How to cope with anxiety according to St. Paul
Hello and welcome to Spend Five with Jesus on this Sunday, October 8th, 2023. I am the friar, and it is just a marvelous day today, and I’m so glad you have joined us.
I want to focus today on Paul’s letter to the Philippians because I think it is really something that is really appropriate for our day. It just feels to me like this is a really good reading to teach us about how to deal with anxiety in our life. Because I think everybody has some anxiety in life.
Some of it is normal and natural, but when it becomes so strong that it changes the way in which we act and the way in which we do things, then it can become a problem. And yet, I think our faith can provide us a solution to anxiety.
Now, if you are one that deals with anxiety, particularly significant anxiety, I’m not suggesting this as an alternative to the appropriate care and treatment for good mental health. Okay, so don’t interpret it that way. It is really more to go hand in hand if you’re in a situation where you’re getting professional mental health treatment for anxiety because that is no fun at all to have anxiety. So just to be clear on that.
But Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, really encourages them not to have anxiety. Now, that’s an easy thing to say. It’s like, you know, don’t be sad, don’t be upset, don’t be angry, don’t have anxiety. Well, it’s not always as easy as just telling ourselves we’re not going to do that.
But what I think Paul is getting at here is that there are ways to deal with anxiety that are actually much more helpful than some other things. So, what is Paul suggesting? Prayer, petition, thanksgiving. Because those are the types of things that help us in our life. And I’ve mentioned the power of Thanksgiving, which is the last thing he mentions before.
Because I think being a person of gratitude when we see blessings from God is a really, really important thing for us to be doing. Even the smallest things I think we benefit when we hear in our prayer this idea of great gratitude, great thanksgiving, when we can say to God, “Thank you for this wonderful thing.”
Because I think what happens is that sometimes when life is not so great, what happens is we focus on the negative. There’s something in human existence that we tend to go to the dark side more easily. What happens, I think, in these instances when we don’t focus on our blessings is we can forget they even exist. And yet, God is constantly pouring out blessings.
I think the other thing that Paul is suggesting, which is related to this, has to do with where we place our focus. And he says, if you’re going to try to think about things, because anxiety is often a cycle of thinking about things that are going to go wrong, that are not so great, how we might not succeed at something, how we might not measure up. And yet Paul says, “Try to think of these things. Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
And I think that’s just tremendous advice about how to really deal in our life when we get caught in these cycles of worrying and anxiety is to think about those things that are really, really helpful, that are really, really good to be thinking about in our life. Because an analogy I’ve heard for anxiety, which I think is really helpful, at least it’s been helpful when I find myself sometimes getting anxious about things, is to think of anxiety like a smoke detector.
Now think of a smoke detector in your house. We’ve all got them, at least I hope we all have them, and we have this smoke detector and then it goes off. Now the challenge for a smoke detector is that a smoke detector can’t tell if the smoke it’s sensing comes from burnt toast in the toaster or the house being engulfed in flames. It gives the same signal regardless of what the source of the smoke is.
And anxiety is like that too. It can’t always, it doesn’t always help us to differentiate between is this something really serious that has justification for by feeling a bit anxious or is this something small. And sometimes just kind of taking a step back and saying, “Okay, what kind of anxiety am I feeling?” could be particularly helpful.
I think the most important thing is that every single day we go to God, we thank God for his blessings in life, we ask him to forgive our sins, maybe by going to confession, we spend some time thinking about God’s love for us and the power of our relationship with him. And I think that if we do those things, then I think what Paul promises will come true for us, that the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
On the friar, you can listen to our homilies (based on the readings of the day) and reflections. You can also ask us to pray for you or to pray for others. You can subscribe to our website to be informed whenever we publish an update.