Give Your Anxious Mind a Rest
Letter to My 30-Year-Old Self
If you are prone to worry and anxiety, your mind may need a rest. The endless worries and stresses that are churning in you day and night are not helping you to be better at what you do, or to become a better person. They are threatening to replace your relationship with Christ, steal your peace, and inhibit your ability to display the glory of God. I should know. Half a lifetime ago, I was an anxious 30-year-old wife and mother.
“This God holds every minute of every day. If a challenge is before me, he put it there.”
Admittedly, “resting” one’s mind can be a great challenge. We can’t just stop the flow of anxious thoughts and worries that bombard our minds virtually every moment of our waking (and often dreaming) hours. No, we can’t completely shut them down, but because God grants the power for us to begin to develop the mind of Christ, who clearly was not consumed with worry or anxiety, there is hope we can train our minds to slow down anxious thoughts and quiet them with truth (Romans 12:2).
In Whatever Situation?
When I begin to feel mounting anxiety or worry, I have looked to the apostle Paul. His life in Christ was so unbelievably more challenging and anxiety-producing than mine ever will be, yet he could say with authority, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11). He was familiar with “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). But how does that work? How do we find confidence, peace, and joy in Jesus in the midst of the daily challenges and stresses we face?
Compared to Paul, I am a very slow learner, but when I think back over my Christian life, here are two truths I wish I would have understood better at a younger age.
Forgetting Who We Are
First, mindfully live as who you are in Christ. Paul didn’t simply believe in Christ with his mind and heart; he understood that life in Christ completely transforms who we are. Paul had been a passionate, but blind and dead, person chasing all the wrong things and pleasing the wrong people. When Christ broke through his blindness, he literally left behind his worldly Pharisee self. He began to look at himself, others, and his purpose in life in light of the new freedom, assurance, and calling he had received from Christ.
He meant it when he said, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). To experience real peace, our minds need to embrace the completely different reality we entered when we were born again.
In my twenties and thirties, though I believed deeply in God, had an overflowing heart of worship and gratitude for Jesus, was growing in my knowledge of God’s word and love for him, and enjoyed a rich prayer life, I still really struggled to be at peace in the circumstances of life.
“Trusting God in the challenges of life not only gives us greater peace; it is a glorious display of God’s glory.”
Real-world circumstances — sleepless nights, endless diapers, and other mindless daily duties related to caring for little ones, the tremendous burden of responsibility training up my children in the way that they should go, understanding how to nurture my marriage amid the demands of being parents, learning to be comfortable with the comparative lowly status of being a stay-at-home mom in an achieving world, wrestling with lust for material things, and so on — all threw gasoline on the brittle tinder of my anxious mind.
My default responses to worry and stress over and feel responsible for these things got in the way of my being able to live in, and benefit from, the new identity I inherited when I surrendered my life to Jesus.
Trusting What God Has Said
In other words, though I believed them, peace comes in daily living in the light of the truths Paul understood so well, and I failed to appropriate them enough to rest in them. Promises such as:
The God of the universe has chosen me and loved me, and was willing to sacrifice his own Son that he might call me his daughter (1 Peter 2:9; Ephesians 1:3–10). The Creator God has claimed me! What love matters more than this?
This God has erased all uncertainties about my future by adopting me as his own (Romans 8:14–17; Revelation 3:5). And the future is amazing (Revelation 21:4; Romans 8:18)!
This God is working good for me in all things because I love him and have been called to his purposes (Romans 8:28). He is not waiting to punish me or my loved ones if I get it wrong.
This God holds every minute of every day (Psalm 139:1–6; Romans 11:36; Colossians 1:16–17). If a challenge is before me, he put it there.
This God empowers me to do what he calls me to do (2 Corinthians 12:9; 1 John 4:4).
This God is with me. He promises he will never leave me or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5; Deuteronomy 31:8; Joshua 1:9). I am never alone. Nothing can separate me from the love of this God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:35–39).
If these things are true, why should I care what a sinful and ultimately doomed world thinks is important? Why should I obsess over what other equally sinful people think of me? Why should I lust after material things that are destined to end up in a trash heap? Why should I worry about earthly “success” when I already have everything? How can I doubt that the all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful God will equip me for all he calls me to do? How can I even worry so much about my children when I know he holds them and their future? In all things, God has got this.
I wish I could have appropriated these promises more fully when I was young. Not only would I have been far more content in life’s daily challenges and in my perception of myself; I would have been far more effective in every aspect of my life and a greater blessing to my family and all around me.
The World on Our Shoulders
We may think we trust God, but our perpetual insecurity, worry, and anxiety tell the real story. Have you ever felt guilty for feeling at peace? Like somehow if you are not worried about something or someone, you don’t care enough?
“We honor God and help others far more when we prayerfully focus on doing, in love, the best job we are able.”
Trusting God in the challenges of life not only gives us greater peace; it is a powerful example to others and a glorious display of God’s glory.
Our worry and anxiety do not help the people we love. In fact, our lack of peace probably fuels worry, anxiety, and guilt in them, too. While we have the opportunity to contribute positively, the well-being of our loved ones or the world around us does not rest on our shoulders. Imagine the good we would do our children if what they sensed in us was peace and trust in God in all circumstances?
God is lovingly sovereign over all that happens in our lives and in the lives of those we love. He reminds us in Jeremiah 32:27, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” We do well to remember with Job, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).
Do the Best You Can — and Trust God
We are to do our part, of course. In 1 Chronicles 28:9, we find, with Solomon, that it is wise to “know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you.” And when we have been “found by him,” we can trust him with every part of our lives.
God has plans, and he accomplishes them. We have a part to play — working hard and well, but mostly in seeking him with our whole heart — but we must never forget that the result is always his.
We honor God and help others far more when we prayerfully focus our minds on doing, in love, the best job we are able — when we believe God is with us every step of the way, and then peacefully trust, rather than worry, that God will use our faithful efforts and his sovereign grace to accomplish his plans. After all, though they may not always be easy, his plans are always good and loving.
Greater Peace, Greater Glory
“Do the best you can — and trust God.”
Give your mind a rest. Live in the joy that you are loved with an everlasting love, “and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27). There will always be challenges and hard things, but there is peace in truly believing, at a foundational level, the reality of who you are in Christ and trusting God in every circumstance.
When we rest in this peace, we are not only more content; we glorify God by displaying Christ in a way that may even cause others to ask about our hope and strength. And if they do, we’ll be able to share Christ with greater confidence and joy.