This is a reflection by Sister Leslie Keener, CDP, who willingly let me share it with all of you.  For more of Leslie’s reflections you can go to:  In these chaotic times, I think it is a wonderful message to ponder!

“I love this reading from Philippians, (3rd week of Advent reading) that tells me to have no anxiety at all but instead to rejoice and allow the peace of God to guard my mind and heart. That’s easier said than done, though. Lately it seems like anxiety has taken up guard duty in my mind and heart, and peace and joy are having a hard time getting in. So, the question I’m asking God as I pray with this reading is this: how can I turn this around so that peace is on guard and anxiety is standing outside?

Anxiety is a frequent visitor for me, and so it’s something I regularly bring to reflection and prayer. My community has a prayer called the Act of Abandonment to Divine Providence, and a line of it says to God, “As I rely entirely upon you and expect all from your goodness, I will not give myself up to any useless anxiety.” When I pray this prayer, I often wonder what “useless anxiety” might be and whether or not there’s such a thing as useful anxiety.

As I think about it, yes, there is such a thing as useful anxiety. Anxiety is a warning bell that can protect me from a legitimate threat. A signal about a real danger is certainly useful because it keeps me safe. The problem is when this response kicks up and there’s no real danger, and that’s what useless anxiety is. It’s a fear response in my heart, mind, and body when there’s actually no threat at all. I once heard that anxiety is a form of self-protection gone awry. Even when there’s no threat, something in me tells me I’m unsafe and screams at me to run to safety – or freeze or fight. I’ve heard a similar thing about worry, anxiety’s calmer but persistent sidekick. The act of worrying gives the mind something to do. If I worry through all possible scenarios, I’ll protect myself because I’ll be prepared for what might happen. In reality, though, I can’t really prepare myself, and often there’s actually nothing bad coming. Also, worry and anxiety are hard on me. As I spin through the details of each possible situation, I stir up all the feelings associated with what could possibly happen. My mind doesn’t distinguish between real or perceived emotions, so I feel them for real and not as hypotheticals. When I give myself up to useless anxiety in this way, it becomes a tunnel vision, and it’s difficult to notice peace or joy.

So, what do I do with this? Knowing what’s happening doesn’t necessarily eradicate anxiety, but it’s a little endearing that my mind is trying to take care of me. Thank you, self. Anxiety may be trying to tell me something, too. It could be an invitation to stop and consider something that’s making me feel unsafe and honor that feeling rather than trying to push it away. That’s not the same as giving myself up to it; in fact, if I simply acknowledge it, I’m probably less likely to be consumed by it than if I try to ignore it.

There’s an invitation not only to self care but opening to God’s care, too – relying on God and expecting all from God’s goodness. In our reading from Philippians, there’s some good advice about that. “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” I wonder if my useless anxiety self-protection mechanism amps itself up when I try to carry everything myself. What would happen I were to tell God about the things that make me anxious? I think back to when I was in grad school and one of many nights that I was lying awake worrying about a paper. I eventually got up out of bed and wrote each specific thing I was worried about on a piece of paper. Then I put each piece of paper in a little silver heart-shaped box. I said to God, “Look, you’re going to have to take and hold all these things because I just can’t anymore.” Then I put the box down and got back in bed and slept the rest of the night. In the morning, the things I was worried about may have still been there, but the intensity of it all was gentled. So, in a bossy and desperate way, I made my requests known to God.

I trust that, as I make my requests known to God, God hears them. Also, I trust that, although I might struggle with it, God loves the part of me that’s anxious, as God loves the whole of me. Maybe I can learn to love and accept it too. A few months ago, I read a book by Sarah Wilson called First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Journey Through Anxiety.   One of the most helpful things about this book was simply the invitation to befriend this thing that will likely always be a part of me. For whatever reason – life experience, my innate personality, or some kind of gift from God that I don’t understand yet – there’s something in me that worries. Can I just allow it to be there but also not be in charge? Can I let it come to the party as a guest but not hire it as the bouncer? I would rather have the peace of God to guard my heart and mind. Anxiety will likely not stay outside, but God helps me be at the party with all these things – peace, joy, and anxiety, too. In fact, despite anxiety, when I look for joy, I tend to find it. And maybe peace is not irreconcilable to anxiety either. Maybe peace, like hope, is a gift from God. Perhaps it’s not so much about erasing worry as it is about letting worry be there while also trusting that God is with me. This reading from Philippians reassures me that God is near. Even as I’m worrying, there’s something in me that can trust that, since God is near, God is also taking good care of me. In whatever scenario plays out at any given time, things will be okay. God is near.

Allowing God’s peace to guard my heart and mind is beyond my understanding. It’s something I need God’s help with. Thankfully, God is ready and willing to give this help. God is near, and the peace of God will guard us, even when we feel anxious.

Let’s pray together:

May we rejoice in God always.

May our kindness be known to all.

May we trust that God is near.

May we have no anxiety at all, but in everything, may we make our requests known to God.

May the peace of God that surpasses all understanding guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

For Reflection:

  • How about you? What kinds of things make you anxious? What do you worry about? How is God with you when you feel worried?
  • Can you hold both anxiety and joy? Can you find a sense of peace, even in uncertainty?
  • When God is near, how do you know? And how is God with you right now?
  • What requests do you have right now? Whether they’re prayers of petition, let’s take a moment to entrust our requests to God.”

If you liked this reflection, you can sign up for her newsletter at the address I gave above.  May we all have a little more peace and joy during these last weeks of Advent and hold both our anxiety and joy.

Barbara McMullen, CDP

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