A young bride was extremely anxious on the day before her wedding. The minister realized she was nervous, and he asked her about it. “I’m going to make a mess of the whole thing,” she said. “There are just so many people looking at me!”
The minister broke the ceremony down into small parts. “As your dad takes you by the arm, concentrate on the aisle. Just focus on the aisle.” “OK,” she said. “Then, as you walk closer, the altar will be seen. Focus on the aisle, and then the altar.” “OK,” she said. “And then,” said the minister, “you’ll see your groom! Just focus on him, and you’re there! Focus on the aisle first, the altar second, and him third!” So, just as she’d been promised, she concentrated on the three simple steps.
But imagine her Dad’s surprise when he heard her saying over and over as they got closer and closer to the groom, “Aisle, altar, him. Aisle-altar-him. Aisle-alter him!”
Silly story? Sure. But it is true that it smart to focus on things that are helpful and hopeful.
So many people today are living uptight. We’re worried and anxious about the future, filled with frustration and concern. Too many of us aren’t living with the peace of Christ.
But we can find rest in the Lord because no matter what is happening around you today, God has his hand on you. As scripture says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding… and he will make your paths straight.”
As human beings, we’re the only species that understands the concept of risk. Yet we have a strange habit of worrying about mere possibilities while ignoring real probabilities. White-knuckle flyers routinely choose the car when traveling long distances, heedless of the fact that the 44,000 killed in motor-vehicle wrecks each year put air flight risk at almost negligible. But trying telling that to people.
I made a list of the things we’re anxious about. We worry about our jobs. We’re anxious about our homes, whether the roof is leaking or the termites are eating them. We worry about our cars, if we’re running too long without an oil change or if the tires are okay. We’re concerned about our pets. We fret over our favorite sports teams, and the individual players on them. We obsess about our food. We worry about our water.
We think about every little disease that’s mentioned in the news, or on the Internet. We’re concerned about public schools, private schools, and parochial schools. We worry about every kind of school, even home schools. We worry about the electrical grid, about crime, drugs.
We’re anxious about the economy. We’re consumed with politics and of course about who is going to become President. We’re anxious about foreign relations and wars. We’re anxious for race relations, and police relations; for women’s rights and gay rights. We’re concerned with whether people are getting a fair shake economically, socially, politically.
We fret over traffic while trying to get to work every day. We’re concerned about the weather and what happens to people who suffer from storms. We worry about the climate.
We’re uneasy about the rain forests and whether they will survive, about the manatees and baby seals and polar bears. We worry about terrorism and nuclear war. We’re apprehensive about volcanoes and earthquakes, and asteroids. We worry about sun-spots, or the lack of them—and peanuts—and gluten—and aspartame—and MSG—and GMOs!
People live with floating anxiety. They live with constant worry. They live with undue stress. Adrift and afloat in apprehension, our little life raft often seems to be swamped by large rolling waves of anxiety.
We have a massive medical industry that exists to help people with anxiety. No worry goes unnamed. No anxiety goes undefined. No distress goes uncataloged. No agitation goes undiagnosed. And no consternation goes unmedicated. They just go unrelieved.
But the truth is many are anxious about very little. Did you know that a dense fog covering seven city blocks, a hundred feet deep, is composed of less than one glass of water divided into sixty thousand million drops? Not much there but it can be a dangerous situation for driving.
Well that’s what can happen when we live in distress. A little concern spreads out across our lives. But this is not how Paul saw it.
In our scripture reading we hear Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians to “be anxious for nothing.” This command didn’t come across as mere theory or a nice piece of advice. The Philippians had seen how Paul had overcome what he had faced to come to them and stay with them. He was now on his way to Rome as a prisoner, and he was telling them to rejoice and to think of whatever is noble and honorable and just.
Above all, Paul wanted these people to know how grateful he was for their care and concern for him. No matter what he was going through, he could think about them and find in them a source of joy and pride. He let go of the pain of other situations and focused on where his life’s work had such obvious impact and success.
The truth is we aren’t meant to be directed by worry. We are meant to be directed by God’s Spirit. We aren’t supposed to be carrying all of what weighs us down. We’re supposed to be releasing it.
Instead of carrying, start casting. Cast your cares on God. Don’t leave the Lord out of what you think the future is bringing. Trust the Lord to watch over your loved one. Find time to pray for them so that you aren’t carrying all your angst on your own.
Don’t keep your dismay locked up inside of you. Release your foreboding to God. Find in the Lord a strong refuge. Keep your mind trained on what’s good, rather than what may possible go wrong.
