My wife knows there’s something wrong when I tell her I want to leave right now and go to a fancy dinner. It’s so out of character for me to want spend lots of money in general that when I bring it up as spur of the moment decision it actually reveals that I’m struggling with stress and anxiety.
By nature, I keep an eye on our finances and work studiously to make sure all our bills are paid and we’re saving some money toward future challenges. And my wife has a degree in the culinary arts, so we eat delicious food on the regular. So when I come home and suggest we go out to get Thai food or steaks, I’m suggesting something pretty abnormal for our household.
James 1:14-15 says that sin is born out of our desires. Our desires aren’t usually bad on their own, but they become sinful when we choose to find their fulfillment outside of God’s plan. Eve had the desire to become wise (Genesis 3:6), we know that’s good because Solomon desired the same thing and God granted it (1 Kings 3). Eve also noted that the fruit was good for food and was beautiful. There’s nothing wrong with the desire to eat, in fact we must in order to live. And we know that finding delight in beauty is something God has designed into creation itself (Psalm 19:1 & Ecclesiastes 3:11). Eve’s actions became sinful when she let those desires become an idol more important to her than God and His plan. She sinned by trying to find wisdom, sustenance, and beauty where God told her not to.
When anxiety overtakes me, my desires to control and find comfort and love come out in full force. The stresses and loss of control that led to my anxiety I meet by controlling what I can. I control what we eat that night, how the money is spent, and to the best of my ability the delectable tastes and textures upon my tongue.
It is certainly silly to say that I look for love in food, but a well cooked meal is like a warm and embracing hug, and the pure bliss and delight of good food is a comfort for the soul. In the moment, I do feel some small level of comfort as I strive to keep my mind off the situation that brought about my anxiety.
But I certainly do not find the satisfaction of comfort and love in that night of financial splurging and tasty treats that I so desired. In fact, quite the opposite occurs. The next day, I’m even more stressed that we spent so much money on such frivolity. I’m less comforted because our finances are a bit more depleted. Ultimately, this act of self gratification gains me nothing but more heartache.
I’m sure we’ve all experienced this is our own ways. You too have things you wish you had control over and when you realize you don’t anxiety springs up in your heart. And you respond to it in your own way perhaps by watching movies, playing games, scrolling social media, sleeping, or whatever else it might be. Perhaps like me, you attempt to take your mind off the situation and to an area where you can be in control. Or perhaps, you begin to think and connive ways to regain control of the situation by pondering what you could say and to whom to change how the next few dominoes will fall.
Either way, it is in those moments that we find an opportunity to note that we’ve created idols that are more valuable to us than God. It is in those moments that we ought to turn our hearts back to God and pray: "Father, I don’t know why things are happening as they are, but I will put my trust in you." In that response we learn to give our anxiety over to God through prayer (Philippians 4:6).
Philippians goes on to say that we should learn to be thankful to God. Thankfulness is a perfect antidote for anxiety. If we spend our time thinking about the good things in our lives, the joys (both big and small) we are simultaneously moving our focus off of the situation we have no control over and moving it on to the aspects that are worthy of our attentions. In the midst of our stresses there are always things to be thankful to God for. Work stressing you out? At least you have a job. Get in a car wreck on the way home? It's a good thing you have insurance to help pay for the damages. There is always something to be thankful for, even if it's hard to see.
My wife noticed this trend in my heart a few years back, and after awhile I began to be able to identify what was going on on my own and recognize it much earlier. Now when I get anxious, it becomes an opportunity to examine the life circumstances I thought I should have had some control over and begin to repent to God for not trusting in His plan and His perfect control of the situation. I still have a long ways to go, but I’m excited to continue on this journey and to learn how to trust Him more.