Thursday, February 17, 2011

Calm My Anxieties

Date: 16 Feb 2011
Written by: Conrade Yap
When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” (Ps 94:19)
MAIN POINT: We know that we should not worry. What happens if we simply cannot stop worrying? We are easily distracted and anxious, the moment our focus turns away from God.

Just the other day, someone I know was panicking to the point of shedding tears. She said that her Facebook account had been hacked. Her imaginations grew wild with all kinds of possible intrusions from others. What would happen to her profile pictures? What about the sensitive information? What if some sinister person used it to hold her at ransom? At that frantic moment, one anxiety easily led to another.

Image Credit:
A recent study reveals that people with many Facebook friends are the ones who are most stressed (report). The report calls it “Facebook related anxieties.” For instance, when their ‘friends’ turn down their requests, they feel stressed. When people post nasty comments, they get worked up. When others refuse to ‘friend’ them on Facebook, they sense rejection. The researchers find that those who have invested a lot of time, and keep many friends on the social network are most likely to get anxieties. Dr Kathy Charles comments:
‘Many also told us they were anxious about withdrawing from the site for fear of missing important social information or offending contacts.’

A) A Social Phenomena
Anxiety is no longer becoming just a ‘disorder.’ Its frequency suggests that it is becoming more like an ‘ordered’ life. Peace and serenity seems to be the exception rather than the norm. People worry incessantly. For some people, it is not a matter of whether they get anxiety attacks or not. It is a question of WHEN?

Interestingly, the more connected we are, the more invested we become. The more invested we are, the more stressed up we can be. One of the troubling social problems in society is the problem of worry. People worry about many things. A young child worries when the parents come home late. Teenagers worry if their social network is disrupted. Adults worry about work pressures, family concerns, and the education of their children. While some worry less than others, all persons worry albeit at different levels.

I remember 4 years ago, the local authorities in Vancouver declare that all tap water needs to be filtered and boiled due to high turbidity levels and water contamination. In a country that boasts the largest and cleanest freshwater supply in the world, it comes as a surprise. Later that evening, I read news about long lines of people waiting at supermarkets to buy bottled water. In one popular hypermarket,people fight to grab the limited supplies. Anxiety leads to panic. Panic leads to non-rational behaviour. Non-rational behaviour begets violence. Anxiety is a self-inflicted sense of violence. When the self is hurt inside, one can dangerously hurt others outside. 

B) It Begins with One Innocent Concern
Anxieties often begin with an innocent show of concern. Sometimes, the most well-intended gesture turns into a long stressful journey of anxiety and worry. I remember a time when I was starting a holiday trip with my family. After loading our stuff in the car, and committing the whole trip to the Lord, my wife asks: “Did you lock the main door?

At that moment, one innocent question escalates to a mountain of anxious scenarios.

  • What will happen if someone breaks into the house?
  • What if all our stuff are stolen?
  • What if my precious vase is taken?
  • What if my children’s favourite toys are gone?
  • What if.....

One innocent question can ignite a multitude of anxiety within. Are we walking around like bottles with pent-up anxieties inside us?  It is quite likely. Dr Archibald Hart of Fuller Seminary writes:
Anxiety is now the number one emotional problem of our day. Panic anxiety is the number one mental-health problem for women in the United States, and it is second in men only to substance abuse. Many anxious people also suffer from other emotional problems, notably depression. Anxiety and depression go together like Jack and Jill. Clinically, the two are sometimes very difficult to separate.” (Archibald Hart, The Anxiety Cure, Nashville: W Publishing Group, 1999, v)
Anxieties can often get out of hand due to an insecure heart inside. Instead of clinging to God, we cling to our own sense of control. We seek to control rather than to be controlled.

