All of us are afraid.
You can call it anxiety; you can call it uneasiness; you can get fancy and call it angst, but the truth is, we’re just frightened.
We’re sitting in traffic, and we start to think about the balance on our credit card. We’re standing on the porch waving to family members as they drive off, and we start to think about all the bad stuff that could happen while they are on the road. We’re listening to a co-worker talk about how she discovered her husband was having an affair, and we start to think about our own spouse and how we would react to that kind of revelation.
And we all have different ways of dealing with our fear. Some of the stuff we do is actually really healthy: we exercise, or we see a counselor; we participate in a support group, or we take a prescription medication. But we also try to cope with our fear in a lot ways that are really dumb: we yell at other drivers; we drink way too much; we eat the wrong kinds of food; we look at porn; we gossip about other people’s problems; we bury ourselves in work; we withdraw.
The truth is, most of us end up doing a combination of things that are healthy and things that are unhealthy, but here’s the really crazy part: No matter what we do, the fear never, ever goes away.
Now, sure, it’s better to confront our dread in therapy or to get a handle on our nerves through swimming twice a week, because if we try to dodge our anguish by over-working or over-eating, we’re only going to end up with additional problems. However, even the healthy approach only allows us to manage our fear: we learn how to keep it at a reasonable level; we learn how to confront it head-on; we learn techniques that we can use when it all gets overwhelming.
But that only makes our fear less intense; it doesn’t make it go away, because, in the final analysis, fear is a spiritual issue. So, to actually zero out our fears, we also have to deal with them on a spiritual level.
Look at it this way: At its root, fear is a lack of trust. We don’t really believe that anyone in the universe has our back. We don’t really feel like anyone is looking out for us or the people that we love. So, if we want to get rid of our anxiety, we have to find someone to trust—and that someone has to be able to handle all of our biggest, baddest fears: failure, abandonment, betrayal, pain, rejection, death.
And I only know One Person Who can deal with all of that: Christ Jesus, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, the Incarnate Son of God the Father. Of course, that’s what you’d expect an Orthodox priest to say. But, hey, don’t take my word for it. Shop around. Check out a few other deities; explore some other spiritual traditions.
The problem is, most of us don’t have the time and energy to look into all of the options that are out there. We’re way too busy just trying to stay out in front of all our worries. But here’s the thing about Christ Jesus: He doesn’t wait for us to do the religious consumer thing; He comes to us. So maybe the fact that you’re reading this column is actually a sign that the Lord of Heaven and Earth is reaching out to you and trying to gain your trust.
But, again, don’t take my word for it. Check Him out and see if He’s reliable. Here’s the best way to do that: Make a list of all the stuff that scares you. You can do it with pen and paper; you can do it on your phone, but make an actual, specific, point by point tally of all the things that frighten you: bankruptcy, addiction, family breakdown, illness, violence, boredom, unemployment. Just dump all that anxiety into one long list.
Then, once a day, read that list to Christ Jesus. I recommend that, at first, you even read it out loud, because that will remind you that you are actually communicating with a real Person. And what you are going to be doing during that interaction is giving all of your anxiety to the Incarnate Son of God the Father. You’re basically going to be saying, “Here. Please take this. I can’t handle it. I don’t want it.”
And Christ Jesus will take those fears away—every last one of them. Now, that process takes time. There’s nothing at all slow about the Lord of Heaven and Earth, but, believe it or not, many of us are actually very attached to our fears. I mean, we’ve been living with them for so long, we don’t know what life would be like without them, so it usually takes us a while to really and truly hand them over.
But once we learn how to give our anxiety to Christ Jesus, the change is nothing short of amazing: we become calm and patient and deliberate; we become focused and gentle and tolerant. That’s called peace. It often takes folks a while to realize just what is happening to them, but, when they figure it out, they wonder why they ever tried to live with all that fear.
A practical note: That Anxiety List is not a once and for all sort of document. It should change as often as our circumstances change, and it should be as specific as we need it to be. So, in addition to all those generic sorts of fears that we hand over to Christ Jesus every day, we can also add “the talk I need to have with my teenage daughter”, “the test results that my friend is waiting for”, and “the fallout from the mistake I made at work”.
Then, finally, a word for all you folks out there who are ‘spiritual but not religious’: You might be tempted to try to put together an Anxiety List and read it every day just as a therapeutic exercise. There will certainly be some value in that, but if you’re not actually reading the list to a Person, then it’s not going to work the way it’s supposed to. Remember, you can’t trust in a vacuum; you have to trust someone. And the best Someone to trust is Christ Jesus, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, the Incarnate Son of God the Father.