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Don’t Be Anxious?

Living our best life––or at least a life characterized by peace, joy, and healthy rhythm––has never been more difficult for many working women. Myself included. Unfortunately, reciting the apostle Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit doesn’t manifest that fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness… (Gal 5:22-23).

So what happens when our fruit sours on the wilting vine of our pandemic-stricken life?

Does that mean we’re failing? Are we doing something wrong? Are we somehow disgracing God? No, we’re not. Even if we can’t put on a happy face for yet another Zoom call. In times of overwhelming odds and struggle, I often turn to Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Two of the first verses I memorized many moons ago when I first met Jesus have remained bedrock verses for my walk of faith:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6–7).

I know what you may be thinking (because I think it too): Don’t be anxious?  Are you kidding? What we have to recognize is that Paul doesn’t condemn people struggling with anxiety by saying, “Don’t be anxious.” Anxiety is not a sin. It’s a physical involuntary response. Rather, Paul provides encouragement and a way forward by saying, “Don’t give in to anxiety. Instead, take action in the victorious power of Christ.”

Even in the darkest days, encouragement and strength flow from these verses, and a path out of fear and anxiety emerges. We allow Christ to shepherd us through the dark valleys of life as we turn to him in prayer in every hard circumstance. We bring our worries and cares to him. We align our desires with God’s. We ask for wisdom and discernment. We lay down our burdens and willingly open our hands to receive only what Jesus wants us to carry. We let go of our preconceived plans of how things should turn out, and we hold fast to Christ and his unfailing Word.

And we WORSHIP.

Yes, worship. Worship in the seasons of sorrow. Worship in the times of loss. Worship in moments of uncertainty and concern. Worship in the frenetic hours of back-to-back-to back overscheduled days. We worship our King––Creator of the universe, sovereign God, Lord of heaven’s armies––who intimately knows us and cherishes us as beloved children. Through worship, the peace of God flows as a supernatural shield around our hearts and minds. We can’t explain it. We can’t understand it. But we CAN experience it. By God’s grace.

How do we experience peace in anxiety-riddled days?

Well, there’s a lot of talk in workplace circles about mindfulness and how to stop the negative chatter in our minds. But mindfulness apart from the power of the Holy Spirit lacks just that––POWER. Conversely, carving out small increments of time––3 minutes, 5 minutes, 8 minutes––to pray through and meditate on Scripture (like Phil 4:6–7) imparts POWER. Prayer and meditation turn our minds from negative stressful situations to the strength of Christ and the peace of abiding in him through ordinary and difficult moments of every day.

There’s no doubt that for many of us, real life has become real hard.

I never struggled with anxiety––until now. This prolonged Covid season of intense loss and extreme stress can bring any of us to our knees. These days, I relate to so many of the women I encounter who carry more responsibility with less time and resources than ever before. But recently, God granted me the gift of a pearl of wisdom and hope. On one of my intense days of struggle, I went back to the book of Philippians. And as I read from the beginning of the letter, I saw that Paul himself––the great apostle––also wrestled with anxiety! Yes Paul. In the same letter to the Philippians with his prescription for how not to be anxious (Phil 4:6–7), Paul reveals his struggle with anxiety (Phil 2:25-30). After sharing about the near death of his dear friend and co-worker, Epaphroditus, Paul tells the Philippian believers that he’s sending their brother back to them “so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety” (v. 28).

Paul wrestled with anxiety.

Paul learned how to navigate the hard places and receive Christ’s peace.

And then Paul shared the instruction of how to do this so that other believers can walk in that peace too.

Pray through Paul’s words slowly. Lift them to God. Fill in your circumstances. Ask God to remove your burdens and guard you with his peace. Choose a few words of this passage and repeat them to yourself as your mindfulness phrase (rather than counting) as you breathe in, and breathe out. 

Breathe in: “Don’t be anxious about anything, but pray and give thanks.”

Breathe out: “And the peace of God will guard my heart and mind.”

Breathe in:  “Don’t be anxious about anything, but pray and give thanks.”

Breathe out: “And the peace of God will guard my heart and mind.”

Breathe in…  Breathe out… Breathe in… Breathe out… And then close with words or a tune of worship.

Friends, no matter where you find yourself today––no matter what dark valleys or huge obstacles or lonely places or fiery people you encounter––peace, everlasting security, and hope can protect you. Take it from Paul, and countless others like me who find strength in these words. Take heart and flourish in worship as you experience new fruit forming by the power of the Spirit… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…

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Dr. Joy Dahl is a Jesus girl transformed by God’s grace. Through many trials she has learned to rise above the depths of real life by holding fast to truth and hope. Today Joy passionately helps believers embrace their calling as Christ’s ambassadors in the world. Much of Joy’s career has focused on startup and high-growth companies in Washington, D.C. and New York, and for 10 years she provided Chief Financial Officer services through her consulting practice. Joy earned three degrees from Dallas Theological Seminary: Master of Christian Education, Master of Biblical Studies, and Doctor of Ministry. Her emphasis on the integration of faith and work led to her current role as Executive Director of Polished Network which gathers women to navigate the workplace and explore faith together in authentic community. Joy and her husband, Gordon, call Dallas home. Joy’s favorite things include: God's Word, international travel, dark chocolate, horses, flowers, beach getaways, running, big dogs, and adventure!

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