In prayer I cry out to the Lord, “I get it! I get why you warn us so much about fear, anxiety, and worry in your Word.” Fear almost always leads to anxiety. Anxiety leads to worry, and then they ping-pong back and forth.
This ugly triplet chain has circled me again and again since the birth of my profoundly mentally handicapped son 12 years ago. When he was little we could take him out into the community and manage (to a degree) both our son and his two siblings. But as he grows bigger and stronger, the reality of leaving the house and taking him into public is no longer an option much of the time.
My anxiety and fear have grown as my son hit puberty and is now physically stronger, though his mental capacity remains that of a 12 month old. Strangers notice. It seems everywhere I turn I’m being asked, “How are you going to manage him as he gets bigger?” And my answer is always the same, “I do not know…yet.”
Be Not Anxious
In a most beloved passage to me, Matthew quotes Jesus, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? … But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:27, 33-34 ESV).
There have been many days when I have clung to the comfort of Matthew 6:25-34. This comfort is like no other—straight from the lips of Jesus telling us not to worry or fret or let fears of what may happen in the future consume us.
It’s not pretty when my mind goes elsewhere, and fears see their opening. Without my eyes on the rock of his promises, my thoughts wander. I begin to think of the future and the “what if’s” of our circumstances.
What if I am trapped in this house without the ability to go anywhere?
What if he gets so strong I can no longer change his diaper?
What if he wanders off and the tracking device the police have on his ankle doesn’t help
us find him in time?
Evil sees its way in, and I begin to hear lies telling me God can’t be trusted—that it’s up to me to figure it out. This is EXACTLY the opposite of what I’m called to in scripture! I’m called to a dependence and obedience I can’t muster up on my own—dependence and obedience I can’t produce—and specifically obedience that had to mercifully be done for me. I must take captive my thoughts and turn them to Christ, the One who accomplished all on my behalf.
In the Strength of Christ
How do I do that? Philippians 4:4-9 also deals with anxiety and in verse 8 we find where to seek to place our attentions: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Again, it’s the kind of discipline that cannot be humanly manufactured. Who could ever live every day only thinking about the things that are admirable, noble, praiseworthy, or lovely all the time? This self-discipline can only come through Christ’s perfect obedience on my behalf and not from my own “inner strength.” Left up to my own efforts I can’t go one hour without some type of negative or fearful thought.
The ugly triplets have long ruled over our church attendance. For years I used to go into the service with our son sitting next to us in his wheelchair aggressively rocking, making his high pitched, ear piercing screams, or his humming happy sounds. As much as these oddities make him uniquely him, of course they created tremendous anxiety for me in taking him into our sanctuary. Are we disrupting the whole service? Are people annoyed that we are here? Do we make everyone feel awkward? Are we even wanted here?
Last year a friend told me she happened to overhear a conversation between two of our pastors during worship. One leaned over to the other and whispered, “I hear J.A. worshipping the Lord!”
This pastor still has no idea a comment he likely thought was made casually in passing would mean so much to me. His words did miracles for dispelling my anxiety and insecurity. It empowered me to believe and fight against evil and the lies it whispers in attempts to shut down my heart and keep my family from worshipping God in our church.
No, I don’t know just how we will manage in the future, but I just so happen to have a very personal relationship with the One who has promised to complete his good and perfect will, and I believe I can trust him. For me, trusting him looks like turning away from the ugly triplets to a place of trust and rest that he knows how to take care of my son in the future.