I used to get anxious about a lot of things. It ranged from simple decision making to social anxiety to paranoia. Mostly, they were things I couldn’t control. My chest was always tight and I could barely make a decision because I’d overthink everything and worry too much about the consequences. Then I’d get anxious about not being able to make decisions. It was a neverending, crippling cycle.
All this changed one day when my husband and I had to rush our sweet darling toddler to hospital. Long story short, he needed an emergency blood transfusion and major surgery. After the surgery, we got told there could be major, lifelong complications. The doctors did everything they could and there was nothing we could do but wait and pray. It was out of our hands. At this point, all the petty things I used to worry about became completely insignificant and ridiculous.
The day after the surgery, I sat next to my son’s cot and watched him sleep. My heart was heavy and my chest was tight from all the waiting, anxiety and uncertainty. Then I had the most humbling, lifechanging experience — it literally felt like God had lifted all my burdens. All the emotional weight was off my chest and I felt an unfamiliar lightness that I momentarily couldn’t describe. My soul was still and calm (which is VERY unusual for me) and I felt peace, which was also unusual since this was just the beginning of a rough, unknown, scary road. It hit me a moment later: what I felt was peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. — Philippians 4:6–7 (NIV)
This peace was the overwhelming sense that everything would be okay and that we would get through it, with no stress, no anxiety, no chest tightness, no overthinking, no matter what. We could do anything, through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:13). We could get through it. And we did. By the grace of God and through the prayers and support of family and friends — we got through it, stronger and closer.
Fast forward a year, our lives are far from perfect and we’ve been through a bumpy road that we’re still navigating through — but thankfully, I don’t have the crippling weight of anxiety controlling me. Anxiety does not control my life anymore and from that experience I’ve learned three valuable lessons that will hopefully help you or someone you know.
1. Trust God
During our hospital stay, there wasn’t much we could do to help our son other than pray and listen to the doctors’ advice. We prayed, we researched, we listened to the experts. We had no choice but to trust the doctors — the situation was out of our hands.
It got me thinking… if I’m generally so quick to trust doctors and other experts, why is it sometimes so hard for me to trust God and His plan, when He is all-knowing and infinitely wiser than man (1 Corinthians 1:25)?
I know it’s hard to trust a plan when we don’t know what the plan is or what the outcome will be, a plan that will potentially cause discomfort and pain. But God does have a plan for our lives — we can try to control and plan things, but ultimately God’s plan will prevail (Proverbs 19:21). Some things are just out of hands. Have faith and trust God with your life.
2. Be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:8)
It’s hard to feel thankful when we’re in pain, going through tough times, dealing with major problems or when the future seems bleak, depressing or uncertain. It’s hard to focus on the positive when everything seems negative. How can we feel thankful when it seems like there’s nothing to be thankful for?
You might not want to hear this, but things could always be worse. If you try hard enough, you will find SOMETHING to be thankful for.
During all the stress and negativity of being in hospital, there was always something to be grateful for. Thank God we got to the hospital when we did — it could have been fatal if we didn’t. Thank God we lived so close to the hospital and close to our families and friends, who gave much needed love, prayers and support. Thank God we were able to have one of the best paediatric surgeons in Sydney operate on him, so he could get on to living a happy (though not problem-free) life.
Focusing on the negative will only have one outcome: negativity. Focus on the positive and you will find SOMETHING to be thankful for — even just a small slither of gratitude, a small ray of hope is all you need. Start small and soon you’ll see that gratitude will become a natural part of your life.
3. Consider your trials joyful (James 1:2–5; Romans 5:3–5)
No one likes to suffer, feel pain or basically experience anything negative. But it’s inevitable. We will suffer and our loved ones will, too. We might not be able to control everything that happens to us but we can control how we react to these situations.
The Bible tells us to rejoice, always (Phil 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:16), not just when things are good or easy. There is a purpose to everything; sometimes we understand it in hindsight and maybe other times, we don’t exactly. But no matter what the reason, suffering makes us stronger; by weakening us it allows us to rely on God’s strength, not our own (2 Corinth 12:10). It produces perseverance, character and hope (Romans 5:3–4; James 1:3).
While we can pray for God to help us through or take away our pain, unfortunately there won’t always be a miraculous quick-fix solution. We may still suffer, just like Paul did in 2 Corinth 12:7–10. Paul prayed for the thorn in his flesh to be taken away, but God didn’t do it. Paul could’ve felt sorry for himself and stewed in anger and hate, but instead he boasted and delighted in his weakness, so he could stay humble and so Christ’s power could rest on him.
Life is hard and suffering is inevitable. We can’t control either, but we can control how we choose to live every moment of every day. We can let stress, anxiety and suffering cripple our lives or we can choose to actively trust God, be thankful in each moment and find joy in even the hardest of times. God does not want us to be anxious about anything (Phil. 4:6). He wants us to think about whatever is excellent or praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8) and rejoice, always (1 Thess. 5:16; Phi 4:4). Have faith and enjoy the journey.
Disclaimer: if you are suffering from stress or anxiety, please know that you are not alone and seek professional help as needed, as well as support from family, friends or your local church or community.