If you ever want to make a college student shudder, mention the words “anxiety” and “stress.” I know that stress and anxiety seem to be a constant in many areas of my own life, as well as many others. It seems that with the pressures of college, career choices, and the transition to adulthood, they’ve become all too prominent- less of normal feelings and more of an overarching theme. Stress and anxiety may be brought upon us through our every day lives, but also by deeper values, like the idea that we constantly must be doing good work, helping others, and fulfilling certain expectations.
I often find myself feeling guilty about feeling this way when I have so much to be thankful for. This guilt is only furthered by instances where I’ve expressed my distress and heard in response that if we are worrying, we are not trusting God. While this is a valid point, it may need more context. I want to trust God wholeheartedly, and I don’t want to be caught in constant states of anxiety and stress. It’s not as if I intentionally pursued these feelings as a fun new hobby to try out. It’s not where I want my heart to be, but it ends up there far too often, in ways that are seemingly out of my control.
Recognizing that we need to stop being overwhelmed by anxiety and stress and trust God instead is a great step, but the feelings often persist. So what do we do to change them? Personally, I had to overcome my feelings of guilt surrounding my stress and anxiety before I could begin to address them in a healthy way. The next step was to become more conscious of these issues. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)
In this verse, Jesus doesn’t tell us that feeling our burdens is wrong. He tells us that he will help us carry them. He encourages us to learn from him. As Dale Ryan said in the video we watched at our last Evolve gathering, fasting is not about completely giving up a behavior. Just to become aware of its presence and magnitude in our lives is a gift we receive from fasting. Your feelings are natural. In fact, we need a certain degree of stress and anxiety to keep us motivated, and direct us to what we need to work on. The issue is being aware of where these feelings are coming from, how they effect you, and how they may create distance between you and God, and the best version of your life that he wants you to lead. Once we experience these realizations, we can take steps to change our behavior, which may in turn transform the way we feel.
“Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:15-16)
This verse explains that in between times of intense work, Jesus made a conscious effort to withdraw and pray. He responded to stress and anxiety with sabbath: an intentional time of rest and being with God.
Though it often may not feel like it, we all have the ability to set aside 15 minutes in our days to take care of ourselves, give up control, and connect with God. Find what best helps you get in touch with Him and yourself- try meditation, worship, prayer, or getting in touch with nature.
See if purposefully shifting your focus from what your worries are telling you to what God is saying to you allows you to be transformed so that you may be better prepared to live out the life God wants for you.
As we fast anxiety and stress together today, know that you are not alone in these feelings. Our anxieties and stressors manifest in many ways. They are often deeply rooted and personal. They can take a toll on our mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. They can make things messy. But when life seems unclear, let us set time aside to rest, reach out, and let God be our clarity.