Anxiety is a powerful emotion for us to address. It takes a future event and drives us to try to envision how it will go. Unfortunately, this emotion is sometimes a dark one, sending us into thoughts that things will not go well. Fear about this perceived negative outcome of events calls our mind to focus on our fears, even when we are trying to do other things.
God’s wisdom on anxiety is simple: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Conquering anxiety, then, begins with understanding who God is and who I am. God is our loving Father who is directing all things to our ultimate good, which is to be with Him in heaven. Since I am mortal, I have to admit that I have no control over the future and trust that God will fulfill His promises to me. These promises are not dependent on how much or little I worry. Turning to God in prayer and trusting God’s promises is more helpful than letting anxiety overwhelm us.
To help me remember this, St. Paul in the verse earlier quoted, counsels that we make thanksgiving to God. Anxiety tends to focus us to the point that we see what lies before us as one of the worst events that could happen to us. Thanksgiving calls to mind past events and how we saw them in a fearful light before they occurred yet how God helped us then. Recalling this gift and being grateful for it will give us the courage to push back against anxiety and its lies now.
God also wants to hear about what is making us anxious. A simple practice, then, is when the thought of the future comes and anxiety begins to creep in, make a different choice and speak directly to God about it. Bringing our anxiety to God in prayer can minimize its grip on us.
If we are going to choose against anxiety, we need something to fill us instead. Authentic prayer opens us to the love of God which truly satisfies us. The challenge here is when we begin to become anxious, we can move away from God. This change often means that we lessen our prayer or drop it altogether.
Our prayer routine is indispensable, especially when we are anxious. To lessen or drop prayer means that we will have less of God in us when we need Him the most. As hard as it might be, keep praying no matter what.
Faith can help us with anxiety, but it can be something we may continue to struggle with. In such cases, speaking to someone about anxiety, including a professional, may be the key to helping us experience the freedom God intends for our life.
This column appeared in a previous edition of the St. Louis Review.
Father Mayo is pastor of St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in St. Louis.