Anxiety is a major mental health issue. For many it interferes in their daily life. It shrinks their world and makes them prisoners in their own home. Now we stand at the threshold of a new year that will be viewed very differently by the anxious person. What many will see before them is new opportunity and a fresh start. In contrast the anxious person looks forward with fear of all the “what ifs” and worst case scenarios.
After a very divisive national election some whose candidate lost are angry, anxious and hopeless. Neither an election nor any other life event should control our anxiety level. Jesus taught his followers an important principle about anxiety and living with the unknown in Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own troubles.”
Life is the present
What Jesus is reminding us is that life can only be lived in the now. Yesterday is life that has already been lived. The only thing we can do with the past is learn from it. Tomorrow is neither promised nor can much be done about it until it becomes today. All we can do about preparing for tomorrow is take whatever steps are possible today. Again in Matthew 6:25-33 Jesus tells us to not be anxious about the material side of life — food, clothing or shelter. He reminds us that anxiety changes nothing and accomplishes nothing. His challenge is to focus on the spiritual side of life.
Live in the present with God as your loving, heavenly Father. He created us and knows exactly what we need. He promises that as we seek him first (develop the spiritual side of life), he will take care of all our material life needs. We can trust God the Father to do what he promises. Focus on enjoying today for that is all anyone has. You could pre-worry through all of 2017. Then what if you died tomorrow? What a waste of emotional energy. Not to mention the fact that you made your last day on earth miserable for yourself and those who love you.
Control your thoughts
When you find yourself slipping out of the present into the past or future, take control of your thoughts. The battle for anxiety is won or lost to a large degree in the mind. Anxiety can have some biological components to it along with residue in our nervous system, somewhat like muscle memory. Fear is the opposite of faith and is what anxiety is about. As God’s children we are to live by faith rather than fear. The Apostle Paul had a lot to say about this in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds (wrong thought patterns). We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.”
The strategy in fighting this spiritual war against fear is to first identify the anxious thought. Write out what you are saying to yourself. We call this self-talk. Ask yourself — Is this true? Is there any evidence it is true? How likely is it to happen? Has it ever happened? Then ask yourself — What is another way I could think about this? You can identify scriptures that replace the lie of fear with the truth of faith. Continue to say and meditate on them until the anxiety leaves you. As you continue to replace fearful thoughts with faith, your mind will reprogram itself.
Each day a new start
God reminds us his mercies are renewed daily. Sleep is the process by which our body repairs and rejuvenates itself for each new day. The idea of living one day at a time also builds on this physical reality. As we start each new day physically refreshed, we need to also start it mentally refreshed. As we enter into sleep develop the practice of turning over to God the day’s fears, worries and hurts. Extend forgiveness to those who have wronged you, let go of all anger and bitterness. Determine to start each day with a clean slate for everyone. This doesn’t mean you have to trust the untrustworthy, but do what Ephesians 4:26 says: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”
I once asked a couple married 65 years the secret of their success. They answered, “We never go to bed angry at each other. We make up before we go to sleep.” For some this could mean a late night. However, think how much more enjoyable life would be if all negative emotions ended when you went to sleep. Each new day was a fresh start with positive emotions. The day could get very negative before it was over, but all negativity would end with the day.
Today is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it. Life can only be lived today, so face it with a new fresh outlook.
Dr. John Hawkins, Sr. runs Gateway Counseling Center in Boynton Beach along with his son John Jr. He can be reached by visiting gatewaycounseling.com.