In Philippians 4:6 Paul writes:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.
“Be anxious for nothing”—what does this mean? Is Paul rebuking his readers? Does he want us to conclude that it’s not okay to be anxious? Or is he extending an invitation? Perhaps the apostle who survived floggings, imprisonment, shipwrecks, and starvation understood that everyone experiences anxiety when faced with difficult circumstances (2 Cor. 11:23-28). Perhaps he is offering a practice that will help us cope in the midst of these uncertain times.
Sadly, sometimes this verse has been used to suggest that when followers of Christ experience anxiety, their prayer lives need work. At other times, it is quoted as a pat answer when someone expresses worry, as if merely saying the words magically resolves the experience.
Anxiety and fear are normal human responses when our world is upended, and fear can keep us safe by reminding us to exercise necessary caution. Recognizing this truth teaches us that our emotions are not enemies. Rather, they are friends who can gently show us the state of our hearts, clarify our priorities, and draw our attention to important things, if we are willing to acknowledge them and listen to them.
However, anxiety ceases to be our friend when its intensity and duration interfere with our ability to live our lives. People who live with anxiety disorders have experienced this level of anxiety. Whether we’ve experienced anxiety to a clinical degree or not, most of us don’t want to stay stuck in difficult emotions, and we need strategies to help us release our anxiety in helpful ways.
This is where the invitation of Philippians 4:6 meets us. Bringing our anxieties to God in prayer is one way of getting unstuck. If you are finding that prayer is very hard because your body and mind are on high alert, be encouraged: there are many tools and practices that can help you manage and move through your emotions. (A selection of resources is included at the bottom of this post.)
One practice that Christians have been using for hundreds of years is the Examen, a prayer model developed by Ignatius of Loyola. It asks us to notice the moments of consolation and desolation, or highs and lows, in our days. In these times when sadness and anxiety are powerfully felt, this simple practice is an invitation to experience our emotions before God and allow them to move through us and into God’s care.
Feel free to engage with this practice if it feels safe and supportive for you in this moment. You can try incorporating this practice into your daily rhythm, or just do it once per week–whatever works with your schedule and allows you to process your emotions with God in a helpful, healthy way.
1. Ask God to send his Spirit
Take a moment to ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes, heart, and understanding.
2. Give thanks for the day
Think back on the events of the day and remember moments of happiness, enjoyment, and blessing. Now thank God for those gifts.
3. Review the day
Consider the moments in your day where you felt overwhelmed, anxious, angry, sad, or lonely. Were there situations where you wish you had responded differently? Bring these thoughts and feelings before God.
4. Ask for forgiveness
Where necessary, ask God for forgiveness. Take a moment to reflect on the gift of forgiveness, and to receive this gift.
5. Pray for the next day
Now, ask for the presence and help of the Holy Spirit. If there are any particular needs or challenges that you will face tomorrow, bring them before God specifically.
If you have less time, here is a simplified version.
Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes, heart, and understanding. Before God, consider these questions: What am I sad about? What am I angry about? What am I worried about? What am I glad about? Entrust your emotions to God’s care.
Which spiritual practices help you feel settled and connected to God and others?
May you know God’s non-anxious presence and remember that you are held in love today.
There are many resources available to support our mental health in this season. We recognize that the sheer number can be overwhelming. Please take your time. Read what’s helpful and limit feeling overwhelmed by going at a gentle pace.
Here is a selection of resources that may be supportive of your wellbeing:
Anxiety Canada’s Mind Shift App
MindShift™ CBT uses scientifically proven strategies based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help you learn to relax and be mindful, develop more effective ways of thinking, and use active steps to take charge of your anxiety.
Meditation and Self-Care During COVID-19
Enjoy Hillary McBride’s meditation and post about managing anxiety and practicing self-care.
Psychologist, Kate Middleton, from The Mind and Soul Foundation discusses managing loss, frustration and fear.
10 Ways to Overcome Anxiety
Laura Howe from Hope Made Strong offers many practices for coping with anxiety.
If you would like to pray but are finding it difficult to find the words, consider using someone else’s.
Breath Prayers for Anxious Times – by Sarah Bessey
Prayers for this Season – by Sanctuary Staff
The Sanctuary Course
The prayer of Examen was adapted from The Sanctuary Course Session 7. Right now, this course is free using the code “mentalhealth” until May 31, 2020. Gather a group of friends or connect with your church small group and run the course in an online small group format – a point of connection in this time of isolation.
Please note: If you have tried some of these tools and are noticing panic attacks, the inability to sleep or eat, a sense of uncontrollable or overwhelming emotions, or behaviours which are problematic or self-harming, please find someone to talk to about that. You could access a physician using a tele-health service, call a crisis line, or find an online counseling service.
Online counseling resource: Get 10% off your first month with BetterHelp by visiting betterhelp.com/liturgists
For your quick reference, here are nationwide emergency numbers and crisis lines:
- Canada: 911, Crisis Services Canada: 1-833-456-4566 (in British Columbia, you can also call 310-6769 for emotional support, information, and resources specific to mental health)
- United States: 911, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
- United Kingdom: 999/112, Samaritans: 116 123
- New Zealand: 111, 1737, Lifeline Aotearoa: 0800-543-354
- Australia: 000, Lifeline: 13 11 14
Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries does not provide medical or therapeutic advice. If you are in distress or experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the crisis line in your area or emergency services.