How are you doing today? Me, I’m struggling.
I find myself overwhelmed with anxiety.
I’m not panicking out of fear of the pandemic. I see the virus in its appropriate context – absolutely something to be concerned about, to take preventive measures against, and to protect those most at risk from. But I’m not hoarding toilet paper or stockpiling hand sanitizer.
My anxiety comes from the sudden change in how we live our daily lives. From not being able to have coffee with my friends, interact with my coworkers, or make plans for next week.
I didn’t leave my house yesterday, not even to check the mail. I’m not in quarantine or lockdown, but I am working from home and compiling with social distancing guidelines. Simply, I didn’t need to leave for any reason, so the responsible thing to do was to stay home. I wanted to take a walk, but it was rainy all day, so I stayed inside. All day. I consider myself pretty introverted, but I miss my people. I don’t like the uncertainty surrounding us right now. Sitting in my house in isolation is not encouraging. Reading conflicting news reports is not encouraging. Seeing those around me struggle to adjust, not able to help with, is not encouraging. Nothing encouraging really seems to be happening.
Today was shaping up to be a repeat. No reason to leave. Raining off and on. More bad news flooding social media. More anxiety about what may change today or tomorrow.
Despite the rain, I decided to take my two pups for a walk anyway. We needed to get some fresh air. I don’t know about you, but for me, walking around outside in the fresh air always helps me clear my mind and recenter my thoughts.
At first, I was just preoccupied with the rain. When we started walking, no rain was falling. The steady sprinkle picked up slightly and I debated turning back. But we kept going. I live in a neighborhood where I can walk for 25 minutes with my two dogs without being in anyone else’s space. Even though it’s raining, it’s really nice that I can do that. My dogs don’t walk well on leashes. For Daisy, it’s because she is easily distracted. For Poe, it’s lack of practice (and the bad example that Daisy set). Today, that didn’t matter. The neighborhood was quiet, no other dogs were out, not many cars were on the road. They chaotically zig-zagged across the road, happy to be outside exploring. Words of thankfulness started popping into my head.
God, thank you for letting me get out today and clear my head. Help me to focus on what you are providing rather than what I’ve lost.
Paul talks about this in Philippians 4. At the beginning of the Chapter, Paul talks about anxiety, offering prayer and rejoicing as ways to combat anxiety. He continues by addressing our minds, instructing believers to focus on what is “true… honorable… just… pure… lovely… commendable… excellen[t] … [and] worthy of praise”.
Paul then moves into the most well-known section from this chapter. People really enjoy quoting Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” right after the achieve success in some area. “I want to thank God for allowing me to win this game/award. I know that I can do all things in his strength.” But when we read the chapter in its entirety, we see clearly that Paul is not talking about success or triumph when pens these words. He is talking about being content in whatever circumstances he is placed. Whether in lack or abundance, he knows he can be content because of Christ.
Keeping these verses in context, I can see a clear application to the current situation. We are all experiencing some sort of change in circumstances, and most of us are worried about how permanent these changes are. Today I feel challenged, though, to stop focusing on the changing circumstances and to stop obsessing over recovering my normal. Instead, I want to focus on being content in any circumstance.
Contentment does not mean that I paint a smile on my face and declare that everything is fine (when everything is far from fine). Contentment does not mean that I stop pursuing goals, or stop purposefully growing in my relationship with God. Contentment does not mean that I give up. Contentment means that I find my joy in Christ regardless of my situation, rejoicing in who He is, trusting in His character. (Not trusting that He will act in the way that I want – but trusting that He is exactly who He claims to be).
Contentment will not happen overnight. Paul writes, “for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (emphasis added). From this wording, I doubt that Paul woke up one day completely content with his circumstances, never to doubt or worry again. Similarly, I don’t expect my anxiety to magically disappear. I know that I will still struggle with anxiety and that I will still (often) feel discontent with the current circumstances. Feelings will keep changing. But, that’s the point. Feelings change. Circumstances change. God doesn’t change. When I anchor myself to that truth, I can learn to be content in any situation.
If ever there were a time to cling to Philippians 4:13, it is now- understanding that it points us to learn complete contentment in Christ.