Have you ever found yourself making a big deal out of something that wasn’t actually that big of a deal? We probably don’t even have to go back too many days to think of the last time we did this. It’s almost like the human race has gotten really good at making everything in our world feel like it’s life and death.
And when everything in life seems this heavy, it’s no wonder why we are chronically anxious.
Who or what are you magnifying in your life?
However you answer this question at any given time will have a lot to say about your level of anxiety. Another way to ask this question: Who or what are you making bigger than you should?
I love Mary’s response when the angel tells her she will give birth to Jesus.
Luke 1:38-46 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord.”
She says, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” She then goes to visit her relative, Elizabeth. This is such a good lesson for us. When we’re walking through something new in our lives, we need to be with others who can help us process what’s going on. And then Luke records Mary’s song. Here’s how it opens in the English Standard Version:
Luke 1:46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord”
This was a moment where Mary could have magnified lots of other things and no one would have even blamed her. She could have magnified the uncertainty surrounding her future. She could have spent her time freaking out about how Joseph would react. But she had no control over the future, she had no control over what Joseph would do, and she had no control over what other people would say when they found out. But she did have control over what she gave her attention to. She had a say-so in what she was going to make a big deal in her life.
Last week I talked about how we have to let go of control and surrender our lives into the good hands of a God who actually has all control. While it’s true that we don’t have all control, there is a type of control we’re actually called to have.
While it’s true that we don’t have all control, we’re actually called to have self-control.
It’s one of the nine fruit of the Spirit. While we need the help of the Holy Spirit, this is something we are called to possess. And I think self-control is one way we combat the anxiety that threatens to paralyze us.
Similar to what we choose to magnify in our lives is this: what we give our attention to.
How much of your anxiety comes from what you give your attention to?
When we give our attention to the wrong things or when we give too much attention to certain things, this can bring the onset of anxiety. This becomes a vicious cycle because once we’re anxious, we’re inhibited from giving our attention to the right things.
“Once it (anxiety) floods our brain, our attention is focused solely on the outside threat. We concentrate narrowly on something and are unable to process other stimuli or to shift our attention. When obsessing about danger, our capacity to see or hear other information is nearly eliminated.” Peter Steinke, Uproar: Calm Leadership in Anxious Times
“Wherever your mind goes, the rest of your life goes with it.” Dallas Willard, Life Without Lack
“Because what you give your attention to is the person you become…In the end, your life is no more than the sum of what you gave your attention to. That bodes well for those apprentices of Jesus who give the bulk of their attention to him and to all that is good, beautiful, and true in this world. But not for those who give their attention to the 24-7 news cycle of outrage and anxiety and emotion-charged drama or the nonstop feed of celebrity gossip, titillation, and cultural drivel.” John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry
I recently read a book on attention by Johann Hari. He is not a Christian, but I made some fascinating discoveries through his work, including this one:
“Your brain can only produce one or two thoughts in your conscious mind at once. That’s it.” Johann Hari, Stolen Focus
Psalm 131:1-3 My heart is not proud, LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore.
My life isn’t all about me. I’m not trying to figure out all the things that aren’t for me to figure out. I don’t know about you guys, but I spend so much time and energy trying to figure everything out. We talk often hear at Epic about what is our part and what is God’s part. These verses can help us so much with knowing and playing our part…while trusting God to play His.
See if you can relate to these words from Ruth Haley Barton as she compares how she normally operates with Psalm 131:
“The truth about me is that I seem to always be occupying myself with things too great and too marvelous for me – that is, things too complicated and weighty for the human mind to comprehend or figure out.” Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to Solitude and Silence
God can keep up with all the things, but we cannot. We are limited and that doesn’t make us bad; it simply makes us human.
What do you need to have to be content? What do you need to know to be content?
What if you don’t need everything you think you need to be content?
What might God be calling you to wean yourself from?
I honestly think we can keep anxiety from having control of our lives if we can learn how to calm and quiet ourselves. But unfortunately we live in a world with so much noise and somehow we’ve become more comfortable with noise and more afraid of silence. The noise is external, but it’s internal also.
I do not know how to lower our anxiety without limiting our inputs.
Think about what has changed in terms of our access to information. Not too long ago, you consumed the news of the day by reading the morning paper and maybe watching the evening news. Now there will be new news every 60 seconds. And you no longer have access to just one newspaper but all the newspapers and other news sources.
Or think about the fact that you used to go to the mailbox one time a day. Now with email, text messaging, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Slack, and more – you can check the mail every second of the day. For a moment, imagine it’s 1988. What would you have thought about a neighbor who went to their mailbox 397 times a day?
If we stay in the current human default mode, noise and speed are going to end up destroying our souls.
Isaiah 30:15 This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”
Start your morning with silence. Don’t look at your phone. Don’t even start praying yet for all of the things. “God, I want to be quiet and open myself to your presence. I don’t want to concern myself with all of the things that are too wonderful for me to figure out. I want to begin this day by magnifying you, not all of the things I’m tempted to give my attention to.”
Jesus is offering a place to take our anxiety. Take it to Him. He gives rest. He’s gentle and humble. And He is offering us rest for our souls.
Steve Cuss, author of Managing Leadership Anxiety, says we need to make a life-giving list to help us manage our anxiety. Here’s the question he asks:
Who are the people who give life to you? What are the places you go that are life-giving? What are the activities that bring life to you?
He says we should do these three things with this: 1) Get concrete about what is actually life-giving to you. 2) Calendar the time to do these things. 3) Thank and worship God when you participate in anything on this list.
I think another thing we should be honest about is this set of questions:
Who are the people who drain life from you? What are the places that drain life from you? What are the activities that drain life from you?
We all have things on this list we have to do, but we can’t only be doing life-draining things. We assume all hours are the same and that all meetings are the same. But they aren’t. It depends on who we’re with, what we’re doing, and where we’re doing what we’re doing.
I’m passionate about helping others to live out their purpose. And one of the things I’ve noticed is that anxiety has become a major obstacle to humans living out their purpose.
What could you do if you freed up all of the energy your anxiety is currently consuming?
And Jesus invites us to do something else with our anxiety.
Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
What will you decide to magnify and make big in your life?
What inputs do you need to put into your life?
What inputs do you need to limit in your life?
What is getting more of your attention than it deserves?