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How to overcome anxiety

Learn the spiritual path to peace
 

Have you ever been in a storm? This summer there were many terrible thunderstorms. My brother and nephew got trapped in one while they were running. On his return, I asked my brother if he was worried. He said, “Well, I sure wanted to settle all of my debts.” My nephew said, “It was the run of my life – or better said, I was running for my life. It was like playing a video game and having no more lives.” Well, to say the least, they were dealing with anxiety.

Anxiety has many causes. Some anxiety is rooted in our fears. These fears can be deep in the soul and may be hard to get a handle on. Trauma in our lives from abuse, or situations that reinforce inner fears, can become deeply rooted and can stay with us all our lives.  

Some anxiety is related to a person’s chemistry. Sometimes a person is born with this kind of psychological cross. I have known many persons who have bravely carried this cross in their lives and in spite of the anxiety they may feel, continue to make good choices and do the things that they believe God calls them to in life.

Anxiety is an unpleasant feeling. There is a sense that something is wrong – as if there is a sword dangling from a thread directly over our heads. Anxiety is agitation of the soul. It may be temporary like my brother and nephew in the storm. It may be a daily or long-term struggle. Like a still pool that is disturbed by a rock that plunges through its surface, our soul’s peace can be disturbed through fearful, distressing thoughts or experiences. Sometimes when we are anxious, we can think that a good Christian will never feel this way. That can compound the problem, because now we are feeling anxious for being anxious! Who can save us from this spiral fall? Our Lord Jesus!

First of all, it is a mistake to think a Christian will not feel anxious. Jesus’ final days were marked with distressing situations and His soul was full of sorrow and distress. Jesus sweated blood in the garden of Gethsemani, a name which means the place of the olive press. The olive branch and the olive are symbols of peace. It was an olive branch held by a dove that was given to Noah after the terrible storm that flooded the world. The storm was over. Peace would now rest on Noah and his family. In the same way, Jesus went through a terrible storm of anxiety and distress in the garden as He foresaw His imminent suffering and felt the weight of this world’s sin press down on Him. His drops of sweat became like blood. Doctors tell us that this can happen when someone is undergoing very deep emotional distress. The blood can burst through the capillaries and mingle with the sweat because of high emotional tension and pressure. But our Lord went through it all so that we might experience a peace that comes from God.

How does this peace come to us? How could a person possibly experience peace in the middle of great anxiety? Our Lord knew anxiety beyond what most of us ever will know. He showed us what to do when we are having anxious moments, whether they be small or great. We are to pray. We are to surrender to God and the cross. Jesus prayed a number of times in the garden, “Father, let this cup pass me by, but not as I will, but as you will.” The Father sent an angel to help Him. Jesus, after He prayed, accepted His Father’s will. God’s peace flowed from within Him. When Peter cut off the ear of the High Priest’s slave, who came to arrest Jesus, Jesus said, “Put your sword back into its scabbard. Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?” (Jn 18:10) He healed the man. He accepted the cup of suffering in peace.

God’s peace can come to us even as we go through distressing situations. As we grow in our union with God, the anxiety and distress of the inner soul gives way to a deep and profound peace that no one can take away. Our risen Lord’s first words to the Apostles in John’s Gospel were “Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:19) Peace is our risen Lord’s gift to us when we go through trials of faith and trust. He is there to calm the storm, to instill faith and free us from fear.

 

The first step to peace: surrender yourself to God

For our Spiritual Fitness this month, we will practice surrendering ourselves to God. The fruit of this exercise will be the gift of peace from Jesus that overcomes our anxiety.

1. Reflect on the question: “Who is really in charge of my life?” Let God be in charge. Pray “I surrender to you my Lord and my God.” A good celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation will restore the soul’s peace.

2. Read and pray: about what Jesus said to Martha who was anxious. (Luke 10:41-42) “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and upset about many things. Only one thing is required.” I know many people who get upset when they hear this Gospel passage. They say, “Jesus, we need people who work and are active, too.” But the Lord was trying to help Martha overcome her anxiety and driving need to “do.” He wanted her to experience the peace that comes from “being” with Him.

3. Be aware of anxious feelings: Write down when they occurred and consider why you were feeling anxious. Read and pray over Matthew 6:25-34, or Matthew 8:23-27.

4. Go for a walk and look about you: “Be still and know that I am God!” (Ps 46:10)

5. Do not allow your fears or anxieties to stop you from doing what is right and good. If you are seriously tempted to avoid doing a good thing out of anxiety or fear, pray for the courage to do it, and then do it! God’s peace will rest on you.

6. Prayerfully read: Psalms 34, and 131

7. Don’t worry about doing all of the above: Just pick one and do it well!

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow your love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith in you. O Divine Master, grant that I may not seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood, as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, it is in dying that we rise to everlasting life.

– Prayer attributed to St Francis of Assisi