Monday, April 22, 2013

what I'm listening to: how not to win the anxiety Olympics

If you, like me, could win the anxiety Olympics, you'll love this quote.

It's from a talk our pastor, John Diacos, gave a couple of weeks ago, from his series Freedom from fear.

I love the way he defines "anxiety" and distinguishes it from "fear".

Here's a nourishing, encouraging, very readable chunk from his talk, which is online here.
We are not in control.

Our fear betrays us. It tells us we are not in control. We are finite, and the world around us is unpredictable. We are not self-reliant. We are not capable of tackling the universe alone. We can't stop undesirable events from occurring.

Not wanting to be afraid or out of control, we look for solutions.

Most of us start by simply trying harder. We like to think of ourselves as capable of handling any and every eventuality, if only we pursue the right strategy or simply try harder. And so we attempt to consider every eventuality, take the necessary precautions, mentally rehearse the details, so we’ll be ready when the time comes.
At its best, we call this "forward planning". Otherwise, we call it "anxiety" or "worry". For anxiety is when we try to anticipate the future. Anxiety is us trying harder to be ready for our fears, and not being sure that we can.

Some of us worry a lot - personally I could represent Australia at the anxiety Olympics! - and others not so much; but all of us worry.

Hear what our anxiety says. It reflects our suspicion that we can overcome anything, meet any challenge, if only we try harder. Maybe if we ponder long enough, anticipate and plan, prepare more, then maybe we will be able to master any threat. Anxiety holds out the hope that we can regain control.
This is why those of us who worry hold onto anxiety so stubbornly. This is why anxiety can be so resistant to correction by reason or facts.
We will do anything to control our fear. We so desperately want to deny our human limitations, that instead of admitting that the world is beyond our control, we give ourselves over to being obsessed with anxiety.
And anxiety can become paralysing, because we’re thinking so far ahead, anticipating every possible problem, that we’re afraid to act at all.

But the fundamental problem with our anxiety is that the world is too big for us. We cannot control everything no matter how hard we try. 
Anticipating and preparing for the future is prudent, but so is recognising when you can't control your circumstances, that none of us can control what happens next, and that we need help.

So at some point we reach out to someone else - someone who can help us deal with our fears, overcome our obstacles. Some of us, stubbornly independent, put that off as long as possible. Others of us are quicker to admit we are not self-sufficient.

It's extraordinary how much it helps simply to share your worries with another, even if all they do is listen and sympathise. It soothes our fears simply to know that we’re not alone.

But the best solution of all is someone who can deal with our anxieties by giving us real help that makes things okay. Someone who can take on the source of our fear and deal effectively with it so we don’t need to worry any more.
Other people can help us, but other people are just like us: they are limited in what they can do. Sometimes they’re simply unreliable: they have their own things going on, they let us down. Sometimes the problem is outside their power: no one can prevent you from being rejected or hurt by other people. Doctors can’t cure every disease or stop death.
On our own we are finite, limited, not in control. If we’re going to be able to successfully deal with fear and anxiety, we need someone who can really help, who is actually in control.

The God who is on control of all things can be relied upon. He wants to relieve us of our anxieties: "Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). He invites us to bring all of our fears, all of our worries, to him in prayer (Phil 4:4-7).

The first step in dealing with our fear is to admit we need help - and what a wonderful relief to be able to acknowledge the truth! - that, yes, I am finite. I am rightly fearful of the world around me, because I am not in control. I need the help of the God who is in control.

This is the essence of prayer. It's why we can find it difficult to pray, because prayer is an admission that we are not self-sufficient or in control. Prayer is seeking God’s help because he is in control.

And the great news is that God is not bothered by our requests. God doesn’t reluctantly help us (Luke 18:1-8). God welcomes our prayers. He loves to help his people. He wants us to give all our fears to him, so that we no longer have to worry about them, for he will take care of them.

And this means that we are no longer alone.

One of the features of anxiety is that it is inward-looking and isolating. We worry and turn over issues repeatedly in our mind searching for a solution because we assume that we have to solve the problem ourselves.
Being able to approach God in prayer means that we are not alone. God is with us. God is for his people, and not just to sympathise. God promises to help us, to relieve our anxieties and fears.
Being able to approach God in prayer is where the solution to fear and anxiety starts.
God will one day rescue us from all that we fear. In the meantime, he reorients our perspective. He realigns our values so we see what is important and what isn’t. He shows us that sometimes what we fear is actually trivial, and what we value and love is unimportant. 
The more we trust God, the more we are liberated from the fear that controls us. This won’t be instantaneous. It will take time to learn to trust in someone other than yourself; to change your priorities and what you value.
God enables us to face our fears and worries by showing they are really nothing when we are God’s beloved people.
He changes us so that we value and love what is truly valuable: the eternal things that only God can give us, and that we can never lose.

No comments: