Elder William Dixon
Tuesday, August 11
Perspective: Some Thoughts on Managing Anxiety
“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Matthew 6:34
Your patient will, of course, have picked up the notion that he must submit with patience to the Enemy’s will. What the Enemy means by this is primarily that he should accept with patience the tribulation which has actually been dealt out to him-the present anxiety and suspense. It is about this that he is to say “Thy will be done,” and for the daily task of bearing this that the daily bread will be provided. It is your business to see that the patient never thinks of the present fear as his appointed cross but only of the things he is afraid of. Let him regard them as his crosses: let him forget that, since they are incompatible, they cannot all happen to him, and let him try to practice fortitude and patience to them all in advance. For real resignation, at the same moment, to a dozen different and hypothetical fates, is almost impossible, and the Enemy does not greatly assist those who are trying to attain it: resignation to present and actual suffering, even where that suffering consists of fear, is far easier and is usually helped by this direct action.
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
It is much easier for me to understand what Jesus expects of me than it is to believe what He has said or to act in accordance with His teaching. There are few areas in my life where this is more true than the area of dealing with anxiety. I organize, plan ahead, pray, prepare, and erroneously convince myself that I am in control, all in an attempt to reduce my anxiety. To give you a sense of what I mean, late last month, my brother in Ohio found the email that I had sent in 2009 after reading a book about the 1918 pandemic advising everyone in our family to purchase N95 masks (as I had just done). The chocolate I added to our emergency supplies about the same time did not turn out to be as good an investment.
And much as I love C.S. Lewis’s writings, there are few passages in his works that I have found more practical and helpful than the one above. In the Preface to The Screwtape Letters, Lewis claims to be publishing a set of letters written by a devil named Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood. Thus, the Enemy (referred to in the excerpt of the letter quoted above) is God and the “patient” is a British citizen who Wormwood is responsible for deceiving.
Reading this passage and realizing that much of my anxiety was actually rooted in my tendency to worry about all of the things that could possibly happen in a given situation, has significantly reduced my anxiety. Once I realized that everything I feared happening in a given situation was almost certainly not going to happen (and in most cases could not happen), it was so much easier to say “Thy will be done” to the still unknown future that would unfold. And even now, when I find myself gripped with fear, the reminder of Lewis’ words frequently allows me to loosen fear’s grip on my heart, mind, and soul and to move toward trust.
Being anxious today is understandable. A virus is killing tens of thousands, sickening more, and threatening livelihoods. Thus, we are concerned about ourselves and our children, parents, family members, friends, and neighbors. There is also unrest and upheaval as the country tries to deal with its troubled history on race. There is the uncertainty, hope, and fear that always accompany a presidential election. And there are untold other individual and personal sources of stress that each of us face in addition to the ones we face corporately. And yet, even today, Jesus who knows all of that (and how it will all end) still says, “[d]o not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s troubles are enough for today.”
There are troubles today and there will be tomorrow also. Practice trusting Jesus. And keep your eyes on Him rather than all of the things that could possibly go wrong today and tomorrow.