Finding Joy in the Midst of Anxiety
A couple of weeks ago, there was an unexpected turn of events in my life that knocked the wind out of me. At first, it agitated me; then agitation turned into anxiety, and anxiety turned into a low-grade feeling of panic. I didn’t have a lot of control over the circumstances, and every moment I left things unresolved, it weighed on me more heavily.
That situation still isn’t resolved, but I’m in a much better place now. And the reason why is because in the midst of everything, I realized how much I was being dominated by ingratitude. I wanted the circumstances to change, and I wanted them to change immediately. Nothing else mattered, and my soul sunk deeper and deeper into despair.
Ingratitude is one of the most destructive forces of Satan’s work in our lives. As Ann Voskamp points out in her book, One Thousand Gifts, ingratitude played a central role in the destruction of the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve had the whole world at their fingertips – well, almost. There was just this one thing that was missing: the forbidden fruit. And when Satan got them to focus on what they didn’t have, nothing else mattered. Disobedience came naturally.
If I’m thinking straight when I feel tempted to despair, I go on reckless rampages of gratitude. I look around me and find things to be thankful for everywhere – the sound of my wife’s laughter, the thousands of people who were involved in producing the food in my pantry, central heat and air, my health, the color of the leaves, my dad’s unpredictable sense of humor, the fact that garbage pick-up comes on time, my job, my close friends, my neighbor’s cute cat, Gato – I could go on and on.
I could also go on and on about things that could be better in my life. But there’s no good in it. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, it says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Notice that it does not say, “give thanks for all circumstances” – it says, “give thanks in” them.
So if you’re struggling with anxiety or despair today, let me make a suggestion: think of the most frustrating things in your life. Then open up your hands, close your eyes, and ask God to help you see how He’s working for your good in spite of those circumstances. And as you receive grace from Him, offer up a gift of reckless gratitude by thanking Him for at least ten ways He’s loving you through the challenges. But don’t stop there.
Throughout the day, stay on the lookout for all kinds graces in your life – in the people who love you, the beautiful smells and sounds around you, and the fact that Jesus “always lives to make intercession for [you]” (Hebrews 7:25, ESV). Go wild with gratitude, and watch as God “give[s] a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair” (Isaiah 61:3, NLT).