What kinds of things keep you awake at night? Do you worry about what’s happening in our world: floods and wildfires, stagnant wages and rising costs, environmental degradation and political corruption, school-shootings and terrorist attacks, the international refugee and immigrant crises. Or are you worries more personal: What if my child, grown or otherwise, makes a bad decision? Will I ever find (fill in the blank: love, peace, security, healing, work)? Will I ever be able to retire? How can I protect the wellbeing of those I love? How can I help my loved one who is hurting?
It’s no secret that anxiety plagues many of us at a variety of levels. Anxiety is the number one concern expressed by college students (41.6%) who are seen by mental health professionals. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that anxiety disorders are the number one mental health problem for U.S. women and number two among men, second only to alcohol and drug abuse. Over fifty million Americans, some eighteen percent, have suffered from phobias, panic attacks, and other anxiety disorders in the past year.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve noticed a pattern in my own life. Each August, like clockwork, Anxious Andy arrives and is fretful, worried, and stressed out. Anxious Andy always shows up following summer vacation, as he begins his preparations for a busy fall of ministry. Anxious Andy worries about how effective various ministry efforts will be in effecting life-change, how he will be perceived by the congregation, and (sometimes) if he should even be doing ministry. I’m guessing that in a congregation full of educators and students, I’m not the only one who feels anxious in August.
During this anxious month, we’ll be sharing in a four-part sermon series that will explore the theme “Living in Anxious Times.” We’ll discuss causes of anxiety as well as what physical, spiritual, and socio-emotional resources we can use to help us manage our anxieties. We’ll think about how parents can help their kids cope with their anxieties. We’ll reflect on how we can build our own resilience by “doing hard things.” As a follower of Jesus, I believe that our faith provides us with a rich trove of resources for anxiety, not the least of which are prayer, scripture, community, and trust in God. Additionally, I believe that various treatments from psychology and medicine have been shown to be effective for many.
My prayer for us is that we may grow in our capacity to manage our anxieties, realizing the fullness of Paul’s prayer in Philippians 4:6-7. “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
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