PEACE! It seems like everyone I talk with these days feels a lack of peace. With a global pandemic, disruptions to our normal social networks, financial pressures, and the elections in the USA, anxiety is the number one mental health problem people seem to be facing. Missionaries are no different. Every missionary I speak with has had their plans disrupted by the pandemic. Borders are closed, missionaries are having to remain in the USA much longer than they intended, resulting in severe financial strain (since most missionary’s support levels are geared to living at a much lower cost of living than what it takes to live in the USA). No one knows when borders will re-open. Because many of our clients and supporters are struggling with anxiety, I thought I would share a few principles for managing anxiety found in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi.
· “Rejoice in the Lord” – Gratitude and thankfulness is an antidote to worry and anxiety. Use this month designated for Thanksgiving to make a list of all the things for which you are grateful.
· “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” – You aren’t alone. The Lord is your defender, so you don’t have to be combative to protect yourself and your family. Remember that the Lord is near even when you feel alone.
· “Do not be anxious about anything, but instead pray about everything” – We choose what we will think about, and whatever we decide to think about will determine how we feel. As the scriptures tell us in Proverbs, “As a (wo)man thinks in his(her) heart, so is (s)he” Take charge of your inner emotional world by controlling your thoughts
· “Present your requests to God, and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hears and your minds” – Pray first, before you try to find a solution on your own. The 19th century hymn reminds us, “Oh what peace we often forfeit, Oh what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer.”
· “Whatever is true...noble...right...pure...lovely…admirable...excellent...or praiseworthy, think on these things.” Worry is thinking about the “what ifs” of life. We need to give all the “what ifs” to God, and instead decide to think only about “what is”. What is “true” about your life today? Has God given you your daily bread? Then thank God for that and choose not to worry about your daily bread for next week. Trust God for it instead. Is there something ugly happening around you? Choose to focus on what is “lovely” in your life instead; the beauty of God’s creation, or the beauty of a healthy relationship in your life.
· “Whatever you have learned from me…put it into practice, and the God of peace will be with you.” Earlier Paul said that the “peace of God” would be with us to guard us, but now he says if we do all these things, then “the God of peace” would be with us. Which would you rather have, the peace of God or the God of peace? I want the God of peace.
Anxiety can also come from biological pre-dispositions or from feedback that our brain receives from our muscles. So, we also need to pay attention to what our bodies are telling us. Are you tense? Spend a few minutes each day breathing slowly, stretching tense muscles and slowing down. Are you overwhelmed? Drop anything that is not essential from your to-do list and build some margin into your life.
Sometimes we can do all the “best practices” but anxiety still can overwhelm our minds. We must remember that we live in bodies that are affected by The Fall, and so some times our brain’s limbic system is working on overdrive. This situation may require medicines or clinical interventions. However, for most people anxiety can be overcome by “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”
So as you deal with your own anxiety today, would you remember missionaries and their children who are dealing with difficult, anxiety-producing situations of their own? Would you pray for them, that they would experience the God of Peace in their lives?
In His Service With You,