“I want you to be free from anxieties.” (1 Corinthians 7:32)
When I speak to audiences about overcoming anxiety, I often use the above verse as a starting point. For those who tend to be worriers, it’s a verse that should be committed to memory and pondered repeatedly. You may wonder why it matters. Isn’t it just a nice sentiment, similar to wishing someone good luck? In reality it is much more than that and here’s why. Although St. Paul is the one who wrote those words, the Church teaches that the Bible is the inspired word of God. Therefore, it is actually the Holy Spirit, a Divine person, who directed the Apostle to write that message. Think about this for a minute – if God wants us to be free from anxieties, wouldn’t that imply that it’s possible? That is exactly why all worriers should rejoice when reading those words. Take it from me, someone who wasted many years fretting over anything and everything: It is possible to stop worrying!
Why should you believe me? Let me tell you a little about myself. I would describe myself as an anxious person. Although I have never been diagnosed with clinical anxiety, I have always been a worrier. When I was very young I worried that my parents would die suddenly or that I would get beat up in school. As I got older, I worried about different things. At my lowest point, I made multiple trips to the emergency room with panic attacks. Once I got to know Jesus Christ personally, however, everything changed. And, while it was an ongoing process and didn’t happen overnight, I gradually started to experience the supernatural peace that comes from a relationship with Christ. Now that I realize that I can live at peace, I want to help others get there as well.
It’s no secret that the message “Be not afraid!” appears hundreds of times in the Bible. Whether it’s the 365 times that often gets quoted or not doesn’t matter. What is important is the fact that it is mentioned frequently. Why? Because God knows that we are afraid. Let’s be honest. The world can be a scary place. Terrorism, natural disasters, illness, financial concerns, loneliness, addiction, the inability to break free from sin – all of these can cause us to become overcome with fear. Throw in the fear of death and uncertainty about the future and it’s easy to see why someone can give into despair…if they forget that central message. No matter what happens in your own life or in the world, the Lord’s message remains the same: “I don’t want you to worry!”
If you are a worrier, you’ve probably heard it a hundred times already. After a while you may even start worrying that you’ll never be able to stop worrying! So why should I listen when God tells me that He wants me to be at peace?
Because He’s God.
Unlike you and me, the Lord sees the big picture. He knows just how much He loves us and why we have nothing to fear. He also knows the danger of excessive worrying – it damages our health, takes away our peace and it even hurts our relationship with Him. He knows that, despite what some people say, worrying is a big deal. Most importantly, He knows that it is possible to stop worrying. That is precisely why He can speak with such confidence. Not only does He want us to be at peace, He knows that it is possible.
While I will address the specifics in future columns, for now I just want you to be comforted by the thought that it is possible to be at peace, sleep through the night and remain hopeful. Most importantly, it’s possible not just because I say it, but because God says it. As you read this article, know that the Lord wants you to be free from the worries that deprive you of your peace. If you’re an anxious person like me, that should be music to your ears.
Many years ago, my parents encouraged me to join a Little League baseball team. It would be very kind to say that I did not get off to a great start. My initial performance on the field was somewhere been horrific and bad. Even though I was dejected when I left the field and wanted to quit, my father encouraged me to keep trying. He told me, “You can do this”. I still wanted to play on the team, but I lost confidence and didn’t think it was possible. Because of my Dad’s encouragement and his willingness to practice with me, I kept at it and ended up playing on the team. Even though I didn’t think I could do it, my father knew that I could.
You may feel that you will always be a worrier. That is simply not true. I’ve been where you are and I know how you feel, but feeling a certain way doesn’t make it true. It is possible to stop worrying. You will have to do some work, but it is possible for you to be at peace. Just like my father had confidence that I would be able to play on the baseball team, your Heavenly Father knows that you can break free from worry. No matter what you’re facing or no matter how hopeless it seems, sit back and let the Lord’s words sink in. They are spoken directly to you.
“I want you to be free from anxieties.”