Three days from now I will finish a Philippians study with a few fabulous women at seminary. I’ve known most of them for only three short months, yet in that time they have become forever friends—friends I plan to spend eternity with—an eternity that hopefully involves downhill snow skiing—at least occasionally.
The topic for Monday night is twofold: anxiety and contentment. I taught it this summer to an older group of lovely women at my church. In that group I was the youngest—in this group I am the oldest. I am having a little anxiety of my own trying to decide how to teach on the very same subject that I taught on three months ago. Because, our anxiety and contentment issues are surely different when we are in our twenties, than when we are in our nineties. (Yes, I had two ninety-something year old women in Bible study this summer, who I also hope to snow ski with in eternity).
I plan to start our evening by asking: What brings you anxiety? I’m curious to see what they say. For when I asked this question to the older group, they gave answers such as: the health of my husband, my children don’t know Jesus, friends or family members out of work, and living with chronic pain. These are all legitimate, anxiety-producing issues. If I’m to be honest with myself and God, I have worried over these same issues in various seasons of my own life. And, yes, there is some tinge of anxiety every time I lead or teach a group of women.
But all anxieties are not created equal. Some are debilitating and some are just annoying and evaporate quickly. Like this “chronic pain” issue—that one stays with me. But after I teach—whether I think I’ve done my Savior justice or totally floundered in my words—my anxiety is over.
My husband thinks I have no anxiety—ever. He wishes I had just a little—the kind needed to keep yourself safe from danger—or a wife who cares just a little about what others may think of her housekeeping abilities.
But for many, anxiety is a very serious issue. And because I have little to no anxiety, perhaps I’m not the one that can speak to this subject. Or, I could flip that around, and say because I have little to no anxiety, I am the perfect person to bear witness to anxiety-free living. Personally, however, I attribute my anxiety levels to being a gift from God. And I am certain that the minute I was to take credit for a lack of anxiety, I would become a very anxious-ridden soul.
Expert or not, here’s what I think perpetuates an anxious heart:
We think too much of ourselves, and too little of God.
So, if I may elaborate …
One, we navel gaze … in other words, we worry too much about what others think of us and how we come across to those we think are thinking about us. (My husband loves to remind his clients–and me as well–that people really aren’t thinking about you nearly as much as you think they are.)
And two, we think we know what’s best for our lives. We think we have life figured out and know what we want. Yet we often want the wrong things, and when we don’t get what we think we want, we pout or become mad at God or others. So, when we rely on others to make us happy instead of relying on God and his infinite wisdom for our lives, what we get is an anxious heart.
I think our biggest problem is that we still haven’t discovered how incredible, mighty, lavish and holy our great God is.
We know what our wretched self is capable of—yet we care little about trying to fix the serious flaws that render us ineffective and unproductive toward lasting change. And we know way too little about how mind-blowing God can be in our lives IF we would surrender EVERYTHING into his powerful hands. He is in the details. He does know that we hurt. He does know that our children are still very far from him. BUT the fabulous truth is that he not only knows, he also cares and he is also near. He has never left you or forsaken you, not for a minute. But sadly, we stay ignorant of this knowledge, and continue to run our own agendas, inviting God into the mix when things aren’t going our way.
I think Calvin was right to start his Institutes with “knowing ourselves and knowing God.” For when we are honest about who we are—with a repentant heart—and seek—with that repentant heart—to know God as he reveals himself to us—in His Word, through Jesus Christ, by His Holy Spirit—in the smallest details of our everyday lives—I do believe we will get smaller, He will get bigger, and our anxieties will diminish.
It’s just my opinion. I could be wrong. But it surely wouldn’t hurt to try.
p.s. I greatly appreciated the wisdom from two books on these topics: Tim Lane, Worry Free Living, and Bill Barcley, The Secret of Contentment. I read them this summer in preparation for Philippians chapter four, and I thoroughly enjoyed them both. I whole-heartedly agree with their godly perspective on the topics of anxiety and contentment.