in our 1986 Dodge several years ago, my wife and I had a car that majored in stalling. It reminded me of 2 Timothy 1:6: “Kindle afresh the gift of God” (NASB). It didn’t kindle afresh; it didn’t want to go. It was a king of quitters.
Our present, newer car doesn’t do that. It starts, never stutters and then stops. Every time we want to go somewhere, it kindles afresh with remarkable enthusiasm. There are dangers all around on the highway, but the car never notices. It is the epitome of confidence.
God with us
Another weapon in our emotional conquest is realizing that the secret of finding the “peace that passes understanding” is to not waste time trying to understand it. Just accept the fact that peace comes from the presence of something rather than the absence of something. And that something is God.
God is with us when twin towers are built and when they waver and fall to the ground in terrible pieces. God is with us long before dawn and long after dusk. On the blackest night or when the brightest moon sweeps away the darkness, God is with us.
Would you stand tall and sun-crowned above the crowd? Think eternity. Think salvation. Think wonderment and awe about the Creator of it all.
The last weapon in our fight against anxiety is prayer. An old preacher friend of mine used to counsel me, “If your knees are knocking, kneel on them.” Or another way of putting it: “You don’t have to worry about running from worry when you are kneeling.”
The question must always be, how can a skinny soul deal with the big, fat problems of life? The answer is to stop feeding anxiety and fight it. That’s the message of Jesus and of others who have gone before us.
Scripture quotations were taken from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.