I am convinced that few of us realize how much a low-level anxiety plays a role in our everyday thoughts and interactions. It drives many of our daily choices. It impacts our way of relating to family, friends, and strangers. It motivates us to say and do certain things and stay away from saying or doing other things.
Just this morning, during a conversation about money, I found myself responding to my husband with a level of intensity that caused him to feel unheard. It wasn’t until I reflected further upon our conversation that I came to see that it provoked anxious feelings in me. In my anxiety I reacted negatively to him as a means of attempting to control that which I fear. Down deep I was anxious for something and that anxiety found its way out in my behavior. That behavior had an impact.
I don’t believe that my struggle with this hidden but very real anxiety is uncommon.
Some things we can be anxious for include:
- children and loved ones
- reputation or what others think of us
- our performance or the performance of our kids
When a circumstance or person seems to threaten any of these areas our anxiety can come out in behavior. We fight or flee, nag, shame, threaten, punish, pressure, remind, correct, advise, perfect, defend, deny, conform, try harder, check and double check, avoid, attack, eat, drink, or choose another of a thousand other possible responses. The goal of all of them is the same however. They are an attempt to avoid pain and relieve our anxiety. Sadly, these behaviors almost always result in some other problem and don’t really serve to relieve our anxiety at any deep level. They may even increase it in the long run.
So what’s the answer to our anxiety?
Security—the sense that everything is going to be okay. We long to relax, go off duty, rest. Our anxiety only reflects the uncertainty of this world. We can’t trust the world to run in a way that will relieve our anxiety. In fact, we can trust that it won’t run that way.
Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.”
Yes, trouble in many small ways—and sometimes big ways—is coming. But the second half of Jesus’s statement on trouble is where our hope, security, and relief are found. “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
To be secure our focus must be on Jesus who is able to defeat, redeem, and bring to good any possible trouble the world can throw at us. And while we are not promised a life here free of suffering, if we trust that his goodness and greatness will overcome, we need not be controlled by anxious worry. We can rest in his unfailing love.
We must choose who we are going to trust. If we trust only in our ability to manage and control life, then we must work hard to prevent the trouble we fear is coming. Love goes by the wayside and efforts to avoid pain take the lead. In the process we hurt others or ourselves with self-protective and controlling behavior.
However, if we trust in Jesus and put all that matters to us in his capable hands, then we can respond to the trouble of life differently. We can love others well.
Anxious for something? Let your anxiety be a signal that tells you there is something you need to relinquish control over. Put what matters to you into the hands of a God who cares so deeply for you that he did not withhold even the life of his only son. He will not keep from you what you really need in life. What ever suffering he does allow will be redeemed for your good as you put your trust in him.