From Anxiety to Serenity

It is three o’clock in the morning… For some reason, I am suddenly awake. My mind begins to race and then for some reason, some fear, or some anxiety, or some worry grips me. My pulse picks up and I begin to sweat. My eyes cannot close. Maybe it is something I need to do that day, a looming deadline or a major decision with huge consequences that need to be made.

When these things come to mind, I sometimes will start playing the “what if” game. What if this happens? What if that happens? Every possible outcome is explored and evaluated. And in those times, I find myself falling into a space filled with deep fear, intense worry and crippling anxiety.

When children are afraid of the dark, they need someone to reassure them. The best thing to do is to turn on the lights so they know there is actually not a monster under the bed. There is no threat to them. They need the reassuring words of an adult or someone they can trust who can hold them and help them get a proper perspective.

In the same way, when we are frightened, when we are scared, we need the reassuring words of our heavenly Father to help us in times of anxiety.

We all deal with fear. What amazes me is that we will actually pay money to be frightened by things like horror movies or extreme rides at amusement parks. One thing that I have said I would never do is bungee jump. The thought of my life being entrusted in a glorified rubber band is scary and in my mind, foolish. Also, there is the practical aspect. The money I could spend on these activities could be better spent on a trip or another more pleasant experience. That being said, I have decided that paying money to be scared and sick to my stomach just is not worth it.

There is a place, of course, for rational fear in our lives. We actually want to have that kind of fear. If you are standing on the edge of a cliff, for example, it is good to feel fear so you will move away from that edge. That fear is rational. Or maybe you are sitting behind the wheel of your car waiting to merge onto the 401 outside Toronto. The cars are screaming by you with little room to get on. Again, rational fear.

But then there are irrational fears that gnaw at us over time, like the fear of the unknown, the fear of losing something we have, the fear of losing control, or the fear of the future. We also worry about personal things like losing our health, losing our job and, even worse, losing a member of the family.

A lot of things in life stress us out, and I think one reason for this is that we get our information on-demand now. We go to our favourite news sites or newsfeeds and read the headlines, and we find all kinds of things to be stressed about. Presently, the chaos in Hong Kong has made travel for many Chinese Canadians scary. Or getting back to our economy. How many of us will have work next year let alone retire?

I read the other day that millennials are the most stressed generation ever, even more so than the “Greatest Generation,” which is the generation that went through World War II.

The main source of this stress, I think, are these devices we have called smartphones. I was very excited when this technology came to be. I am old enough to remember when the first cellphones hit the market. They were very large and had very short battery lives. My first cellphone was a Telus clamshell. I was so excited to be able to carry it around. It was a status symbol that freed me to go about doing my business and yet be connected to anyone who needed me.

But now these phones are causing a lot of stress. Experts identify the most stressed people as “constant checkers.” These are people who are attached to their devices, flipping from one screen to another. They check their Snapchat, WhatsApp, Messenger, Discord, WeChat, Instagram… the list is almost endless.

We see them everywhere, constantly and impulsively reaching for their phones. They start flipping, flipping, flipping, with the hope of seeing a picture or reading a message that will brighten their day. Constant checkers have said they feel isolated because of technology, even when they are with their families. I think if we looked at our Facebook accounts, the percentage of our friends list we consider “close friends” would be a small fraction of what is listed.

This all comes back to the issues of stress and anxiety. Much research suggests this is not only a serious problem but possibly one of the most serious ones that are affecting society. So what is the answer in a world of technological addiction?

The Bible does not address technology directly since it was written thousands of years before the Internet came into being. But, it does address how we can both cope and resolve the fears and anxieties we face every day. Jesus had much to say on the topic.

When His disciples were filled with fear and deep anxiety, He tells them in John 13:1-3, “It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God”.

The word Jesus used here for troubled is a word that means, “shudder”. Jesus was saying, “Do not let your heart shudder.” It is important to notice that Jesus did not say we should worry and get super stressed and mull over our problems. Life is full of troubles. And no matter how much money you make, where you live, or what you do for a living, you never will be able to create a trouble-free life. The Bible says in Job 5:7, “Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” Trouble is universal and constant.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it is always going to be something. Just when you get through that one conflict or that one difficulty or that one hardship or that one trial, another one is coming. They say bad things happen in “threes,” but the reality is, we are constantly facing trials and temptations.

I am not saying this to depress you; I say it to prepare you. There are big things that seem to overtake us, and there are small, irritating things. But know this: While we have reasons to be troubled, we have a greater reason not to be. Jesus said in John 14:1, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe (trust) in God; believe (trust) also in me.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “Look, I have not brought you this far to abandon you now. I know what I am doing, so I am asking you to believe. I am asking you to trust me.”

When I do not understand what is happening, I fall back on what I do understand. This all goes back to what I know and believe from the Word of God. As a Christian, I understand that God has forgiven my sin and that one day I will go to heaven. I understand that God loves me and is in control of my life. I also understand that according to Romans 8:28, we have security and it is founded on His love for us. Paul writes, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

I have found that when those “what if” questions start rolling through my mind, I need to go back to what I do understand, to what I know is true and that is the promises revealed to us in His Word. If we find ourselves straying from the promises of God’s Word, we will see that faith gives way to fear, and trust gives way to worry. But if we stand firm on the Word, faith reigns and fear has no place and we can experience the serenity God’s promised in the midst of chaos.

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