Andy Hawes, Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House
Anxiety is the dark invader of the heart; it brings fear and confusion, it is associated with depression and the precursor of many forms of illness. Living and anxiety are inseparable; the changes and chances of this life are sure to promote worry and uncertainty. To expect to live a life free from anxiety is wishful thinking; to seek a spiritual way to live with it and through it is the vocation of all Christians.
Anxiety clouds the lives of the key people in the story of salvation. From the moment Adam and Eve hear the voice of the Lord God and hide because they are afraid, insecurity and the anxiety it causes is a recurrent theme of Scripture; the call of Moses, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah are events of anxiety and fear. The same is seen in the New Testament in the Annunciation: Mary is ‘deeply troubled in her mind and wondered.’ The ministry of Jesus is punctuated by his plea ‘be not afraid!’ The Psalms open up all manner of anxieties to God in prayer –‘Save me O Lord’ is a frequent refrain of the psalmist who ‘flits about like a sparrow on the roof tops’!
Jesus addresses anxiety as a key issue in his teaching. In the Sermon on the Mount [Matt. 6.25–34], Jesus addresses the issue directly. First, he challenges the anxious to think about priorities – are food and clothes worth worrying about? ‘Is not life more important?’ The Lord is teaching us to look again at the source of anxiety – often it has achieved devilish proportions, far outweighing its significance in life.
Secondly, he points us to the faithfulness of our Heavenly Father; he pleads with us to trust in him. Remember, he tells us, ‘your heavenly Father knows that you need them.’ Here Jesus opens up the vital difference between ‘wants’ and ‘ needs’ – our wants can cause us untold anxiety, our needs can be met by the gracious provision of God the Father.
Anxiety is usually caused by ‘borrowing trouble’ – what will happen if? Jesus is quite clear about this: ‘do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’ There is an echo here of Jesus’ advice to Martha who was ‘fussing and fretting about many things.’ Jesus put the remedy very simply –‘one thing is necessary.’ A very simple strategy to anxiety is to ask oneself the question ‘which one thing is necessary now?’ Put first things first and trust God to help out with the rest. The prayer ‘Give us today our daily bread’ sums all this up.
Jesus’ strategy for dealing with anxiety is ‘seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.’ To live with and through times of anxiety is to live using our will to put the truths of God’s love and justice first. The advice of Philippians 4 can help here: ‘whatever is good, noble and true – think of these things.’ The great antidote to anxiety is hope. The hope of the Christian is that nothing can or will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus who in God’s good time will be all in all. Remember the advice of 1 Peter 5.7: ‘cast all your anxiety on him because he cares about you.’