Monday, November 26, 2012

Coping With Anxiety

In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.  -- Philippians 4:6 (ASV)
One of the easiest things in the world that I find to do is to be anxious.  My father was a worry-wort and claimed it to be a great spiritual gift by saying worry was a form of prayer.  I have known many worriers.  Almost all claim it is inherited from their parents.  Many claim to be from a long line of worriers.  The fact is we are not born worrying, we LEARN worrying from those around us.  We learn to worry and fear what is out of our control.  Worry creates stress which begets anxiety and before we know it some doctor is handing us anti-depressants and tranquilizers.  Worry, stress, and anxiety put a tremendous weight on our bodies to cope -- often this weight is literal.  Many writers of the Holy Bible speak indirectly of this physical damage to our bodies and souls from worry, and they offer the answer.  Worry is a sad condition considering that often the very people who lead us to faith in God are also the ones teaching us to worry.

Paul says the cure for being anxious is to put that all aside and focus on praying with "supplication and thanksgiving."  Supplication is not a common word in the modern English language.  Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible talks about supplication this way:
Supplication - continuance in earnest prayer. With thanksgiving, for innumerable favors already received; and for dangers, evils, and deaths turned aside. And let your souls be found in this exercise, or in the disposition in which this exercise can be performed, at all times, on all occasions, and in all places.
When we are told to pray earnestly and continually many find a problem with it.  I think many of us equate prayer with petitioning God and wonder how much petitioning one can find to do "continually."   YET, we can worry the same thoughts over and over for hours on end and it seems "normal?"  Paul, I think, is suggesting that we find a way to "repeat play" God's assurances over and over in place of the worries.  Place your heart and anxiety on God and stay on God for your focus.  There are at least a couple of ways to work at this goal.  

First, we can learn verses from the Bible and say them to ourselves over and over.  Each time they are said our brains hear it and grow to accommodate the tone and belief.  Modern science tells us this retrains our "neuro-pathways" so the habit of worrying and feeling anxious is changed.

The second is repeating a short prayer over and over.  An ancient prayer of the church is, "Lord Jesus Christ, son of David, have mercy on me."  The Lord's Prayer can be said.  The rosary can be said.  You can make up your own prayer that resonates with you.  Listing things you are grateful for like, "Lord, thank you for __________," can fill a day all by itself. 

Thank you Lord for season changes, for the beauty of your creation, for life, and help, and daily food.  Amen.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Discipline of Thanksgiving

Enter into the Holy One's gates with thanksgiving, And into God's blessed courts with praise: Give thanks to our Creator, and bless God's name. For Jehovah is good; God's kindness and affection endures for ever, And God stays faithful to all generations.  -- Psalms 100:4-5 (ASV - paraphrased)

The American holiday of Thanksgiving has always been a little bit of a mystery to me.  It's a good thing in that it reminds us to be thankful.  At the same time by it happening only once a year, it is implied that being thankful once a year is adequate.  This is far from the truth.  I'm in the midst of a great gratitude experiment, and am finding that being thankful is a powerful spiritual discipline that has changed me.

More than two months ago I caught a program on PBS about how to find happiness.  One of the items the lecturer suggested was keeping a daily listing of five things for which you were grateful.  I started then.  Since then I have been swamped with messages from a large variety of sources that being grateful is vital to maintaining sanity, managing anxiety, and finding happiness.  The more I practice thanksgiving the more things for which I find to be grateful.  Being grateful has become nearly a minute by minute activity.  With the gratitude comes a mindfulness about the extensive interconnectedness of creation and life.  I am learning to "pull back the curtain" on the negative and scary things that an anxious mind can create, and instead look for the positive side of each thought/event for which to be grateful.

When we take time to be thankful with just a brief whispered phrase of gratitude to God for whatever crosses our path we are remaining in constant relationship with God.  Instead of frantically begging God for solutions and answers to desperate petitions, prayer changes into pouring out one's thanksgiving.  This change pries open our clenched fists surrendering our control back into the trustworthy arms of a God who has been faithful to all the generations clear back to Adam and Abraham.

I'd encourage you to work diligently at finding the things to be grateful for in life.  Start your own gratitude experiments.  You can start as I did - by just sitting down with a little notebook and listing five things in the course of a day I was thankful for.  Not too soon, however, you will start noting very small things from a droplet of water to the smell of coffee to a bird's call to the large saving graces bestowed on us daily for Jehovah is good -- always!

Wise and Trusting God, help us in the huge element of being grateful.  Through all that you give and all that you bless, aid us in knowing it is you carrying us forward.  In Christ's name.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

On The Day After An Election

I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, be made for all men; for kings and all that are in high place; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and gravity. -- I Timothy 2:1-2 (American Standard)

On a day after the elections in the United States, I have heard and seen multitudes celebrating the wins of their candidates, as well as masses crying for the losses.  (Both of these responses bother me.  After all, is not God fully in charge?)  Today is a new day.  The Apostle Paul gives some good advice for this new day.  With deepest humility we should take frequent timeouts to pause and use it for a prayer break.  There is much to be grateful for in a nation so abundantly blessed.  There are plenty of problems the nation faces which need intercessions.  There are plenty of leaders (new and old) who need our supplications and prayers.  This verse affirms what the reward for our prayer is.  After all the turmoil of the past couple months in our national life, the words: "tranquil" and "quiet life" sound especially good.  Are you ready for some calm and tranquility?  Then put aside whether "you" won or lost in your votes and simply pray for them; pray for them ALL.  The losers have as much to contribute as the winners, and without a solid ground encircled by God's gravity and centering we will devolve into bickering, upset and increased trouble.  The nation does not need self-centered interests, animosity, and arguments as much as it needs the godliness and quiet life that true and regular prayer will bring.