Do Not Be Anxious: Prayerful Tips for Maintaining Peace and Trust in God When Worries Weigh Us Down
COMMENTARY: Practical things Catholics can do to lighten the load when it comes to cumbersome anxiety, learning to put our trust in God.
For me, prayer is a burst from my heart, it is a simple glance thrown toward heaven, a cry of thanksgiving and love in times of trial as well as in times of joy.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Is there something troubling you right now: a certain relationship, a problem at work, a challenge with one of your kids, a financial stress? Is there something that causes you to lose your peace?
Jesus says, “Do not be anxious” (Matthew 6:35), but how can we maintain our peace and trust in God when so many worries weigh us down?
Anxiety Is Not From God
God, of course, wants us to give due attention to our responsibilities in life and plan for the future. That’s part of the virtue of prudence.
But whenever we lose our interior peace, it’s a sign we are falling into anxiety. It’s like the check-engine light in our car going off. It’s an indication something is seriously wrong.
Similarly, when we lose our inner peace, it’s a sign something significant is not going well in our spiritual life. We are too attached to something and hold back from entrusting that particular aspect of our lives into the Father’s hands. We want to keep that part of our lives in our hands. So, we find ourselves trying to control and manage things all on our own and end up “worried and anxious about many things” (Luke 10:41). Anxiety is not from God.
St. Thomas Aquinas even teaches that our anxiousness can be sinful when we give a concern too much weight — when we have much fear that we will lack what we need or we think we absolutely must have something to be happy: “Unless I get this job, keep this relationship, or get this opportunity, my life is ruined. I fear I will never be happy unless this happens.”
Most of our fears turn out to be imaginary. Things usually end up not as bad as we at first dreaded. But even if our greatest fears were to come true, we must keep in mind St. Paul’s words: “In all things, God works for good in those who love him” (Romans 8:28).
Do we really believe that? Do we really believe that in all things — no matter what is happening right now and no matter what might happen in the future — God can use it for our good?
Do we trust that our Heavenly Father is always working for our good? Do we trust that even if we have to face a certain loss, sorrow or disappointment in life, God can still bring good out of it — good for other people, good for the Church, good for the world, and even some good for us? We say we believe in God, but in the various trials that come our way, our trust in him is often completely shaken.
Aquinas teaches that the key to battling anxiety is to practice greater trust in God’s providential care for our lives. But how?
Surrendering in Prayer
If there’s something burdening you, some worry that’s causing you anxiety, there are a few practical things you can do to entrust that concern to God more.
First, name your fear. Talk to God about it in prayer. Humbly admit to him your weakness, your lack of trust, your anxiety.
Second, tell the Lord that you want to trust him more. Tell him that you don’t want to be so anxiously attached to your plan or dream. Ask him to help you surrender to his plan for your life.
Third, even if you can’t control your emotion of fear, you can still make an act of the will — right now — and express your desire to trust God more: “Jesus, I want to trust you more. … I don’t want to be a slave to this fear. … I want to trust your plan for my life more than my own plan. Please help me.” Tell him that, even if this suffering you can foresee should occur, you want to trust that he will give you the grace to help you through it and that he can bring some good out of it for your life.
Fourth, arm yourself with a Bible verse like “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1) or Romans 8:28 quoted above or the prayer from the Divine Mercy Chaplet: “Jesus, I trust in you.” Filling our minds with the truth helps pierce the darker thoughts that lead to anxiety.
The ‘What If?’ Game
Finally, live in the present moment. Whenever I fall into the trap of worrying about the future, my wife reminds me of this important point. She never lets me play what she calls the “What If” game (“What if this happens with our kids? … What if this happens with our finances? … What if this happens at work?”). She often says, “If that scenario ends up happening, we can worry about it at that time. God will give us the grace to deal with it when we need it. But it hasn’t happened yet, so we don’t have the grace to deal with it now. It’s simply not worth spending too much time thinking about this at this moment.”
Indeed, living in the present moment is another key way to avoid falling into anxiety about the future.
This article is based on Edward Sri’s newest devotional book, When You Pray: Trust, Surrender and the Transformation of Your Soul, which accompanies his new study, When You Pray:
A Clear Path to a Deeper Relationship with God (Ascension Press).