This holiday season, more than any I can remember, has been stressing me out.
It’s not so much the buying presents or parties or fears about the new year, or anything I can actually put my finger on. In fact, I think it has less to do with the holiday season itself as much as it does with the season of life I am in (three jobs, interviewing for a fourth, publishing a book, navigating singleness, sorting out my eschatology, etc, etc…).
I have never been a high stress person. I have always had more of a chill, laid back personality, but for whatever reason, this past year has seen a decline in that and an elevation in my blood pressure. I think too much. And becoming momentarily-almost-famous over a year ago certainly did not help to relax me. Quite the opposite in fact.
So for whatever reason, I have for the first time in my life experienced anxiety.
I used to always critique people in my mind who complained about anxiety, because I was so ultra-chill and didn’t understand the concept. I guess I still don’t, as anxiety is still very undefinable for me, and I can’t really put a finger on the source of this unrest in my bones. But whatever it is, I don’t like it, and I can see the negative effects of it in my life.
The worst part is plugging this experience of anxiety into my beliefs about Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the tender love of the Father.
I mean, the Holy Spirit is referred to as “The Comforter,”(John 14:16) and Christ, “The Prince of Peace,”(Isaiah 9:6) so naturally, as a Christian, I shouldn’t have to wrestle with foes like stress and anxiety, right?
I think the American conception of “Christian Peace” is a myth.
And here is what I mean by that.
I think we expect that simply because we wear the label of “Christian” our lives should be a model of peace and the absence of worry or fear. We expect our coworkers to approach us and say things like Wow, you seem so at peace with the world…Why? What do you have that I don’t??
But realistically, how many times has that happened to you? To me? Far less than I’d like…if ever.
I say that Christian Peace is a myth—to Americans anyway—because we talk about it despite rarely having experienced it. To the outsider, most Christians I know are just as stressed out and anxious as the rest of the world. We may use our mouths to talk about The Prince of Peace, but not give much experiential evidence of such.
We have not experienced the peace we so adamantly proclaim.
We allow things to stress us out and fill our minds with worry just like everyone else; as if the Creator of the cosmos weren’t watching over us. We neglect the small voice who whispers peace and life to us in favor of trying to grapple the reins from His hands and work things out on our own. Despite how much we talk about peace, we are not often shining examples of it.
I once had a friend who nightly drank away her fear of death. She was a Christian but had no trace of peace because of the anxiety which held her mind in a constant state of angst and unrest. I imagine you and I are no different, we just may use different escape vehicles. For instance, until recently, I realized I could never drive in silence. My hands and thoughts were jittery until I had a podcast pumping through the speakers in order to distract my mind from the lack of peace within.
Silence became more of a nice thought, like a friend who lives on the other side of the globe, than a routine experience.
The worst part of this, as Francis Chan points out, is that worrying is a sin.
In America, it is one of the most overlooked sins, right up there with gluttony and greed. Jesus specifically tells us not to worry (Matthew 6:25ff). Therefore, by worrying, we are directly disobeying Him.
I know how that comes off—like we are being punished for something that’s out of our control…or for feeling like things are out of our control and clinging to that thought. But I think there is a different way for us to look at it.
What if, instead of feeling dread about anxiety, we saw Jesus’ words as an invitation out of worry? What if we believed Him when He said that He sees the birds and the flowers of the field, and we don’t have to worry about ourselves? Why don’t these words comfort us more than they do?
I think there are some practical steps we can take away from anxiety, but they all begin with acknowledging that we are not in control of our lives, and that God is. Does an infant worry about what they’re going to eat tomorrow when they are in the loving hands of their father or mother? We need to position ourselves like that infant, fully dependent and wanting for nothing.
This doesn’t mean that our life’s circumstances will always be ideal—in fact quite the opposite—but when we take on the mentality of a child of God, we can relinquish our tight hold of control and trust that God is moving. We may not have control of what happens in our lives, but we can control how we respond. Will you respond with worry, anxiety, and stress, or will you allow yourself to relax, knowing that the Prince of Peace and the Spirit of Comfort are at work, bringing all things together for our good (Romans 8:28)?
God never promised easy lives for His followers, but He did promise to be with us in the midst of the storm. So if the Prince of Peace is with us, who are we to be stressed out?
I want Christians to be a people who truly embrace the peace of Christ, no longer allowing it to exist only in theory, or a ‘nice idea.’ I want the peace of Christ to so radically invade our lives that the notion of Christian Anxiety vanishes and is replaced by total reliance on The Comforter.
We who confess Christ as our source and our sustainer are no longer allowed stress or anxiety. We breathe Him in with every breath and exhale our fears and worries. The more we allow ourselves to be consoled by Him, the more we can let go of our ‘opaque futures,’ to borrow from AA’s terminology.
May we be a people who carry the peace of Christ with us. May we experience it in times of quietness and stillness, not only talking about it externally with our mouths, but demonstrating it through our interior life.