A little more stressed than usual? Of course you are! Worried about your health? Speak a little louder, your mask muffled your answer! There seem to be so many crazy things going on around us today, we often can’t seem to prioritize what to be afraid of most. Last Tuesday, I had no fewer than six folks speak to me about their anxieties and challenges. Worry, anxiety, crankiness and fear can overwhelm us and control our every move and decision. Life is stressful and seems to be getting worse, right? How about some more bad news: our pessimistic attitude, studies show, may negatively affect our health. Fear is one of the devil’s most popular weapons used against us.
But here is some actual good news: studies done at the Mayo clinic show that the opposite is true as well. In other words, the positive thinking that usually comes with optimism is a key part of effective stress management. And effective stress management is associated with many health benefits. It increases life spans and lowers rates of depression. We know that God doesn’t want us to worry. Jesus delivered this message on several occasions, “Don’t be afraid.” If you tend to be pessimistic, don’t despair because you can learn how to not drive yourself to stress and worry. We just have to break out of the bad habits and get into a pattern of good habits.
The secret is to remain close to Jesus. Daily prayer is a great habit to get into. But be careful how you pray. Going through a litany of negative thoughts will just end up getting you more stressed. As you begin your prayer, before you ask any petitions, begin with gratitude. For what are you thankful? List five things that you appreciate having. A few years ago, I saw a little old lady enjoy a single scoop of ice cream with so much joy, I was amazed. Rather than gobble it down, she savored each mouthful and appreciated it. Do that with the five graces God has given you as you begin your prayer. Really focus on each one and reflect on why it makes you happy. Savor it. Then express to the Lord how appreciative you are. If we rush too quickly into our “needs,” we can get into a habit of bulldozing over all the amazing things in our life.
Be careful too how you offer your petitions. When we simply dive into all the overwhelming stuff, we tend to magnify the negative aspects of a situation and filter out all of the positive ones. Have you gotten into a habit of catastrophizing? Many years ago I was in a car with a couple who were being constantly negative. Without their knowing, I started to make a game of it. I would begin a new topic and then I timed how long it would take before they turned it into something negative. I got frustrated with that and asked them to share what they liked about each other. No joke, the conversation went silent. When I asked them if they really couldn’t name something, one person said, “you caught me off guard.” Has the craziness as of late trained you into automatically anticipating the worst. Don’t polarize the situation. Break out of seeing things only as either good or bad. If we look at something only as a total failure, we will miss out. We may surprise ourselves and find the Lord and something life giving right in the center of that pain. Ask what the Lord may want you to do.
You can learn to turn negative prayer patterns and negative thinking into a positive. Be patient; while simple, the process will take time and practice. Identify areas to change and ask for the Lord’s help. Start small by focusing on one area to approach in a more positive way. Check yourself periodically. It doesn’t have to simply be in your formal prayer. During the day, stop and evaluate what you’re thinking. If you find that your thoughts are mainly negative, invite Christ in and try to find a way to put a positive spin on them. Finally, be open to humor. Remember that Jesus is the Joy of the world. The Lord will give you permission to smile or laugh, especially during difficult times.
The wonderful thing about the Lord’s peace is that we can feel it even in the midst of suffering and tribulation. We can experience his calming presence even as we battle the storms in our lives. In Matthew 8:23-27, Jesus calmed the storm when they were being tossed about at sea. He asked them, “Why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm!