Anxious for Nothing – Max Lucado
Take some time to look at your calendar from the past month. Then, take some time to read your journal or review what distracts you throughout the day.
Denise: Looking at my calendar this past month actually makes me realize how much I put everyone else’s priorities over my goals. My schedule is all kinds of crazy. I’m a substitute teacher which allows me some small income to fund projects and a little extra money to put towards all our looming house repair bills (leaking doors, leaning deck, new floors, etc) but the schedule is anything but consistent. It’s on an as-need basis. So no matter how hard you try, you just never know when jobs will become available. It does not lend itself well to my personality, yet it does give me the flexibility and like I said a few dollars to help out. I also spent a lot of time taking care of family needs. I don’t mind but it does leave me mentally and emotionally drained. There are small pockets of time that allow me to get some work accomplished and if I have the mental capacity and energy to get it done, then it’s a win; but more often than not, I find myself wanting to check out.
Jill: All of my time and energy went into work and commuting this past month. I had several evening functions that I had to attend after working a full day. Several of my students are struggling with behaviors, one resulting in an injury to several staff members. To say that it has been a trying month is an understatement. This all leads to exhaustion, anxiety, and feelings of being overwhelmed. It wasn’t until I took 4 days to spend with Denise in a little house in Pennsylvania that I was able to rest, re-charge, and re-energize my spirit. I need to now carry those feelings into the next month and make room for quiet time each day.
Read Philippians 4:11 – 13. “Paul’s use of the term secret is curious. He doesn’t say, ‘I have learned the principle.’ Or, ‘I have learned the concept.’ Instead, “I have learned the secret of being content.”
- Why do you think it is so hard to be content?
- Do you think it is possible for you to find what Paul found – contentment no matter what happened?
Denise: I struggle with contentment because I give in to so many other priorities. I tend to put everyone else’s needs before mine. This is doing God a huge disservice because He gave me a very specific set of talents and a specific path for me to walk. And yet I stray from that path and I step off His pathway too many times. And that is why I find it hard to be content. I do think it is possible to find contentment like Paul. The first time I accepted Christ as my savior it was because of Romans 12:2 – “…if you can’t change your circumstances, change the way you look at them. Renew your mind. Do not conform to the ways of this world.” This shift in mindset always puts me back on God’s path.
Jill: I think it’s hard to be content because we look to material things as our source of contentment. It’s the “if only I had…” line that we tell ourselves and our friends that creates this sense of longing and desires that do not allow us to be present and content. As I grow in my faith and relationships with God and fellow Christians, I am finding it easier and easier to be content no matter what valley I am in or mountaintop I am on. The Gospel holds all the keys to contentment we will ever need. We just have to open it, read it, and live it.
The parable ends with the question, “Nevertheless when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”
- What does this imply?
- How would you answer this question?
Denise: Yes, I would like to think that He will find faith on earth. Some may say that I’m naive because I’m always trying to find the good in people, situations, etc. But being kind to others is second nature to me. I have faith that things will turn out for the best and I have not lost faith in people.
Jill: Yes, because I know that God’s children are here doing everything for the Glory of God in Jesus’ name. We are living proof of salvation and grace. Although Satan still claims the lives of many, I try to touch at least one life every day. I do that through kindness, generosity, my words, and my actions. I also make it a point to spend time in the Gospel, taking guidance from Jesus and God’s word.
Does popular opinion sway your belief in the power of prayer?
Denise: 10 or 20 years ago, yes! Today, absolutely not! I pray. I am not ashamed to say that I pray. I’ll pray for people and I pray when tragedies occur. I know a lot of people do not believe pray solves anything but I do. I have experienced and witnessed the power of prayer and I believe God hears our cries, He hears our pleas, He hears our prayers of forgiveness. Does it always turn out the way I want it to? No, but I believe there are reasons for that and if you can be patient and find the good in waiting, then you’ll have a different perspective in life.
Jill: Before being saved, yes it did. However, now that I know who my God and my Savior are, NO! I pray throughout the day, whether it is alone with God or in public, I am never afraid or ashamed to say that I need a moment to pray or to tell someone that I am praying for them.
Prayer takes discipline and dedication. It takes effort to make the time, and it takes belief to be consistent. If we don’t believe that God is hearing us or that he cares, our determination to pray will quickly fade.
“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7)
- According to these verses, why should you give your anxieties to God?
- Is this a good enough reason to put forth the effort into prayer?
- Notice, this verse does not ask you to forget or set aside your anxieties. It acknowledges that your anxieties are real. Instead of pushing them aside, you are putting them literally on God. He tells you to transfer the burden from yourself to him. How might this imagery guide the way you pray?
Denise: God wants to take our burdens from us – it makes room for Him to be more present in our lives. When we give over those fears and anxieties we are also showing Him that we trust Him. When we spend time alone with Him, when we learn to give our full attention to Him, we are creating a sacred space that is safe, a space full of love, a space full of thankfulness, a space where only you and your father are allowed to be present. So is it worth putting the effort into prayer to achieve this? ABSOLUTELY!
Jill: We need to remember that God will always be there for us: to catch us when we fall, hear our cries, pray, sing our praises, even when He is silent. It is through prayer that we strengthen our relationship with God. This is something that I have been working on for the past year, learning to be still and be with God. My anxieties are real and have been a lot to handle lately, the imagery of turning them over to God is powerful for me. I am a visual person, imagery plays an important role in my day to day life, it is how I learn and grow. I am learning how to put my anxieties into images and hand them over to Him. This is not easy to do when you are falling down that dark hole, but with effort and spending quiet time with God and His word, I know that I can do it.
Anxiety increases when we feel we are losing control. This is amplified when we feel that everything is up to us or we are the only ones who can fix a situation. Hence, anxiety is amplified when we feel alone.
- When do you feel most alone?
- Is it a situation, person, experience, or a season of life that causes you to feel alone?
- Is there someone you go to when you feel alone?
- Has that person ever let you down? Or worse, has that person ever made the loneliness greater?
Denise: I usually feel most alone when I am completely spent. What I mean by that is when I give everyone around me all that I have. It usually occurs around holidays or when I make commitments I should not have or when I just make everyone and their needs a priority over God and my wellbeing. It also happens when I start on this spiral downward of comparing where I am in life to where others my age are. It’s a dangerous, slippery slope that spirals you down to a dark place that is far from God. It’s a place of isolation and loneliness. It’s during that time when I have no energy, no stillness, no light, nothing left of me to be with God. I usually turn to my husband. Sometimes I will turn to my sisters. They are there for me and other times I just have to rely on myself to get me back into God’s light. I think if I have ever felt that I was let down by these people, it’s usually because I wasn’t being totally honest with them. I wasn’t allowing them to see me so vulnerable.
Jill: My first inclination when anxiety is creeping on me is to withdraw. I pull away from family and friends, retreating into the negative self-talk that fuels my anxiety. As I have written about on the blog, there was a year that I was out of work. While that was a difficult season for me, the months leading up to it were rough ones for me. I was feeling a lot of the physical effects from anxiety, I stopped calling friends, I wasn’t going to Sunday service regularly, I didn’t spend any time with God, and I only made the obligatory weekly or bi-weekly calls to family. The people who knew what I was going through were God and my sister, Denise. Partly because I thought I was a failure; at my career, at being a strong person, at being a child of Christ, at being a good wife, at being a…the list goes on and on. The reason I turned to Denise is that I knew she understood how and what I was feeling. However, I wasn’t turning to God. He is the one that I let down by not trusting that He knows what He is doing and has a plan for me. I see that now and am working on becoming stronger in my relationship with God.
When others have let us down, the friendship of the Lord is sweetest. Read Psalm 25:14.
- Do you have a friendship with the Lord?
- How could viewing the Lord as a faithful friend who greets you in the early morning for a long walk or a conversation over coffee shape the way you see your current situation?
Denise: When I I come to the realization of what is happening and how alone I feel, I will allow myself to cry. I will allow myself to nap. I will allow myself to just slowly heal. I will allow myself to do all these things with the Lord. Though I never used the term “friendship” to describe my relationship with God, I feel He is the only one who knows my darkest places and knows just how to bring me back into His light. He is the only true comforter. He is the weight that anchors me down when I feel adrift. When I look at life through my anxiety, it’s bleak, it’s dark, it’s lonely. But when I look at my whole life as a Christian in His presence, I see beauty, I see brightness, I see good, I see the still waters beyond the horizon.
Jill- I am strengthening my friendship with the Lord. Just like any other relationship, it takes work. I know that if I start my day in a conversation with God, I will carry Him with me throughout the day. It is not only in prayer but it could be through reading my devotional, listening to a podcast about His word or listening to my worship playlist on my commute. As long as I keep my eyes and heart on Him, I know that every decision I make and the words I chose to speak will be a reflection of God.
Anxious for Nothing – Max Lucado
Do you think staying faithful deserve a reward? Does God owe you for your perseverance? Be honest. Why or why not?
Denise: I think we have to be careful with getting sucked into thinking that God and his laws are for reward only. By nature, we tend to be self-centered. If we are only faithful because God will reward us, then are we believing for the wrong reasons? When we commit ourselves to God, we are promised eternal life in His kingdom. But should we be rewarded for doing the right thing, for being a kind human, for being a life-long believer? I think God expects us to be His servants that are full of love, forgiveness, kindness, and honesty without the reward. In my opinion that is the ultimate example of unconditional love that we owe to God. He has shown us his unconditional love time and time again, and it’s only fair that we give that back to Him.
Jill: Do I think we deserve a reward…absolutely not! We were given and received the inheritance of grace from God to do good works in His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). This means to praise Him during our storms and triumphs, do all work for His glory, and remember that He gave us His son, Jesus, to cleanse us of our sins and make the way for eternal life.
How do you reconcile tragedies in the news with your understanding of a loving God?
Denise: With all the tragedies that happened within this past week, I still believe that these are acts of humans who are deeply hurting and are lost. We are living in a world that is full of hate, destruction, selfishness, and so much evil. This world is ever-present with Satan and his evil ways. I personally don’t think God allows these tragedies to happen. I believe they happen because the person committing the crime is lost, hurting, and wanting nothing more than to hurt others. When nonbelievers scream, “where is your God now?” during tragic events, oftentimes an argument ensues. But what if we respond simply by showing that even though all the tragedy and pain, God is there. He is there showing us and nonbelievers that something good can from such a place of pain. I know a lot of people will not agree with me and not like my answer but it happens time and time again throughout history. It keeps repeating. Worlds collide and clash. People kill innocent people. People kill God’s people who are protected by His hands. We are killing this beautiful planet we inhabit. But these painful, tragic events bring out the helpers, bring about a change for the better, bring out love towards one another. And that is where my God can be found. He is found in the good, not the evil. We are living in a fallen world and have been ever since Adam and Eve.
Jill: This is so timely given that our news lately is just consumed with violence, death, and heartbreak. I process tragedies as a reminder that Satan is fighting a war against humanity. To me, violence is a tool Satan uses to try to break us and try to convince us that God isn’t an all-loving, wise, and sovereign father. We see this over and over in the Bible, whether it is Joseph, Paul, Job, or Jesus…all of them (and many others) said, “but God”. The violence in the world today is a reminder for us to call out But God! I know that we are at war against evil and the trappings of it. But, I know my God, and I will raise my voice and my sword and proclaim His grace.
How can you make it a point to choose hope? What do you need to relinquish to do this?
Denise: I will always choose hope over pain and despair. People have been telling me throughout my whole life, “Denise you can be so naive.” I am not naive. I have lived a life that is riddled with confusion, pain, loss, and have done my fair share of sinning. But when you commit your heart and soul to God, you choose hope. You choose to not just see but to find the good in every situation. It’s a matter of perspective. It’s a matter of how you respond to the world around you. As the one scripture that brought me to God says, “Do not conform to the ways of the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12: 2
Jill: I know I need to relinquish the noise telling me that if I am being still, I am not being productive to others or myself. I am learning that in my moments of stillness, I can be the most productive and hear God guiding me. I choose hope because I know that, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus, 14:14).
Anxious for Nothing – Max Lucado
There are ways we try to process our guilt and fail: Numb, deny, minimize, bury, punish, avoid, redirect, offset, and embody.
During times of high anxiety, which of these false approaches do you indulge in most often?
Denise: For me, I avoid. I avoid being truthful with myself and/or my situation. I also avoid having tough conversations. I’m a surface pro. I avoid going deep. There are things that I have done in the past that I’m not proud of by any means. The guilt of it all floats just beneath the surface waiting for me to be engulfed by it. However, I know the only one who can help me through it in order to dig deeper is the Lord.
Jill: It is a combination of bury and avoiding. I can pack my calendar and to-do list with tasks, appointments, deadlines, projects, etc. that will keep me on the go constantly. I tend to always be in motion when my anxiety is high but never able to truly focus on the work and the impossible lists I created for myself. I am also very good at avoiding the guilt that is causing the anxiety. As I wrote in an earlier blog post, no one knew the level of my anxiety because I would put on my mascara and a smile and pretend that everything was okay, I was my usual happy self, etc. While on the inside I was a mess. It wasn’t until I started to learn how to stop and be still that I am now able to begin to turn my messes into my message.
What holds you back from fully trusting God to catch you?
Denise: When I think about all the times God has provided and shown up when I needed Him most, I have a hard time understanding why I can’t put all my trust in Him? I was just commenting on this in the bible plan that Jill and I are working through. We tend to compartmentalize our lives (work life, home life, friends, family, social media, etc). We can be a different person in each compartment and no one will know the difference. However, God knows. He sees when we are morphing into someone other than what He created. He does not compartmentalize us, yet we do it Him. And I think it’s when we do this to Him, it creates guilt within us. Guilt for not being our true selves, our best selves – the ones made in His image. That guilt is what holds me back from trusting Him to catch me. It makes me feel naked and afraid to face our father…much like Eve.
Jill: I have been thinking a lot about this question since a recent Feed Your Spirit podcast interview we conducted with Carol Ann (Episode 3). In the conversation, she talked about truly surrendering to God. This got me thinking, yes my faith is strong, but have I surrendered myself 100% to Him and do I believe that God will catch me no matter what? Then I started reflecting on all the times I stumbled, fell down, and came back to the altar on my knees. I realized that He will always be there to catch me, pick me up, dust me off, and love me because I am His child. I think that we learn to rely on Him and His promise to always be there for us, no matter how far we go from Him.
What are some practical ways you can discipline your mind and heart to release your guilt to the Lord each day?
Denise: I can start disciplining my mind and heart to release my guilt and fears to the Lord each day by reminding myself that he has never dropped me and will never let go of me. I am safe in His presence. I will work through breaking down the walls of the compartments of my life so that I can feel how much God loves me and is right beside me through it all.
Jill: I am making a daily effort to turn my guilt and life over to God so that He can lead me on the path He has written for me. As I stated in an earlier response, it is about surrounding myself in His word, worship, love, and stillness. I give myself permission to stop and be still so that I can talk to God and become closer to Him. Whether that is through song, messages, writing, reading, devotionals, prayer, or just looking around at His creation, I am constantly trying to remind myself that “He will not drop me”.
Anxious for Nothing – Max Lucado
Ponder this statement: “The mind cannot at the same time be full of God and full of fear.”
How might this truth affect how you spend your free time?
Denise: I’m struggling with this one but I’m beginning to see that it is true. When there is free time and its full of God, it feels like a reward. When it is spent in an anxious state, time is restless and uneasy. It’s full of worry. It’s full of self-doubt. It’s full of time criticizing not being where I should or gossiping about others. But when that free time is spent consciously with God, it’s relaxing. It’s refreshing to the soul. It’s love. It’s fun. It’s carefree.
Jill: I know that God is with me at all times, but there are times when fear and anxiety, along with the pressures from a broken society try to take control of my thoughts. When this happens, I find myself constantly checking email, social media, watching television, and making to-do lists that are impossible to complete. I have been able to identify the feelings prior to letting other ‘things’ fill my mind and take time to spend with God. Whether that is immersed in devotionals, listening to worship music, spending time with sisters in Christ, attending groups, listening to podcasts, or just being still and writing. As I grow closer to God and deeper in the Gospel and the teachings of Jesus, I am finding that I am changing. I surround myself with His messages, through music, reading, podcasts, work, and spending quiet time with Him. For example, last week our Devotions on the Beach started. It’s a chance for the Women of Bayside Chapel to gather and hear His word while enjoying a glorious sunset on the bay. I arrived from work, dog-tired, and looking forward to crawling into bed the minute the sun went down. Instead, I made dinner and headed over to Long Beach Island for the group. I was so happy I attended. The energy and message were what I needed to hear. I was graced with the pleasure of spending time with other Sisters in Christ. I need to fill my heart and mind with God so that there is no space for fear and anxiety to take residence.
What action steps can you take to discipline your mind?
Denise: The first action I can take is to repeat my favorite scriptures. It’s to turn on the worship music and let it take over my soul until I’m in that place where God is first in my heart and mind. It’s being fully aware of those who are gossipy and negative and putting on His armor and not joining into that negative void of love.
Jill: For me, it is immersing myself with His word. When faced with a choice, always choose God. Whether that is through what playlist to listen to, what book to read, what podcast to listen to, who I choose to spend my time with, and what self-talk I am saying to myself. When I surround myself with His message, it helps me. For example, my home office has some of the following messages on the walls and in my workspace: Let everything that has breath praise the Lord~ Psalm 150:6, Life is full of blessings, I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint~ Jeremiah 31:25, I know the plans I have for you~ Jeremiah 29:11. I find that for me, surrounding myself with all things that glorify God is what works to calm my mind and reminds me that God is here with me.
“Your anxiety decreases as your understanding of your father increases.” Putting this thought into practice, in what ways can you pursue a deeper understanding of who God is?
Denise: I will continue praying and studying the bible. I need to reach out more to my women’s group and neighbors who will pray over me when I am in need. Not shying away from talking about God and His good works in other people’s lives. Asking God each morning how I can be a good servant today. I also think telling more and more people about my testimony will keep me focused on God and the purpose He has set forth for my life.
Romans 12:2: Do not conform to the ways of the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Exodus 14:14: The Lord will fight for you. You need only to be still.
Isaiah 41:10: Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.
Jill: I am an avid reader, I love to read, to the point where I barely watch television (unless it’s football season). With that being said, I find I learn the most when I read and can markup a book, have post-it notes sticking out, create an image out of a message, or textDenise about something that I just read. I am reading more and more books about theGospel. Whether it is a devotional, self-growth book, or a Bible plan, I find that if I can focus my mind on God and His word, I am focused on Him.
Another way that I pursue a deeper understanding of God is through the work of 2Scripture Sisters and Feed Your Spirit podcast. Through this work, I have been connecting with people who may not have entered my life prior to it. When people share their stories about how God is working in their life to demonstrate His grace, wisdom, and sovereignty, we are reminded of His wisdom. Through this work, I am able to share the seasons we all experience here on Earth. I am blessed to be called to create this with my sister, Denise.
By increasing my understanding of God I have begun to recognize the early feelings, thoughts, and habits of when my anxiety is increasing. Although I know this is a way Satan has chosen to wage war on my mind and heart and those attacks are ever-changing, I know that if I return to His empowering word, I can defeat the devil and grow closer to God.
There are two things I rely on when I can feel the fear and anxiety rising: worship music and the Gospel. I have created a “Calm in the Storm” playlist in both my music app and in Pandora. I know this may sound silly to some, but I always find music to be a source of stress-relief, motivation, and comfort. The other day while on the treadmill running, I almost stopped dead in my tracks to raise my hand in praise and sing out loud while listening to “The Elements” by TobyMac. I was nervous, worried, and anxious about an upcoming event at work but I knew that I needed to remember that God is with me as I “fight the elements”. The other thing I rely on is His word, specifically, Jeremiah and Ephesians. Just knowing that God knows every hair on my head, has written a plan for me, loves me unconditionally, and can provide me with the armor to protect my mind, heart, and soul. I love the imagery Paul gives us as he tells us exactly what we need to “stand firm against the schemes of the devil”~ Ephesians 6:11. I have started to be able to visualize myself putting on the Armor of God when fear and anxiety are rising and be victorious against this chaos.
Anxious for Nothing – Max Lucado
“Anxiety and fear are cousins but not twins.” Do you agree? If so, how do the two manifest themselves differently in your life?
Denise: Yes, I agree; however, for years both have stopped me dead in my tracks. Fear can lead to anxiety and anxiety can lead to fear. They may be separate in psychological definitions but they are interrelated. For me, anxiety comes in the form of panic attacks. Have you ever been driving down the road when all of a sudden there is a car either in your blind spot or cuts in front of you the moment you happen to look at the speedometer? It’s the heart-stopping feeling that leaves you breathless. It makes all the nerves in your body feel like you just shocked them all at once. That is what happens to me when anxiety/panic hits. It jumps scares you leaving you momentarily alert but completely exhausted afterward, preventing you from doing anything – it’s a panic disorder that I’ve battled with since high school.
Jill: Yes, I do agree For me, fear is temporary, fleeting, and it subsides in a short amount of time. Unlike anxiety which is always there. Always waiting, just beneath the surface for the opportunity to come roaring like a lion and waging war on my thoughts and feelings. Anxiety is a slow build in me, it starts with the “what if” thoughts; What if I don’t get a good evaluation? What if I don’t get accepted into a program? What if the decision is one that God doesn’t have intended for me? What if I am walking down the wrong path? What if, what if, what if. Then, the nightmares start, then come the sleepless nights, then comes the negative self-talk, then comes the inability to focus on a task, all the while my mind and body are buzzing. The rational side of my thoughts will pop into focus every now and again, and I am able to take a deep breath and focus on what is really at the root of the anxiety. Then, peace and tranquility set in until the next time…
What are your personal anxieties?
Denise: These anxiety/panic attacks have stopped me from doing so much in life. It stops me when the vulnerability is high, like submitting a manuscript to an agent. Panic also sets in when my husband is driving faster than I would. Panic sets in when I say “yes” rather than protecting my time by saying “no.” This has been my life-long battle.
Jill: For me, it is the constant struggle of “Am I doing what God has intended for me?” When I am very busy, this thought will enter, but I am so transfixed on getting through the work, that it rarely is loud enough for me to hear. It is in the quiet moments, when I truly ask myself, “Is there something else I should be doing? What are His plans for me? What if I am walking down the wrong path?” Then, it hits hard.
“We have been taught that the Christian life is a life of peace, and when we don’t have peace, we assume the problem lies within us.” If this has been your perspective, how does Philippians 4:4-9 make you feel?
Denise: I agree there is a perception that living a life as a Christian should exude peace but that is a perception we shouldn’t promote. I have witnessed Christians making people feel inadequate because they don’t always have inner peace or making them feel as if their anxiety disorder is a sin rather than teaching them or showing them the gentleness and calm of God’s love. If we find someone in the throes of an anxiety attack, we should show them patience, reassurance, gentleness, calm, love, and understanding. We should show them how Jesus taught us to be like him.
Jill: We should be a peaceful follower of Christ, however, it is also said that Satan is constantly at war for our minds, hearts, and souls. Which is why we need to be reminded of Ephesians 6:11, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” Whenever my anxiety is great, I try to visualize myself tossing my anxiety into the crashing waves at the shoreline and putting on the armor of God. Then, I can fight the battle to rejoice in the peace and protection He provides me. As I read and study the Gospel, I am finding solace, peace, and purpose in my life.