The Way of Peace, Part 4: How to Deal with Anxiety

Jesus, the Prince of Peace, exhibited peace on numerous occasions and in varied ways.  In the case of Martha, he didn’t respond in anger to her outburst.  Jesus didn’t respond in anger to those hurling accusations against him. (Matt. 27:11-14)  When he was tempted by Satan, Jesus was not worried or anxious and calmly responded to each temptation.  (Matt 4:1-11)  When Jesus was arrested by an angry mob, one of his followers responded by cutting off the ear of one of the servants of the high priest.  Our Lord refuted the action and healed his captor.  (Matt 26:47-56)

Jesus was with the disciples on the Sea of Galilee and had fallen asleep when a storm came up. (Matt 8:23-26)  His followers, several of whom were experienced fishermen, were fearful for their lives and woke Jesus up.  Jesus spoke and calmed the seas and asked why they had so little faith.

You may be thinking, “I’d be at peace too, if I were an all-powerful God.”  Certainly, it is hard to identify with Jesus.  However, in each of these circumstances, Jesus, who was fully human, trusted in God for help.  All of us go through some rough waters in life.  Rather than be anxious and fearful, we can choose to not let fear, temptations, anger, or anxiety rule our life. We can turn to a higher power and walk in the way of peace.

How to Deal with Anxiety

So, how do we deal with anxiety?  We can’t always change our circumstances, but we can change how we respond to those circumstances.

1.  Observe your anxious behavior.  Own it. Notice what effect anxiety has on your blood pressure, your breathing and heart rate, your attitude, your relationship with others. Being aware of your anxiety is the first step to change.

Plantiga wrote that one aspect of peace is when “natural needs are satisfied.”  Have you noticed that people get irritable when they’ve had little food or sleep?  Are you getting enough rest?  Are you eating nourishing food?  Could you have an illness that is causing your anxiety?  It is hard to be a person of peace when you are not at peace with yourself.

2.  Ask God for help.

Your heavenly Father wants to walk with us through life.  He desires a conversation with us.  There is nothing we can’t bring to the Almighty.  God can help us handle whatever we are facing.  Tell Him what you are experiencing.  Express your emotions to Him.  Leave your requests with Him and trust Him.   Let go of your expectations and anxiety. Paul wrote,

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)

That’s what Martha did.  She brought her request, full of emotion, to Jesus.  We don’t know how this story ends.  We don’t know if Martha returned to the kitchen and fumed about Jesus’ response or if she stopped all of the preparation and joined Mary at Jesus’ feet.  Or, she went back to the kitchen with a new attitude.  Clearly, Martha had a choice.  She could choose to be anxious and frustrated or peaceful and content.   It was her choice.  Jesus always said the right thing at the right time.  I imagine Martha experienced the peace that transcends all understanding.

3.  Live in the present and the presence.

Acknowledge you can’t do anything to change the past and you can’t predict the future.  On that subject, Jesus said,

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matt. 6:31, NIV)

Many know what it is to be overwhelmed with work.  We identify with whoever said, “I’ve got so much work to do, I’ll have to live to 120 to get it all done.”  In the previous passage of scripture, Jesus said, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  All we can do is work the day before us. That doesn’t mean we don’t make plans, but we must not let our fear of the future keep us from enjoying today.

Persons who walk in the way of peace don’t let the opinion of others dictate their lives.  They don’t derive their significance and worth from their work or the praise of others.  “They do everything to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) They play to the audience of one.

I’m guilty of being so intense at working my to do list, that I fail to notice others or God’s activity right in front of me.  The cliché, “Stop and smell the roses,” reminds us to slow down and pay attention to what is going on around us.

We were playing in our neighborhood playground with our grandson, Mason, when a large airplane flew close overhead.   He watched for the longest time and then said, “Wow.”  Children live in the present.  They observe with awe and wonder what is going on around them.  Slow down and enjoy the smell, the taste, and the warmth of a cup of coffee.  Take a walk and observe the beauty of God’s creation.

Live in the cognizance of God’s presence.  Adele Calhoun, in her book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbooks, wrote that practicing the presence of God is to “see and experience every moment as a gift of God.”  God is present and available wherever we go.  His presence is not limited to a church building or private devotionals.  Talk to him while you drive. Pray before your next meeting.  Throughout the day ask for guidance in a decision you are making.

Mary lived in the moment.  She recognized this was a unique opportunity to sit at the feet of Jesus. The Master Teacher was in her home, and she didn’t want to miss anything. She wanted to maximize every minute of her time with the Master.  She savored her time with him.

4.  Extend grace to yourself.

Guess what?  You are not perfect and, on this side of heaven, you never will be, so give yourself a break.  You are human.  God doesn’t expect you to be perfect.  Neither does your spouse, your family, coworkers, or friends.  The way of peace, like other manifestations of God’s work in your life, is a lifelong process.  You will experience anxiety and failed attempts at living a life of peace.  Count on it.

One of my best friends had brain surgery to remove a cancerous growth.  After surgery, this normally gentle, calm person of faith became very anxious.  He wanted to rip out his breathing tube and was worried because his recovery was taking longer than anticipated.   Some of his anxiety was due to the drugs and the fact someone had been poking around in his brain!  Some of his anxiety was coming from his inability to entertain those who came to see him, an expectation that none of his guests shared.  Even the most peaceful people can worry and have anxiety.  Each day provides new opportunities for us to choose the way of peace.  If you didn’t like how you responded to anxiety in the past, choose today, this moment, to allow God’s presence to fill your life with peace.  “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.  The Lord be with all of you.”  (2 Thes. 3:16, NIV)

In the first chapter of Luke’s gospel we learn that the role of John (the Baptist) was to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:79)  His message of repentance prepared the way for the coming of Jesus.  Like John the Baptist, we too can guide others in the way of peace.  We can bring a little heaven to earth by learning how to live at peace with God, ourselves, others, and nature.  As we learn to walk in the way of peace, we can guide others on their journey.

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