“Be anxious for nothing,” is quickly becoming the theme verse of my life. It seems like every time I turn around, the worry quotient of my life has increased. We just moved to California, and even though all the boxes are unpacked, it feels like our hearts are still in transition. There was so much anxiety involved in selling our house, packing our stuff, saying goodbye, and starting over. We found new anxieties as we started settling in to a new church, a new job, and seminary. We’re still putting the finishing touches on our new digs and trying to come to terms with less space. Every house has its quirks, and the few we’ve found (bathroom that soars to sauna-like heat when the lights are on, ants in the bedroom, a pantry shelf that likes to occasionally launch glass bottles onto the tile floor) are minor headaches that add up to major meltdowns.
I thought that most of the hard stuff would be pre-move: packing, Goodwill trips, farewells. Turns out, it’s harder here when you don’t have the intricate scaffolding of family and friends holding up your life. While Skype and phone calls help, they’re not the same. Plus, the goodbyes didn’t feel real. I kept telling myself that this was really happening, that I was actually moving hundreds of miles away and that all these relationships I’d nurtured for the past six years would suddenly change, but it never sank in. It’s sinking in now.
Then there was my mom. Just days before we moved, I found out that she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. If you’ve ever received news like this, you know. First, the feeling like you’ve been punched in the gut and can’t get enough oxygen. Then crying until you feel like your insides have been scraped out. Then learning to live with the news. Then coming across, say, the Little House on the Prairie books your mom read to you when you were a little girl–read to you so many times that the pages wore thin and the cover fell off–and finding out that you had more tears to cry. “Anxiety” is putting it mildly.
So Philippians 4:6 starts to ring a little hollow when it says, “Be anxious for nothing.” In a world in which anxieties pile up and smother our lives like snowflakes falling fast and thick in the backyard, this imperative feels like an impossibility, if not a joke. “Be anxious for nothing…and fly around Neptune on the back of a purple donkey!” But it’s no joke; it’s a commandment. God commands us to be anxious for nothing, which means that it’s possible, even in a broken world. It’s not an arbitrary mandate; it’s given for our good and God’s glory. Anxiety can poison our walk with God and our relationships with others. By filling us with fear for the future and uncertainty regarding circumstances, anxiety cripples us.
Thankfully, God supplies us with the antidote for the poison in the rest of Philippians chapter four, verse six: “but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” Rather than focusing on ourselves and our bleak circumstances, we are to turn heavenward with eyes of faith. Anxiety is one of the many fruits of unbelief. Resting in God’s sovereign goodness produces peace and joy.
We also can’t miss the phrase “with thanksgiving,” because gratitude is a crucial part of the cure. Thanksgiving is all about remembering God’s past mercies. Every single blessing we recount to ourselves strengthens our trust and increases our confidence in a God who has proven Himself faithful time and time again, even when we have been faithless. It’s a soul-refreshing walk across the vast landscape of grace.
The idea of living out faith-filled gratitude isn’t too hard when I think about the anxieties of moving, starting a new job, making a new life out here in California. I start counting my new blessings, like less square footage to clean, beautiful weather year-round, the spectacular view from our living room window, upgraded school facilities, good cheap wine, a church building that doesn’t smell like there’s a dead moose in the wall, and my spirits are lifted, my anxieties calmed. But what about when it comes to serious, long-term anxieties, like my mom’s health? Will I turn outward to God with eyes of faith instead of inward to my own doubting heart? Can I rest in His sovereign plan for her life as well as for mine? Can I count the ways that she’s blessed my life and be grateful for the time I have had and will have with her, instead of greedily demanding more time? I hope that by God’s power, one day I’ll be able to say that I’m anxious for nothing, but that in every circumstance, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, I bring my needs before the throne of grace, trusting in God’s holy character and perfect will.
I’m not quite there yet.