Resolve to trust the Lord so you can begin to release the worry. You may have to put a little effort into it. You may have to change what you are thinking about and change what you are saying. But I encourage you today to make the decision to let go of anxiety.
Certainly there are things that give us pause. Our job might be tougher or less rewarding than we thought it was or want it to be. But find in it the good work that’s there. Or make sure you move onto where God can bless you, rather than just put up with you and your distress.
Maybe being a parent is asking more from you than you foresaw and were prepared for. You’ve got God’s compassion for you to help you to see how much you’re needed and how valuable you are to your child. Don’t doubt but stay in the game. The Lord is making better times to come.
We don’t have to do everything on our own. We don’t have to do everything in our own strength. Let the Lord walk you through your day. Find companionship with Christ. Make sure you value the blessings God has given you.
Often we’re anxious because we feel empty. We’re the one without strength. We’re the one that doubts our contributions. But we’re not seeing things through the eyes of how God sees us.
We need to rejoice at who we are. Be gentle on yourself. God is close by. God doesn’t give up on you. You’re the one the Lord needs to do the
good works Christ has called you to fulfill. The Lord is always in your corner, lifting you up, strengthening you in his grace and peace.
Lee Strobel was working for the Chicago Tribune, without any intention of being caught up in faith. He was, at the time, a hard-nosed, investigative journalist who didn’t believe in God. Strobel’s editors assigned him to report on the struggles of an impoverished, inner-city family during the weeks leading up to Christmas.
He came upon the Delgado family. Sixty-year-old Perfecta Delgado and her granddaughters, Lydia and Jenny, had been burned out of their roach-infested tenement and were now living in a tiny, two-room apartment on the West Side.
“As I walked in,” Strobel wrote, “I couldn’t believe how empty it was. There was no furniture, no rugs, nothing on the walls, only a small kitchen table and one handful of rice. That’s it. They were virtually devoid of possessions.
“In fact, 11-year-old Lydia and 13-year-old Jenny owned only one short-sleeved dress each, plus one thin, gray sweater between them. When they walked the half-mile to school through the biting cold, Lydia would wear the sweater for part of the distance and then hand it to her shivering sister, who would wear it the rest of the way.”
But the Delgado family had one thing that amazed Strobel. In the midst of very, very difficult living conditions, they had joy. It wasn’t a cheap kind of joy that laughed at every joke. It was a gentle joy that had hope and peace. There was no despair in this home, nor was there any self-pity. God, said the grandmother, had not abandoned them.
Strobel completed his article, replete with Perfecta’s confident faith, and moved on to other assignments. But as Christmas came close, he couldn’t help but think of the family with so much joy, even as they had so little. “I continued to wrestle with the irony of the situation.” Strobel said. “Here was a family that had nothing but faith, and yet seemed happy, while I had everything I needed materially, but lacked faith, and inside I felt as empty and barren as their apartment.”
Strobel found an excuse to visit the family again. When he arrived, he was amazed at what he saw. Readers of his article had responded to the family’s need in overwhelming fashion, filling the small apartment with donations. There was new furniture, appliances, and rugs. There was a Christmas tree and stacks of wrapped presents. There was plenty of food, and
plenty of warm clothing for the girls. There had even been a generous amount of cash donated.
Of all the surprises, however, nothing had prepared Strobel for the biggest of all. The grandmother and her granddaughters were busy preparing gifts, giving away what had been given to them. “Why,” Strobel asked. “Our neighbors are still in need,” said Perfecta. “We cannot have plenty while they have nothing. This is what Jesus would want us to do.”
She waved at all the gifts. “This is wonderful; this is very good,” she said. “We did nothing to deserve this; it’s a gift from God. But it is not His greatest gift,” she said, her words cutting to the heart of the reporter who claimed there was no God. “No, we celebrate that (gift) tomorrow. That is Jesus.”
You can’t fake rejoicing in the gift of Jesus when you’re in a tough spot. Even a hardened reporter would know that. And as Strobel left that tiny apartment where those with very little prepared to give away what they had, something in him longed to know the God they knew. Eventually, Strobel met Christ, changing his life.
Anxiety is often another word for emptiness.
Check on what is making you feel empty. Remind yourself of your good works. Be strengthened by what you’ve done well. Fill yourself up by renewing a relationship that has come on hard times. Gift yourself with more concern for the welfare of others, so that you will make a new contribution to God’s children who are in need.
Above all, visit again the heart of your faith in Jesus Christ, renewing your commitment to the Lord. And, as scripture says, “the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Can the church say Amen?