by Danetta Kellar
My husband is a mathematician, and he loves formulas. This became apparent early in our marriage, when my need to verbally process met his need to fix. I would pour out my anxiety to him (translation: please just listen and let me vent, then I will be fine and move on), and he would freeze up and begin to give me quick, formulaic solutions to my problem (translation: she is upset, I want to help; let me fix it in the most sensible and efficient form possible). The result was not exactly peace and love. I did not want to be fixed. And he wanted an easy formula.
Over time we learned much more about each other’s personalities and needs, and we came to understand one another better. He understands now that when I need to vent, I do not need a formula or a fix. There are times that I do want him to fix it and he has actually refused (very healthy in a marriage to protect against co-dependency, by the way), which has forced me to take care of my own solutions and grow more responsible for my self-care.
However, there are times in our lives when we really do wish for an easy recipe to make our anxiety go away.
I have often turned to the Bible desperately, searching for a formula to fix whatever is bothering me. What I have discovered is that there are not many formulas to be found there. Faith requires believing in what we cannot see, in hoping in what we trust will come, in placing all our trust in God’s great goodness. If there is a formula, it cannot work without faith.
One faith formula I have found nevertheless is in the book of Philippians. It has changed my life. I have tried it and tested it year after year. It has proven true and dependable, rock solid and sheltering. I share it with you today in hope it may make your holidays more peaceful, your life more manageable. It certainly has done this for me.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 4:6-7
Step One: Exchange our Impossibility for God’s Possibility
This passage begins with an impossibility. It is impossible for human beings to not be anxious. According to The New Oxford American Dictionary, anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Life is uncertain on a daily basis! Anxiety is a common emotion that we all experience. Will power is not enough to quell it.
The good news is this: impossibility always indicates an end of ourselves and a beginning with God. He promises us that what is impossible with man is possible with God. So here we are at an impossibility, yet it holds hope for a new beginning. Not me but You, Lord.
So our first step in this process is to exchange our impossibility for God’s possibility. If He says do not be anxious, it must be possible somehow.
Step Two: In Everything Pray
Everything is a key word here. In everything. In everything, every single thing that clouds your peace, every exact thought, event, or circumstance that robs your joy, your unity with God and others, pray. Turn to God with all of it, smallest to largest.
Our second step in this formula is to pray. In everything pray. If it bothers you, bring it to him. If you are the one who is in the wrong, He will show you. If someone else is in the wrong, He will work in their hearts. It is a win-win situation.
Step Three: Petition, Don’t Give Up
Petition. In a powerful scene in the movie Amazing Grace, William Wilberforce rolls out a long scroll the entire length of the courtroom. It is filled with thousands of names of people petitioning for the end of slavery. Raucous arguing is replaced with sober silence as the immensity of this document and what it stands for demands attention. Our petitions, our repeated cries to the Just One, the Righteous Judge, command the silence of heaven. Your pain, your agony, your cries for justice are heard. Do not stop asking. Get others to ask with you. Fill the scroll with thousands of names. Sometimes the darkness is so great it takes much perseverance and petitioning to overcome it. But light always overcomes darkness, of this you may be sure.
So our third step is petition. Don’t give up. Ask again. And again. Push until the wall falls.
Step Four: Thanksgiving, the Secret Ingredient
Now, we come to the secret ingredient, the part of this formula that not only fills this recipe with flavor and fragrance, but also changes us in the midst of our anxiety. With thanksgiving.
How, may you ask, is it possible to give thanks in the middle of anxiety? Remember, we have exchanged our impossibility for God’s possibility here. And I guarantee you that there is always, always something you can find to be thankful for even in the darkest circumstances. If you will.
I have tried this again and again. It is my template for handling anxiety. I use it faithfully and consistently when I find myself feeling anxious about anything. I test it, and I have never yet found myself unable to find something to be thankful for. And in that instant my heart begins to turn. Thanksgiving is the turning point in the journey from anxiety to peace.
I was once working through a very painful forgiveness process with a loved one. I had been deeply hurt, and was justified in the eyes of many to abandon the relationship altogether. I suffered great anxiety when I would communicate with or encounter this person. So I began to pray according to the instruction of Philippians 4:6-7. When I would get to step four, thanksgiving, I would freeze. How can I find anything to give thanks for the one who has sinned against me? Why should I?
As I exchanged my impossibility with God’s possibility, and searched my heart, He would gently show me every time something true and honorable I could be thankful for. Even if it was simply the fact that I was alive and able to extend forgiveness to that person. For that I could be thankful.
Fourth, give thanks.
Step Five: Tell Him What You Really Want
Present your requests before God. This one last encouragement tucked right at the end makes me smile. God reminds us like a loving parent who wants us to ask Him whatever we will, to present our requests to Him. Tell Him what you really want instead of this anxiety. Don’t hold back. Like a little child at Christmastime, tell him your wishes, elaborate and complete. Let Him know you know He can do that and much more.
Fifth, present your heartfelt, hope-filled, desire-of-your-heart requests to the One who loves you best.
And now the moment we have all been waiting for. The moment the house is filled with that just-right, delicious, tender smell that tells us the beautifully braided cinnamon bread is finished baking and ready to take out of the oven.
And. (Look out! A promise is coming!)
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This is the promise. This is what comes after the equal sign. This is the solution, the fix, the deep, incomprehensible answer to Impossible > Possible + Prayer + Petition x Thanksgiving + heart’s desire = HEART AND MIND GUARDED BY THE PEACE OF CHRIST
We are not given many formulas. But this one is a personal discipline I recommend we all have in our repertoire. It works, and it takes us from the place of anxiety to peace. Make it your top recipe this Thanksgiving!
I would love to hear some of your soul formulas. Share them in the comments section below!