Anti-anxiety medication is the best selling drug in America. Here in the U.S. Xanax, outsells every other psychiatric drug (48.7 million prescriptions) plus another 14.7 million prescriptions are written annually for Valium (based on 2011 statistics). Some people have even suggested that anti-anxiety meds be added to our water supply! Although living in America in the 21st Century is synonymous with stress, economic pressure, and angst about the future, Jesus tells us: “Fear not, for I have overcome the world.”
How can we as modern-day followers of Christ live free from the anxious thinking and tension that is so prevalent in our world? Just watching the news headliners is often enough to infuse our brain with fearful, anxious thoughts. How can we hear about acts and threats of terrorism, multiple murders and violent crimes, the financial ruin of neighbors and friends, natural disasters, and countless other frightening stories, without feeling a sense of dread? Is it really even possible to live free from constant worry, intense concern for the safety of our families, and apprehensive thoughts about tomorrow?
St. Paul seems to think it is not only possible to be free from obsessive worry, but that we must also guard ourselves from unnecessary anxiety and fear by continually giving our worries to God, entrusting everything into His hands. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil 4:6 – NIV) The Living Bible paraphrase says it plainly: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.”
In my 30+ years as a psychologist, I have seen the ravages of fear, anxiety, and excessive worry. While worry is common to us all, it is not a small thing. We can joke that 97% or more of the things we worry about never happen, but the mental and physical (as well as spiritual) toll of anxiety and obsessive thinking is immeasurable! If all the things we worry about did happen, my guess is we would stop worrying because we would be too busy dealing with reality. And, perhaps then we would learn that action trumps worry every time.
So, if you want to live a worry-free life without giving into anxiety and fear, I suggest two simple strategies: 1) do what you can to prevent bad things from happening, and 2) understand your inability to control future outcomes. If you do what is reasonable to diminish the risk of harm, then you won’t need to feel guilty or angry with yourself when catastrophe strikes. And if you accept your human limitations and let God be the One in control, there is nothing to fear.
God holds you and the events of the entire universe in his hands. While “the mind of man plans his way” we can trust that “the Lord directs his steps.” (Prov 16:9) If we live by these principles and stop trying to help God with things too big for us, then we will be more able to live faithful lives – trusting Him – and, live free from anxiety!