Anxiety’s Place in Thanksgiving

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

Anxiety. Ugh. It is that ugly partner to depression, the flip side of the coin. We who love the world and the people in it so much that we carry it, work too hard, care too much… pretty soon our hearts are beating hard with thoughts of everything that can go wrong. Do that for so long and POOF, we plunge into stress, tears, anxiety, and depression deep enough that we CAN’T care anymore. We have to go into apathy about everything else in order to hide and protect ourselves before we fall apart.

In THAT place, I cringe and turn away from the beloved Christian response to anxiety found in Philippians 4. I’ve read it too many times. Heard too many sermons. Had it quoted compassionately by friends. Misquoted by the well-intentioned. Let me just say that sometimes, after you’ve petitioned God to remove the anxiety, his answer is sometimes Zoloft!

But here I am, a couple of months past my own bottom, a few months into my serotonin levels normalizing, a few months into having a counselor give me permission to sort through the layers of myself that I previously had no energy to explore…

Philippians 4 is truth. And it pierces my soul – not with conviction to make me feel guilty (“ugh, I’m being anxious AGAIN!”) – but with truth that leads to light (as in a light bulb, “ah ha!” moment).

Dealing with my postpartum depression has led me to a good counselor, a licensed social worker who loves Jesus, has dealt with her own suffering a time or two, and can be the face of God’s grace to me. I’ve learned one of the best things she can do for me is hold up a mirror to myself through which I can see clearly. She sees things in me that I assume are normal or okay because I’ve lived with them so long, and she says, um, no. Not so healthy. One of those is the pressure I subject myself to (firstborn perfectionist, ahem). As I realized the enormous pressure I was putting on myself, underneath THAT I found worry. Worry that if I don’t get groceries, my kids will go hungry. Worry that if I don’t manage our finances right, we’ll end up homeless. Worry that if I don’t initiate intimacy, my husband will not be satisfied. Worry that if I don’t reach out to a friend, they’ll think I’m a bad friend and wonder if I care. But really, just worry I will fail. My mind was full of “I should…” “I should…..” “I should…..” “I should…”   Holy cats, PRESSURE!!!!!!! Basically, if I didn’t [fill in the blank], then the world was going to fall apart.

God complex much? Yikes.

So yes, anxiety in the mind is mental illness. But we are complex beings, which I pretend to understand but really don’t completely, because we are made by a Creator that cannot be completely understood. And there is a piece of anxiety – perhaps in the heart/soul? – that is sin. Because what I just explained about myself – putting myself in God’s shoes – that is not okay. Pretty sure that’s a form of idolatry.

So once I realized I was “should-ing” myself (unhealthy), I wrote the word “should” on my bathroom mirror, crossed it out, and wrote “imperfect progress” instead. “Imperfect progress” is a phrase I learned from Lysa Terkeurst’s book Unglued. We are all works in progress, we are not perfect, and rather than getting bent out of shape about our mistakes and steps backwards, it is much healthier to focus on what God IS doing in our lives, and let him continue making us into his masterpieces. Next, I wrote the word “worry” on the mirror and crossed it out as well, and replaced it with the word “pray.” (See how we’re getting back to Philippians 4?!) It was no coincidence I’m sure, that I have been reading Come Thirsty by Max Lucado as part of a women’s small group. That week we landed on Chapter 11, entitled “Worry? You Don’t Have To.” As part of the chapter, of course Max broke down Philippians 4:6! Paul’s answer to worrying less, he explained, has two parts: God’s part and our part. Our part? PRAY about everything. And have gratitude. The New Living Translation says, “Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done” (vs. 6).

“Thank him for all He has done…..”

We could be here all day thanking God for what he has done. God’s word is FULL of amazing works done for Israel. The Psalms and prophets are full of reminders to God’s people of his ever-enduring love and faithfulness, in spite of all of the Israelites’ unfaithfulness.

We could spend additional time thanking Jesus for his miraculous birth, life, and death, all on our behalf. At the end of his gospel, John wrote, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)

And how much more gratitude can we hold for the precious gift of the Holy Spirit? He is God’s very presence in us, as a helper, guide, and comforter.

Finally, we can remember the specific ways God has ACTUALLY and PRACTICALLY done amazing things in our lives. In my own life, he provided me with dedicated parents and a loving church so I could learn about him. He provided my dad with a steady job and sustained our family through difficult years in which he worked a ton of hours. He saved my brother from dying from cardiac arrest playing baseball in high school. He provided a dream in my heart for the career of athletic training and six years of amazing training and experiences that shaped my talents and skills in numerous ways. He provided employment for me immediately after graduate school. He introduced me to my amazing spouse. He carried me and mended my broken heart through a difficult, almost break-up. He sustained me through the stress and thrill of my job. He provided a new job for me out of the blue, knowing it was the best thing for me though my plans hadn’t counted on it. He molded my heart and my husband’s into one through marriage. He created two beautiful children for us to parent, and has somehow sustained us financially after cutting back to one income. He provided a church family for us into which we pour our gifts and receive great blessing. He stretched us and equipped us as youth leaders, when we felt like ducks out of water and totally incapable. And he has never left me in my latest valley through depression, in which I am discovering lush personal growth amid spiritual challenges.

Yes indeed, thank him for all he has done!!!!!!

And as I thank him for all he has done, my heart rests in peace (God’s part in Philippians 4). Why? Because through my gratitude I am acknowledging that the successes of my life rested on HIS SHOULDERS ALL ALONG. It was not me. And therefore going forward, my safety, identity, well-being, and security DO NOT DEPEND ON ME. POOF!!!!!!!! Pressure gone.

So this Thanksgiving? I am THANKING HIM FOR ALL HE HAS DONE. And that means more to me this Thanksgiving than ever before.

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2 thoughts on “Anxiety’s Place in Thanksgiving

  1. Thank you for sharing all of the ways God has provided for you. I have a very similar list – and a very similar experience of anxiety. I’m grateful you are writing and we can connect this way. Love.

    Like

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