During this past month, I have met weekly in the mornings with a small group of men, first in person and then, like everyone else, online. We share our experiences of praying through the same passage of Scripture. It is so life-giving to hear how God is working in the lives of these friends. But what I have particularly noticed is how often anxiety comes to the forefront. In our present situation, it lurks around every corner. So much of what seemed never-failing has faltered. So much of what seemed never-changing has suddenly shifted. We live and breathe and have our being in a world of uncertainty. The anxiety is understandable. But the Coronavirus presents us with a choice to be anxious or grateful.
What We Are Anxious About
First it helps to name the monsters under the bed. So I decided to make a list of the common anxieties floating around today. Some I have felt. Others I have only heard about.
- Anxiety about finances or loss of income
- Anxiety about having the necessities: food, medicine, even toilet paper
- Anxiety about loss of job or potential for that loss
- Anxiety about running basic errands and shopping
- Anxiety about taking care of those with the virus
- Anxiety about friends and family who have the virus
- Anxiety about necessary travel on airplanes
- Anxiety about hospital use for needed surgery or baby deliveries because of virus patients there
- Anxiety about contracting the virus — the discomfort, suffering, even possible death
- Anxiety that the world will never go back to what it was
I’m sure there are others you could add to the list. The point is that the list is long and getting longer. But just like like the past two posts, this crisis presents us with another choice. I know anxiety doesn’t feel like a choice but an automatic response. But it is a choice nonetheless, even a subconscious one. And because it is, we can choose another opposite path.
Gratefulness as the Opposite of Anxiety
Anxiety is an inward, constricting motion. We feel unsafe, unsure, unprotected. We pull in, becoming self-consumed, unable to connect to others and enter their world. There couldn’t be any more opposition motion than gratefulness. It is an outward, liberating motion. We feel blessed, cared for, and loved. We look outward, beyond ourselves, to all that has been given to us through others and through God Himself.
But the motion toward gratefulness can easily be overlooked. Its voice is softer and gentler. It beckons and woos but never imposes. By contrast, the voice of anxiety is harsh and strident. It gnaws at us with what feels like irresistible power at times. We feel compelled to follow its command. But the compulsion is an illusion. We can choose otherwise. Here’s how.
Consider our present situation. Many structures and institutions that seemed unshakeable are quivering. Even after the pandemic has passed, it is highly unlikely we will go back to life as we once knew it. But the kingdom of Christ stands unshakeable. It will never fail, never pass away, and never end. The presence of Christ is the only still point in the midst of this swirling chaos. This reality should stir us to choose gratefulness.
But having said that, it is easy to feel shackled to anxiety. Here’s a small bit of advice. Don’t try to change your anxiety. Just start being grateful. Your anxiety will dissipate on its and maybe disappear. Let me give a few suggestions to get you started:
- Take 15 minutes and make a list of all you are grateful for. If you run out of items before the time ends, just sit and keep thinking. More will come.
- There are the obvious things to be thankful for, like health, food, shelter, or loved ones. But smaller gifts come each day. We find these treasures when we consistently choose gratefulness.
- Take a walk and notice all the things to be grateful for.
- Have a discussion with your family or friends about what you are all grateful for.
- Start your times of prayer with a few minutes of gratefulness.
The River of Blessings
All around us and in us, God is constantly giving His gifts. They stream forth, a river of blessings flooding the created order every moment of every day. God not only created all reality, but continually re-creates it with His sustaining hand. When you choose to notice and be grateful, you enter the realm of what is most true and most real. Evil, suffering, and death seem powerful, but in the end they are just passing shadows.
I end this post with the immortal words of Paul: “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” (Phil. 4:6-7). May it be so, Lord.