Friday, November 9, 2012

High Anxiety

by Dr. Dennis Herman

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Paul’s words to the Philippians.)

Chaplains and pastors were once taught to be “a non-anxious presence” while ministering to persons in high anxiety and crises. We learned after a few years that such a goal was too idealistic. Now, chaplains and pastors are encouraged to be “a less anxious” presence during times of crises or high anxiety.

We wish we could follow Paul’s encouragement to be anxious about nothing. The fact is, we are anxious. It’s the way we are made. But we are to address that anxiety by the disciplines of our faith, specifically by prayer. Paul simply reminds us to rejoice, to give thanks, and then present our requests to God.

Sometimes we read Paul’s words and we grit our teeth declaring, “I will not be anxious; I will not be anxious; I will not be anxious.” Have you ever noticed the more you tell yourself not to do something, the more prone you are to do it? Like the MRI technician who kept asking me, “Are you claustrophobic? Do you have a fear of crawling into caves? Would you like anxiety medication? Does it bother you to be in a dark, closed space with no air with a dozen monkeys beating on a tin can placed over your head?” (Actually, he only asked the first question a couple different ways, but they all seemed to say, “Be anxious, this MRI will drive you nuts!”) Then he told me “not to move” while lying in what appeared to be an air conditioned coffin. Please, just give me some strong medication next time and forget the verbal encouragement.

We do get anxious. We could count the ways, but the fact is that anxiety is personal. Some folks just seem genetically engineered or environmentally conditioned to feel high anxiety. For all of us who deal with anxiety, here’s a prayer I like. Maybe it will be one you can say in times of high anxiety, low anxiety, or MRI anxiety:

"Embolden my spirit by the presence of Your Holy Spirit within me. Assure me that nothing separates me from Your love. Remind me that you will provide all my needs. If I must be anxious, let me trust that You will not be, and in that relationship of trust may I know that all will be as You will it. Amen."

Dennis Herman is the interim pastor of Oxford Baptist Church in Oxford, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, The Forecaster.

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