In our world today, many people are feeling anxious and worried, and it is too easy to bottle the fears and anxieties up and carry them deep inside ourselves. This is the opposite of what the Bible tells us to do. As Peter puts it we are not to dismiss or ignore our worries, but should cast our anxiety onto Jesus knowing that he cares for us personally (1 Peter 5:7). Bottling anxieties up does more harm than good, and our personal relationship with Jesus can help us with our anxiety.
In CS Lewis’s book, the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, at one point the ship, with everyone on it, is surrounded by a thick black cloud of total darkness and everyone is filled with fear and anxiety that they will never get out of this black cloud. They are paralysed by their anxiety and fear. At this point
“Lucy sits and whispers “Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now”. The darkness did not grow any less, but she began to feel a little – a very, very little – better”.
Simply by calling out to Aslan (who represents Jesus in these books) Lucy started to feel better even though the circumstances hadn’t yet changed. She knew Aslan, had a personal relationship with him, and trusted him. Similarly, just by talking to Jesus and crying out to him in our anxiety we can begin to feel a little better.
In the story Aslan eventually helps by appearing in the shape of an albatross that descends on a beam of light and guides the ship through the darkness and out into the light of day. As it circled the mast the albatross whispered to Lucy “Courage, dear heart” in a voice she recognised as Aslan’s. On some days, when anxiety threatens to overwhelm me, if I can find a moment to sit in stillness and let God speak to me, it feels as if those very words are whispered into my heart “Courage, dear heart”, and it helps. The circumstances haven’t changed but I know that God loves me and He is in this with me and that gives me the courage to persevere.
Corrie Ten Boom put it this way: “Look around and be distressed. Look inside and be depressed, Look at Jesus and be at rest”.
Sitting in stillness and simply looking at Jesus isn’t always easy, especially when our anxiety prevents stillness. However, certain disciplines can help us to reach that state of openness to God, such as a simplified version of a meditative style of Ignatian practice that I used in the video recording of Sunday’s sermon. For those of you listening to the dial-a-sermon or using just the sermon text it works as follows:
Start by sitting or standing with your eyes closed and open your heart to God, letting him look at you – you may find it helpful to open your arms or have your hands palm upwards to indicate an openness to God.
Now breathe in slowly and imagine that you are breathing in God’s love of you. Hold your breath and really receive God’s love, and then breathe out into God everything you are feeling right now. Do this a few times to help you receive God’s love fully. Breathe in God’s love, receive it as you hold your breath, then breathe out your feelings.
Now ask for God’s light as you look over the day. What has made you glad or thankful today – as you think about it, breathe in, hold and then release the breath; acknowledging God’s love in the positive things. Again, repeat this a few times as you think through the positives of the day.
Now think about what has made you cross, sad or anxious. Let yourself feel it – do not be afraid. Now breathe in God’s love, hold it and then release the breath, releasing all the anger, anxiety or pain as you do. Again, repeat this a few times until you start to feel calmer.
Now think about what you need to help you now and for tomorrow. Let God know. Breathe in God’s love and help, hold your breath and as you release your breath, release any anxiety about the day ahead or tomorrow. Repeat this cycle of breathing calmly in and out, and try and listen to God and receive from him as you do so.
Finally speak out a phrase of praise as you finish your prayer. You may want to use part of one of the psalms such as “I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High” (Psalm 7:17)