Anxiety and the Christian Life
Before we begin, I'd like to offer a brief disclaimer that I am not a mental health professional and when we reference anxiety in the following article, we're speaking of general situational anxiety rather than clinical anxiety disorder. That being said, let's dive in.
Anxiety is a pervasive challenge that many people face in our modern world. As Catholics, we have access to a rich tradition of teachings and practices that can help us understand and overcome anxiety in both spiritual and practical ways. In this article, we will explore some key sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that speak to the topic of anxiety, as well as relevant writings of the saints and scripture verses.
The Catechism teaches us that "the desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself" (CCC 27). This fundamental truth reminds us that our ultimate source of security and peace is found in our relationship with God. When we experience anxiety, it is often a symptom of our internal battle to balance our free will with the Lord’s divine will. In this case, it can be helpful to focus on this truth and turn to God in prayer, seeking His presence and guidance.
Also in the Catechism, we learn about the cardinal virtue of fortitude, which allows us to overcome fear and face difficult situations with courage and grace (CCC 1808). Developing this virtue through prayer, self-discipline, and the support of our community can help us cultivate the inner strength needed to face anxiety and lean into God’s will with the confidence that He has our back.
The writings of the saints also offer us valuable insights into understanding and overcoming anxiety. Saint Teresa of Avila, for example, wrote extensively about the importance of detachment and trust in God, teaching us that "all things are passing, and God alone suffices" (The Interior Castle). Similarly, Saint Padre Pio encouraged us to "pray, hope, and don't worry" – a simple and powerful reminder that trusting in God's providence can help alleviate anxiety.
Additionally, scripture offers us plenty of verses that can bring comfort and hope amid anxiety. Philippians 4:6-7 encourages us to "not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Psalm 55:22 reminds us to "cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved."
Understanding and overcoming anxiety on our journey as disciples requires us to turn to our faith and draw upon its rich resources of the Church’s teachings, practices, and community. Through prayer, detachment, fortitude, and trust in God's providence, we can find the peace and security we need to face anxiety with courage and grace. In a sense, we can begin to see ourselves and our lives from God’s eyes.
Let's put this into practical terms. I distinctly remember a season in my life that was wrought with anxiety despite having everything going for me in a worldly sense. I was engaged to my high school sweetheart, on track for a career in the fire service, and doing well academically. However, towards the end of that season, my anxieties started to take over, and I realized that the trajectory of my life was far from what God was calling me to be.
As time went on, everything I had built for myself during that time started to fall apart. My relationship ended, my career turned out to be different from what I had expected, my grades slipped, and I found myself surrounded by people I did not want to become like. To recollect myself, I decided to move to Colorado, where I could climb mountains, clear my head, and reevaluate the trajectory of my life.
During what became a transitional season in life, I discovered the importance of prayer and building relationships with mentors and people who exemplified discipleship. Through this process, I realized how heavily I had been relying on my own will instead of being faithful to the Lord's plan for my life. This experience taught me the dangers of leaning too heavily on my own will and not being faithful to God's plan.
It was by the grace of God, through mentors and other true disciples such as a young woman who is now my bride and the mother of my children, that I learned to lean into the providence of God and understand the importance of trusting the Lord with every situation knowing that, even if things go wrong, He will redeem them and make them bear fruit in the end.
Finally, anxiety is a common challenge that many of us face, but it is not insurmountable. As Catholics, we have a wealth of resources at our disposal, including the teachings of the Catechism, the writings of the saints, and scripture verses. By focusing on God's will for our lives, developing the virtue of fortitude, practicing detachment and trust in God, and seeking support from our faith community, we can find the peace and security we need to face anxiety with courage and grace. Our own experiences teach us that when we trust in the Lord's plan for our lives, we will be able to see ourselves and our lives from God's eyes and understand the power of His providence.
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