Last week St. Francis de Sales and some bad programming at Google Maps led me to one of the biggest realizations I’ve had this year: that anxiety = not trusting God. For a long time I knew that stress about certain individual matters was due to a prideful insistence that I had the best plan for how this or that situation needed to turn out. But it has been quite stunning to realize that every single time I am anxious, it is due to a lack of trust in God.
So, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve been trying to work on this by making a conscious decision to put all my trust in God every time I feel anxious. Every time I feel those all-too-familiar sensations of anger or anxiety (or both) start to bubble up, it’s a reminder to turn immediately to God and figure out what he would have me do at that moment. Of course, I thought, most of the time that will be impossible to know. Especially in instances where I don’t have long periods of time to reflect and pray, where I have to react to a situation quickly, I assumed that I would only rarely be able have a clear sense of what I should do to be in line with God’s will, that the majority of the time nothing would really come of such an exercise.
I was wrong.
To my surprise, many times when I do this, when I turn to God in a state of anxiety to seek his will for me in this situation, I know exactly what his will is. I just don’t want to follow it.
For example, last week my mother and I were preparing to co-host a Christmas party on the weekend. In the week leading up to it, I sensed a lot of tension. I felt like she wanted me to help a lot more than I was able to, and each night that went by without me going over to her house to help decorate and cook, it seemed to get worse. And when I realized that I was going to have to use part of Saturday morning, the day of the party, to go to Mass for a holy day of obligation, my stress level reached a boiling point. I felt like my mom was just going to blow a gasket if I told her that I couldn’t even help with last-minute preparation because I had to do church stuff.
I was feeling extremely anxious when I decided to turn to God and trust him with this situation. And as soon as I got in a trusting, prayerful mindset, I knew exactly what he would have me do: act in great humility and love. God’s will was that I humble myself to tell my mom how very much I appreciated all the hard work she’d put into this party; that I offer a sincere, loving apology and admit that I’d left her with all the work, that I had not followed through on my promise to help; to use the opportunity of telling her that I had to go to Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception as an opportunity to be a little bit vulnerable and share my faith (something I almost never do with my family) and explain why it was important to me to go; and to get up extra early on Saturday to go to the first morning Mass I could find so that I’d have as much time as possible to help my mom.
My prayer to know God’s will was so quickly answered, the path forward so clear…And I thought: “That sucks!” I guess I was hoping that God’s will would always involve stuff like amazing coincidences and unexpected journeys and beautiful realizations (as happened the Friday before), not actual hard work on my part.
This situation is just one example. Over and over again this past week, I’ve found that the challenge is not usually knowing what God’s will is…it’s following it. There have been some occasions where I really don’t know what I am supposed to do and can only go forward in meekness and blind trust. But, more often, when I pray about my anxiety, God’s path for the resolution of the situation is actually pretty clear: it involves stuff like smoothing over tense interpersonal situations with great humility and love; resolving financial stress by admitting things I don’t want to admit and committing to sacrifices I don’t want to make; making overwhelming situations manageable by taking a hard look at my priorities (like, say, stopping half way though a blog post I really wanted to finish to open mail instead) and asking for help when I need it. And so on and so on. Not surprisingly, it keeps coming down to stuff like sacrifice, humility, loving openly and selflessly, patience, being willing to be vulnerable, etc. In other words: really hard stuff that I don’t want to do.
This has been a surprising development. I guess I always thought of knowing God’s will as something reserved for the most saintly saints, something that takes long stretches of deep prayer and meditation to even begin to discern. I’d never really considered the situation where I know exactly what God’s will is but just don’t care to follow it. Looking back, I think that for a while now I’ve used anxiety as a crutch: sometimes it’s easier to just sit around and stress out, to indulge in feelings of being helpless and overwhelmed, than to do what I know God wants me to do.