Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Sin of Anxiety

Like most book addicts, I have a teetering pile of books next to my bed, waiting to be read. In that teetering pile is a copy of a book I have been wanting to read for a very long time: Introduction to the Devout Life by Saint Francis de Sales. I just haven't had time to start it.

But last night I ran across a quotation from the book on Jen's Conversion Diary blog. And it was one of the most convicting sentences I have read. Ever. Jen wrote about her battle with this issue, and it's a battle I need to face, too.

"With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul." - St. Francis de Sales.
Jen wrote about how for Lent this year she decided to attempt to not be anxious each day. She prayed about it each morning, asking God's help to keep her from being anxious not forever, not for the immediate future, but for the ability to not be anxious that day. Only that day. And no matter how well or poorly she did, she asked God the next morning for the same thing: not to be anxious that day. And so on. It was a day-to-day battle in her mind to not allow anxiety for the future to steal her joy, to harden her soul.

Anxiety has always been a difficult feeling for me to kick. Once it gets a hold of me, my imagination runs away, imagining all sorts of horrors. And it's been especially bad for the past year as Keith's work slowed down more and more, as we've been unable to pay our creditors the minimum balances, as we've had to pay bills late, as we've had to scrounge the cupboards for creative ideas for feeding four growing kids, two of them teens. The anxiety has been disheartening at best, and paralyzing at worst. I won't tell you all of the scenarios I have imagined, but I'm sure you can guess at most of them, especially if your family has been hit hard by the recession as well.

I try to distract myself to keep me from arranging constant scenarios in my head. I watch TV in the evenings, read books, write, blog, watch movies, etc. But distraction simply isn't enough. It's a lame attempt to cover up the elephant in the middle of the room with a flowered sheet rather than escorting the thing outside into the garden. I need to be more proactive in this war with anxiety than simply distracting myself from thinking about it.

So reading this simple sentence on Jen's blog last night was like being slapped across the face. I finally realized how dire my spiritual situation is as a result of constant anxiety, which really is just another way of saying that I am not trusting God with the events and people in my life. And right then I resolved to indeed try, with God's assistance, to not be anxious each day. In fact, I may have to start with each hour, or until the next meal, because not being anxious for an entire day seems like too big a bite to take right now; I need a mouthful, not a stomach-ful.

I would greatly appreciate prayer in conquering this Hydra-like (I hope I have my metaphor correct!) challenge of anxiety in which I cut off one head and seven more appear in its place. It will take a great war and all of my effort to slay the foe of anxiety, and I have made some real strides over the past few years. But now I need to focus in on the KILL. I need to unhinge its attachment to my mind, slay it, bury it, and never allow its resurrection.

The Canadian Book of Common Prayer contains a Collect (collective prayer) against anxiety that I wish to pray for myself and for others who find themselves under the thumb of anxiety:

ALMIGHTY God, who art afflicted in the afflictions of thy people: Regard with thy tender compassion those in anxiety and distress; bear their sorrows and their cares; supply all their manifold needs; and help both them and us to put our whole trust and confidence in thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I'll report back and let you know how God is working in my life.


Dancingirl said...

Praying here for you, Susanne.

Susanne Barrett said...

Thanks, Becky! I really appreciate it. :)

Jane D. said...

Praising God for the answers he has already given to your prayers Susanne x.

CC said...

Hi Susie,
Anxiety is something that I have been trying to control in my own life -- most of the time I feel like Queen Anxiety. Someone once told me that to be anxious was a sin and when I talked to a couple of close friends from church, they disagreed. They said if you let it take over your life it may become that way, but anxiety is inevitable in some cases. After their very generous comments, I thought about it further. I know God is good, so why am I anxious about things? I think, in part, we are anxious when we want to be prepared. We want to contemplate possibilities and consider how we would make it through.


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