"Have no anxiety at all, but in everything make your requests to God. Then the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus!"
The dictionary defines anxiety as a "state of intense, often disabling apprehension, uncertainty and fear caused by the anticipation of something threatening." I have made great progress over the years, but I would still describe myself as "anxious." It goes all the way back to childhood, when the "anticipation of something threatening" seeped into my bones.
It is an old wound that has never completely healed. It manifests itself most often when I fall into imagining worst-case scenarios so that I can be prepared to handle them if they do happen. More than 90 percent of my imagined tragedies never happen.
I, and a lot of people like me, waste an incredible amount of energy for nothing. Anxiety is a lot like smoking: you know it's bad for you, but it's so hard to stop.
The whole tragedy of anxiety is that it is most often triggered not by what is actually happening, but by what might happen. I might get sick. I might never find a marriage partner. I might not find a job. I might lose my job.
I might lose my savings in the stock market. The plane might crash. The boat might sink. The train might wreck. I might get cancer, AIDS or West Nile virus. I might get mugged or robbed. For the anxious person, the possibilities for disaster scenarios are endless.
If Jesus gave us the gift of peace, where is that peace today? If you look around, there are wars, rumors of war, starvation, disease, racism, sexism, ageism, spouse abuse, child abuse, poverty and pollution all around us. The "peace" that Jesus gives us is not the absence of struggle, pain and problems, but an unshakeable serenity in spite of, and in the face of, those problems.
How do we have the "peace of Christ" in the midst of fear and worry? We have it by focusing not on what might happen or what is happening, but on what we are sure is going to happen.
And what is going to happen? The "good news," the "gospel," promises that when all is said and done, good will triumph over evil. It's not up for grabs. It has already been decided.
The gift of peace is a free gift, a gift only God can give. Because God is in charge and wants us to have a full, peaceful life, we are challenged to acknowledge our anxiety and be prepared to let go of it.
St. Paul says it comes to us through prayer. "By prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds!"
Or as Jesus puts it, "Stop worrying like unbelievers," and "Fear is useless. What is needed is trust."