Waiting for another hospital appointment, this one is slightly different – I have not been allowed to eat for 30hrs. I start to get that familiar anxious feeling, the whole “don’t worry be happy, pull yourself together” self-talk is not really working.
After years of regular hospital appointments I still don’t like them. I am often jumping to worst case scenarios in my head, picturing bad news being given. Sometimes when I have managed to go into hospital feeling more positive, I have then had the consultant tell me bad news such as when I was told I had contracted MRSA or that I needed further tests when I was expecting to be discharged. This makes it even harder to get your hopes up as you don’t want to again be disappointed.
As a Christian we are told to simply put our trust in God. When anxiety comes it is then accompanied by guilt as we have not been able to keep it at bay. Does this sound familiar to anyway else or is it just me?
Yet I have realised the way to get some control over anxiety is to accept uncertainty and only then will you find a measure of peace. Certainty is one of those things we all long to find and hang onto. We all know in our heads that there are few certainties in life and yet our hearts search for certainty anyway. We can make plans but we never know what tomorrow will bring. I kept asking doctors to give me definite answers about the healing process but of course they never could because our bodies don’t work like that. I wanted things to get better overnight but my process of healing was going to take months sometimes years. Likewise with my anxiety; I wanted to find peace the instant I started praying for it, rather than finding it bit by bit as I journeyed with God. Will Van der Hart says, “Consciously lay down your hopes for an instant fix and commit to the healing journey however long it may take.” That was so helpful for me. In our instant culture we want fast results and it’s only when we let go of that we can embrace the healing that needs to take place.
Then I come to the Apostle Paul who faces serious challenges – how does he find peace, contentment and even joy, rather than being consumed with anxiety and fear? He even wrote the letter to the Philippians which explores this question, from inside a prison cell in Ephesus: Philippians 4 v4-7 and 12-13:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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…
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Paul knew that the Philippian Christians were suffering persecution for their faith; he knew that fear and anxiety were very real emotions for them as they had a lot to be afraid of in the first century Roman Empire. Yet he also knew that peace was possible because he’d found it in the hardest of circumstances himself. I go one of two ways when reading these passages from Philippians. Either I feel defeated because I think that Paul must have been super-human, with a unique gift for persevering through things no one else could have, and I have absolutely no hope of being like him in any way. Or I start beating myself up, remembering how much harder life is for other people, especially those who are persecuted and I feel guilty for not trusting God more. Either way I end up feeling bad and I’m certain that wasn’t Paul’s intent.
Tim Keller helpfully points out that Paul said he learned to be content. He wasn’t born being content, it didn’t come naturally to him, but he learned it. He also points out that peace is not merely an absence, it’s a presence. It is not just an absence of fear; it’s a sense of being protected by God’s nearness. He says,
“Christian peace does not start with the ousting of negative thinking. If you do that, you may simply be refusing to face how bad things are. That is one way to calm yourself – by refusing to admit the facts. But it will be short lived peace! Christian peace doesn’t start that way. It is not that you stop facing the facts, but you get a living power that comes into your life and enables you to face those realities, something that lifts you up over and through them.”
So I face another hospital procedure knowing that God is near and instead of feeling guilty I am starting to allow God to come and walk with me through this experience with me.
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