Anxiety is easier

Last week St. Francis de Sales and some bad programming at Google Maps led me to one of the biggest realizations I’ve had this year: that anxiety = not trusting God. For a long time I knew that stress about certain individual matters was due to a prideful insistence that I had the best plan for how this or that situation needed to turn out. But it has been quite stunning to realize that every single time I am anxious, it is due to a lack of trust in God.

So, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve been trying to work on this by making a conscious decision to put all my trust in God every time I feel anxious. Every time I feel those all-too-familiar sensations of anger or anxiety (or both) start to bubble up, it’s a reminder to turn immediately to God and figure out what he would have me do at that moment. Of course, I thought, most of the time that will be impossible to know. Especially in instances where I don’t have long periods of time to reflect and pray, where I have to react to a situation quickly, I assumed that I would only rarely be able have a clear sense of what I should do to be in line with God’s will, that the majority of the time nothing would really come of such an exercise.

I was wrong.

To my surprise, many times when I do this, when I turn to God in a state of anxiety to seek his will for me in this situation, I know exactly what his will is. I just don’t want to follow it.

For example, last week my mother and I were preparing to co-host a Christmas party on the weekend. In the week leading up to it, I sensed a lot of tension. I felt like she wanted me to help a lot more than I was able to, and each night that went by without me going over to her house to help decorate and cook, it seemed to get worse. And when I realized that I was going to have to use part of Saturday morning, the day of the party, to go to Mass for a holy day of obligation, my stress level reached a boiling point. I felt like my mom was just going to blow a gasket if I told her that I couldn’t even help with last-minute preparation because I had to do church stuff.

I was feeling extremely anxious when I decided to turn to God and trust him with this situation. And as soon as I got in a trusting, prayerful mindset, I knew exactly what he would have me do: act in great humility and love. God’s will was that I humble myself to tell my mom how very much I appreciated all the hard work she’d put into this party; that I offer a sincere, loving apology and admit that I’d left her with all the work, that I had not followed through on my promise to help; to use the opportunity of telling her that I had to go to Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception as an opportunity to be a little bit vulnerable and share my faith (something I almost never do with my family) and explain why it was important to me to go; and to get up extra early on Saturday to go to the first morning Mass I could find so that I’d have as much time as possible to help my mom.

My prayer to know God’s will was so quickly answered, the path forward so clear…And I thought: “That sucks!” I guess I was hoping that God’s will would always involve stuff like amazing coincidences and unexpected journeys and beautiful realizations (as happened the Friday before), not actual hard work on my part.

This situation is just one example. Over and over again this past week, I’ve found that the challenge is not usually knowing what God’s will is…it’s following it. There have been some occasions where I really don’t know what I am supposed to do and can only go forward in meekness and blind trust. But, more often, when I pray about my anxiety, God’s path for the resolution of the situation is actually pretty clear: it involves stuff like smoothing over tense interpersonal situations with great humility and love; resolving financial stress by admitting things I don’t want to admit and committing to sacrifices I don’t want to make; making overwhelming situations manageable by taking a hard look at my priorities (like, say, stopping half way though a blog post I really wanted to finish to open mail instead) and asking for help when I need it. And so on and so on. Not surprisingly, it keeps coming down to stuff like sacrifice, humility, loving openly and selflessly, patience, being willing to be vulnerable, etc. In other words: really hard stuff that I don’t want to do.

This has been a surprising development. I guess I always thought of knowing God’s will as something reserved for the most saintly saints, something that takes long stretches of deep prayer and meditation to even begin to discern. I’d never really considered the situation where I know exactly what God’s will is but just don’t care to follow it. Looking back, I think that for a while now I’ve used anxiety as a crutch: sometimes it’s easier to just sit around and stress out, to indulge in feelings of being helpless and overwhelmed, than to do what I know God wants me to do.

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10 Responses to “Anxiety is easier”
  1. Catholic Mom says:

    Jen,

    I wrote a quick post on this last weekend. What triggered it was this quote from Pope Benedict as he discussed the Letter from St. James: Thus he teaches us not to presume to plan our lives autonomously and with self interest, but to make room for the inscrutable will of God, who knows what is truly good for us.

  2. LSK49rs says:

    One of the toughest lessons I have ever had to learn was that trusting God with my life means trusting that He may have a much better idea of how my time should be spent than I do. To go forward, even when there is a good chance that what I want may not be what HE wants, has been my greatest challenge as well as my greatest avenue of growth.
    May the Lord continue to bless you.

  3. k says:

    Very good post!

    A few years ago (via The Cloister Walk), I came to believe that most anger is just fear. Now I can see that it’s fear wrapped in ego.

  4. Sarahndipity says:

    I think that for a while now I’ve used anxiety as a crutch: sometimes it’s easier to just sit around and stress out, to indulge in feelings of being helpless and overwhelmed, than to do what I know God wants me to do.

    Wow. I never thought of it that way, but I do the exact same thing. I also have a hard time determining God’s will much of the time. At least, so I thought. But I think you’re right that most of the time we know God’s will deep down but just don’t want to do it. I’ve also noticed that it’s so easy to look at other people’s lives and say that they should obviously do X, but when I’m in a similar situation I make excuses for not doing God’s will. I tell myself it’s “complicated,” when often it’s really not.

    Your blog is so great – I get new insights from it all the time. I’m a cradle Catholic, but my similar spiritual journey is similar to yours and I think we are at about the same place spiritually.

  5. Tausign says:

    [You said]…”when I turn to God in a state of anxiety to seek his will for me…I know exactly what his will is. I just don’t want to follow it.”

    {My reply} May I suggest another interpretation to ponder. It’s almost an axiom of ‘spiritual direction’ that God rarely speaks to us in such situations. God almost universaly speaks to us in the still quiet moments of peace.

    Regarding discerning ‘what is God’s Will for me in particular’… [as opposed for all of us in general]…I’ve found that ‘I hear Him best’ AFTER I’ve really had a heartfelt conversion and desire to carry out His Will. [St. Francis called this a moment…’When the bitter becomes sweet’] This makes sense as our loving Father loathes to frustrate us. Indeed he providentially gives us exactly what we need to carry out His Will when the moment arrives.

  6. Abigail says:

    Another fantastic post. Helpful to a fellow Catholic mother with the same issues! Check out my blog for a quote that my husband found for me that anxiety equals “not trusting things to right themselves” or in our case, not wanting to do the uncomfortable things necessary to serve God daily.

    Hope the Christmas party ended up being fun!

  7. nicole says:

    Great post Jen. You get to the heart of what I continually struggle with. I know what God’s will for me is, but I am so reluctant, afraid, unwilling to follow it. I hope you are more successful than I have been so far.

  8. Rebecca says:

    Jennifer,
    I really appreciate your post. My mother has always maintained that worry is a failure to trust God, and it is good to hear that truth echoed from another corner! I’ve been really anxious lately, and like you, I know what I should do, it’s just that I don’t want to do it! I Peter 5:7 comes to mind: “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” There is such peace in acknowledging our dependence on God. Blessings to you in your walk with Him.

    Rebecca

  9. onionboy says:

    This is one of the sins I bring to confession. Being older (now 48) helps to mellow things some, experience is like that for rounding out the rough spots but it is still, as you note, much easier to fret than it is to be faithful. Lord, have mercy, help us to place our hearts and minds in you, fully that the peace of Christ might rule in us.

    O onionboy.ca {arts & fath} luminousmiseries.ca {faith & art}

  10. marie says:

    Thanks for another wonderful post. When I read “Anxiety is easier”, it was as if God had just given me a push and said “See. I mean it — you gotta trust me.” For I had just spent the last several minutes (before reading your blog) fretting about a career opportunity and how I was going to make it work. Finally, it occurred to me that maybe I should try and trust God with this. I knew it was the thing to do but giving up control of the situation and letting go of my anxiety was so difficult. Then I read your post and well I just about fell off my chair. The timing was so perfect.

    I enjoy your blog. I know the Holy Spirit is using you so powerfully to touch many lives.

    Thank you!