Anxiety makes us grasp for control – but that can’t be the answer
Illustration by Dmitry Nikulnikov from Icons8
Fear is a robber, and anxiety a thief. The consuming nature of anxiety and its ability to steal everything from us in a way that no other mental tribulation is quite capable of doing is no stranger to any of us. During the Eucharist, certain words of the Embolism (the priest’s short petition after the Lord’s Prayer), touch a particular chord with me during these times – “protect us from all anxiety.” And yet who could be blamed for having an anxious disposition throughout the time we’re currently enduring, when uncertainty has gnawed away at us with sharper teeth than ever and we seem to have the slipped the moorings of our familiar harbours?
Perhaps anxiety happens most easily when we are absent from the present moment. One of the most powerful moments of meditation I have ever experienced centred around the word ‘behold’. In that instance, I was invited by a prayer guide to be in the present moment and to behold the delights of a well-cultivated garden. On another occasion – this time totally unprepared for – I walked into my own back garden to ‘behold’ one of my children playing, as toddlers do, in a totally unself-conscious way. I found genuine delight in being present in that simple moment, enjoying my daughter’s childlike game. To behold is to engage in more than just a cursory glance or a quick look. It is to take time to drink the moment in with your eyes or to let it be as it is, totally present to you, and in that way to honour and to cherish it.
Anxiety is only too happy to move into the house of your heart with all its baggage, or to fill in the voids in your day. It happens when we have forgotten to delight in what is right in front of us, at this very moment.
As Lent begins, I notice my own fears in prayer: a subtle difficulty in believing God could desire my friendship, a fleeting thought that doubts this core identity and purpose, a hesitation to surrender to what may arise. I notice a fearfulness even more persistent, too: that if I allow myself to trust God fully, God might ask something of me or of those I love which I am not willing to give.
This fear stands directly in opposition to the spiritual freedom to which I am called, because this clutching does not allow much space for God. It clutters my heart-space. Fear tells us that if we lessen our grip, chaos will result – when it is precisely the gripping that can lead to restless discontent, desolation, and poor discernment.
This Lent, let us seek the grace of spiritual freedom from anxiety. Let us adopt a posture of openness, receptivity, and surrender to serve as God desires. Let us trust ourselves to a God who draws us into friendship, encourages us towards deeper trust, and invites us to receive our inherent belovedness with open hands and to delight in it.
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