C) It Grows with a Desire to Control
One reason for anxiety is because of the desire to control. If things do not turn out according to our ways, we get frustrated. We become worried. Feeling out of control is a common cause of anxiety. Author Linda Dillow thought that by ‘pumping’ all the ‘right’ things into her children, her kids will turn out all right. So she ‘pumps’ in (God, Bible) into her kids, expecting them in turn to love God automatically. When it did not work, she became anxious. Soon depression stepped in. 15 years later, she learned that the key to contentment is to let go, and let God. One of her friends said to her:

Linda, you like control, and there are too many ‘uncontrollables’ in your life.” (Linda Dillow, Calm my anxious heart, NavPress, 1998, 16)

That is so true. If there are so many things beyond our control, why try to CONTROL them?

Limda related that her path to contentment begins when she journeyed from control to contentment.

Contentment is a yielding to our Great Almighty, Holy King.... He is the Blessed Controller of our circumstances, gifts, abilities, roles, and relationships.” (Linda Dillow, 191)  

KEY POINT: The journey to contentment is a 3-step process. 1) Stop trying to control everything; 2) In praying we let God guide; 3) Trust and obey the clear instructions in Scripture.

D) Anxiety Manifests Through Frequent Complaining and Comparing
If we do not address the growing ‘control-freak’ in us, we feed it with more complaining and comparing. When things are not up to our standard, we criticize, even complain. I have heard of many people who finally get what they want by complaining. At the back of my mind, I wonder how much grace and mercy are manifested in a complaining attitude. Some say it is a matter of principle. Others say that they want justice done. Yet, I wonder if in the process of discharging that 'principle' or 'justice,' how much of Christ are we witnessing?

When we complain, there is a greater likelihood of exposing the uglier side of ourselves. When we complain, we forget that we have already been forgiven ourselves. The Israelites’ complaints in the wilderness anger not only Moses, but God.

Another anxiety growth stimulant is comparison. I remember hearing a parent who never seems to be satisfied with his son’s school report.
“Daddy! I got 95% for my Science test!” shouted the boy, happily.
“What! Why isn’t it 100%? I hear our neighbour’s kid gets all distinctions in all subjects!” retorted the father.
When we compare ourselves with others, there is always a tendency to envy others better than us, or to look down on those poorer than us. I do not dispute the need to improve ourselves in the name of excellence. What I caution is that in the midst of comparing with others, are we forgetting God is our Creator in the first place? Surely, we can ask Him to guide us what is best for us. I regularly remind my kids.
“If you are an A student, get the best A that you can get. If you are a B student, get the best B. If C, get the best possible C...... Pray to God. Press on for God. Praise God for whatever you have achieved. Do your best. Let God do the rest”

E) Final Thoughts
In Psalm 94, David conquers his anxieties and fears, by submitting them to God. He manages to pin down the ‘anxious thoughts.’ An anxious mind is like trying to open a cola can that had been vigorously shaken. Inside the can contains our agitated bubbles of anxiety ready to burst out. An anxious man will rush to pry open the tab, only to spill all the contents out everywhere. On the other hand, a calm person will wait. He will let the cola can stand for a while. When the time is right. He pops open the can and gets to enjoy the entire drink, spilling none of the tasty beverage.

That is what we need. We need to learn to be calm. We need to calm our anxious hearts. Above all, we need to still ourselves before the LORD. Stop anxiety by STOPPING any control-freaks in us.. Stop comparing with others; Start COMPREHENDING God’s vision for you. Stop complaining; Start GIVING THANKS.

May the consolations of God, the comfort and the peace of God grow in us as we banish anxieties from our lives. Indeed. For the girl who lost her Facebook account, she did the simplest thing. She locked her old account, and created a new account. Problem solved. Many cries of anxieties will not help. A simple cool and calm focused decision works wonders. Most importantly, it is a step in faith.

Do your best. Let God do the rest.

Thought: “Contentment is essentially a matter of accepting from God’s hand what He sends because we know that He is good and therefore it is good.” (James I Packer)


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1 comment:

  1. Right article! It is long-term, but the symptoms can change with years or when big life change situations happen. Uninterrupted and excessive concern or fear of persons own or loved one's well-being and concern of potential future threats is typical.