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Learning to Listen to Anxiety

March 22, 2020 • Life for Leaders

Evening came and the boat was in the middle of the lake, but he was alone on the land. He saw his disciples struggling. They were trying to row forward, but the wind was blowing against them. Very early in the morning, he came to them, walking on the lake. He intended to pass by them. When they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost and they screamed. Seeing him was terrifying to all of them. Just then he spoke to them, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” He got into the boat, and the wind settled down. His disciples were so baffled they were beside themselves.

Mark 6:47-51 (CEB)

 

Over the past year, I’ve begun to notice that the Bible is filled with people experiencing anxiety.

I don’t know why I haven’t seen this before. Worry threads through so many stories: Esther deliberating her fate. Moses stuttering in the desert. Peter—nearly at every turn.

Throughout the Gospels, we find the first followers of Jesus in situations where they “were so baffled they were beside themselves.” They’re afraid. They scream. They ask frantic questions. They do ridiculous things.

I love this.

These early disciples give us ample evidence that anxiety is a regular part of discipleship. That’s good news for today. As we navigate a world swimming with worry and fear, especially since the advent of COVID-19, it’s easy to wonder whether we are alone in our anxiety. In the scriptures, and in the Gospels in particular, we are reassured that this is not so. Not only is God with us, as my colleague Kara Powell pointed out yesterday, but also God has given us these stories across time and place to help us listen to and learn from our anxiety.

Yes, anxiety can be one of our teachers. While it can at times be overwhelming for any of us, and more intense and even debilitating for some of us, anxiety also has great potential to teach.

That knot in your stomach or nagging fear when you face a challenge is your body’s natural response to stress or pressure. It can feel like a real problem—and sometimes it is. But we can learn to stop in these moments and pay attention to what anxiety might be trying to tell us. It might be telling us we’re in danger. It might be giving us insight about our bodies, our relationships, or our work. The key is that we learn to listen.

When we listen to what anxiety is trying to tell us, we can …

  • Learn about who we are, what situations make us feel unsteady, and what healthy coping strategies work for us.
  • Recognize where God is present—and at work in our rocking boat.
  • Use our power to make changes when situations in our life cause us to feel tense.
  • Seek out help from a caring friend or a professional therapist when we need more support.

Jesus was wonderfully present in moments when people were feeling most anxious, and often spoke a reassuring, “Don’t be afraid.” Listening to and learning from anxiety can help us see God at our side—in our unsteady boat—sitting with us in our fear and inviting us toward peace.

Something to Think About:

What’s making your boat feel unsteady lately? Maybe it’s work, school, friendships, or family. Take a few minutes to write as many things you can think of that are causing you to feel stress.

Then consider: What might God—or anxiety—be trying to tell me about …

… my schedule and the pressure I’m under?

… times when I’m beyond my comfort zone?

… whether I’m eating and sleeping enough?

… the quality of my relationships?

Something To Do:

Reflect on a healthy habit you’ve formed to help you maintain balance and respond proactively when anxiety shows up in your life. Some examples might include a prayer practice, time in silence, exercising, talking with a friend or mentor, going to therapy—or a combination of those things. Has it been a while since you accessed one of those practices to help you face worry or fear? Choose one to reengage this week (you may need to engage it virtually through technology at present).

To access more resources on navigating anxiety—ranging from parent podcasts to youth group curriculum—please visit https://fulleryouthinstitute.org/anxiousworld.

Prayer:

Faithful, steady God, thank you for reminders throughout Scripture that anxiety is a regular part of discipleship. Meet us in our stress, our fear, and our deepest longings, and remind us that you are there with us in those unsteady places. Open our eyes and ears to what you might want to teach us through anxiety, and give us courage to respond. Amen.

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online
commentary:
Discipleship in Process (Mark 4:35-41; 6:45-52; 8:14-21)

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