In this blog, John shares with us ways to cope with anxiety in this uncertain time.
These are anxious times.
In this situation, we Christians are often encouraged or challenged not to be anxious. A friend tells us he has complete peace, because God is in control. Facebook posts encourage us to trust in the Lord, that this is a moment to shine as lights in the darkness. We often hear that we should “not be anxious about anything” but commit it all to the Lord, and then “the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
Of course these and many other encouraging biblical passages are all true. They are God’s word to us, intended to bring peace, build faith, encourage good works. And yet those anxieties keep coming. With all this talk around us, it can even feel as if everyone else is full of faith and I am the only one struggling. Is there something wrong with me? Something else to add to the anxiety list?
It’s not surprising if anxieties arise, and keep coming back. The current situation takes us all into new territory, brings challenges way beyond what most of us have faced before. Our secure life of many years has suddenly disappeared. So many things we took for granted – health, free medical services on demand, church, social life, work, income, our daily food, a seemingly sure future – have disappeared all at once or been greatly changed. It’s like a bereavement. Not just a single bereavement but multiple losses, some large, some small, all coming together. Things we depended on and took for granted have gone or are threatened. This is massive. We are not robots, we are flesh and blood, and we feel it. It may not be as intense as losing a close relative (though that might be part of it right now) but it is still real.
Bereavement and loss mean grief. Grief cannot be dispelled with a word or in a moment. It takes time, it comes and goes in waves. We go through denial, anger, bargaining, maybe even depression, before we come to acceptance. Some of us will be affected more than others, some will have lost more than others, some of us will have past experiences that help us, but all of us will probably experience grief at some time. Maybe it will hit immediately, maybe later when more of the loss sets in, maybe when a particular personal threat arrives.
At the same time these circumstances are exposing our weaknesses, the areas in our life where we have not yet learned to trust the Lord, where unbelief still holds on. This too can be painful, even though it will help us to grow.
So how do we cope with all this loss, uncertainty and personal challenge?
Let’s start by not being too hard on ourselves. The Lord knows our weakness:
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:13-14)
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, (Matthew 12:20)
Even in our weakness and struggle, we can come to him:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 12:18-29)
We have a saying in Gateway: “It’s OK not to be OK”. Don’t knock yourself down because you are struggling with the situation.
This doesn’t mean we should stay in the place of anxiety. The situation requires us to face it with strength, faith and determination, even if our emotions don’t feel in the right place just now.
Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. (Hebrews 12:12-13)
How do we “strengthen the feeble arms” and “make level paths for our feet”? I think we all know the answer to that – keep coming to Jesus. Bible reading (or listening), worship, prayer, quietness, fasting: these are time-tested ‘disciplines’ that have kept God’s people strong in hard times throughout the centuries. We don’t always feel like doing them, and at times it feels very difficult, even sacrificial:
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. (Hebrews 13:15)
These aren’t new things; we know about them even if we don’t always do them. But now is the time when more than ever we need him and we need the ways he has given us to come to him. So even when our anxieties prey on us and our challenges make us feel weak at the knees, let’s keep coming to him, let’s make the sacrifice of praise. He will be faithful to his promises. He will gently lead us, teach us where we need to grow, help us through our weaknesses and unbelief, and give us rest. Sometimes our emotions will fall into place gradually, sometimes quickly, but he is always faithful.
Let’s also continue in fellowship, whether in our homes with those we may live with, in video calls with friends, or with small groups or the whole local church gathered online.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Of course there are many practical steps to help us live in peace: take some exercise regularly if you are confined to home; try to keep a routine; get up and go to bed at regular times; find ways to have fun in the unusual situation. There are many sources of good practical ideas like this. But above all, it is God who is our “ever present help in trouble”, even in our moments of greatest weakness.
When I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)