Beating Anxiety with Persistent Gratitude
What if I don’t find what I’m supposed to do with my life? What if I don’t make enough money? What if I never find real intimacy in life? What if they don’t like me? What if I’m always lonely? What if I’m never really happy?
These are some of the deepest concerns that we can have in our lives. These problems, understandably, cause us anxiety. How much time and energy do you spend worrying about one or more of those things? Is there no end or solution to all of our worries and concerns?
When you think about your dominant faults and sins — you know, the ones you confess to the Lord over and over again — aren’t they usually driven by some major anxiety you have? In other words, don’t you commit the sins you do mostly because you’re grasping after some good that you’re afraid you won’t be able to have otherwise?
A very specific kind of prayer and disposition in prayer are essential to overcoming this, and this is the prayer of gratitude or thanksgiving.
Sacred Scripture tells us:
“Have no anxiety 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 passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
St Paul and the Holy Spirit are giving us a formula for overcoming our anxieties and therefore, our sins, and finally becoming happy by being renewed in Christ.
He tells us not to be anxious and then gives us the means to do that: ask for the things you’re worried about with the disposition of thanksgiving for the things the Lord has already given.
The reason for this is that if my focus in life is only on the things that I lack and the things I think I need, then this can engender in my heart a kid of anxiety or panic over the idea that I might not ever have the things I need.
But what if instead I focus on all the incredible blessings that are in my life already and explicitly and intentionally thank the Lord for them whenever I find myself worrying about what I don’t have? What if I were to see those blessings as a kind of promise or sign from the Lord that His care for me is actually complete and that I can trust Him to fulfill me completely?
This leads to a couple of Greek words. Pisteuo in Greek is the word that means “I believe,” but it also means “I trust.” This is what Jesus is always asking the people in the Gospel and us before he gives some great blessing or healing when he says, “do you believe that I can do this?”
If I look back on how the Lord really has provided for me in the past, I can counteract my anxiety by trusting that he will continue to do so in the future. One of the best tactics of the devil is to afflict us with a kind of spiritual amnesia that causes us to forget that God has ever loved us at all and so to doubt that He ever will again.
The other Greek word is a bit more familiar: Eucharistia is the Greek word for thanksgiving. In fact, this is precisely the word that St. Paul uses in the passage quoted above. This sacrament that the catechism says is the source and summit of the Christian life is an act of thanksgiving.
It’s so easy to focus on the negative in any situation. It’s kind of hard-wired into our brains as an evolutionary survival skill: Find out what’s wrong with everything so you can fix it. However, it can also cause us to forget how good things really are when you think more objectively and fail to remember that those good things have a real source who is a Person, who loves you more than you love yourself.
So, do you want to be happy and free from anxiety and the sins that it causes? Then foster your genuine trust in the Lord by practicing Eucharistia, or regular and intentional acts of thanksgiving. To close, here’s a method for that:
Take your rosary and instead of saying any of the normal prayers, on each bead say, “Lord, thank you for…” and then name something — anything, no matter how small — in your life that is good. If you make this a regular practice, you’ll find your anxiety will decrease dramatically and your trust in God will increase, because you’ll be counteracting that spiritual amnesia that leads you to worry.