When Elly and I were dating, I remember exactly where I was the moment I realized I loved her. We were visiting my sister in Dallas over Spring Break, and were just chilling on her couch one evening. I had my arm around Elly and she was leaning her head on my shoulder when the thought entered my head.
“This is the girl I want to spend the rest of my life with.”
We had been dating for about five months by that time and it just felt normal to be with her. (I’m sure many of you know what I mean.) But although I had the feeling, it wasn’t until four months later that I verbalized it. I guess it was for a couple reasons. First, I didn’t want to throw around the “love” word until I was ready to commit to marriage. Second, Elly was heading out of the country for 6 weeks at the beginning of the summer and I wanted to use that time to reflect on our relationship and our future together.
It didn’t take me long after she left to realize that I really did want to marry her. So I purchased a ring. But it was after I bought the ring that I started to experience quite a bit of anxiety and I really didn’t know why. It bothered me so much that I felt no peace—a constant uneasiness in my core. In my mind, I wondered if I had made a mistake by buying the ring. Was I moving too fast or did God want me to marry someone else?
I often think about Proverbs 16:9 which says, “In his heart, a man plans his course, but God determines his steps.” It’s easy for us to make plans based on what we want to do, but ultimately, God is sovereign and in control. After I bought the ring, I began to fear that I was merely asking God to bless my plans for my life rather than prayerfully considering what His will was for me.
Ultimately, I needed to spend some quality time in prayer and meditation to figure out the root of my anxiety. So I headed to the place where I did this best—the gym. (There’s just something about working out that allows my mind to think more clearly.) I entered the cardio room and hopped on a recumbent bike and started peddling, freeing my mind to pray and think through everything I was feeling.
My thoughts wondered to the relationship I had been in prior to Elly. It wasn’t a long relationship, but I remember when this girl broke up with me, I felt utterly confused. We both liked each other, so breaking up didn’t make any sense to me at all and I didn’t understand it. Interestingly, however, it was in that state of confusion that I experienced my deepest connection with God in the months that followed that breakup.
Then it dawned on me—my anxiety, my discomfort, my uneasiness was being caused by the fact that I loved Elly so much, I feared losing her. The solution, however, was not that I needed to be reassured of her love for me. Instead, I needed to surrender to God’s will no matter what happened.
If there is any scripture that has served as my life’s motto, it is Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.”
It’s that middle section that has always proved hardest for me—“lean not on your own understanding.” There will be times in our lives when we can’t make any sense out of what’s happening to us. Either we’re just clueless or there may seem to be no logic to it. It is at these times that we have to exercise our faith the most despite being lost in the big picture. If we don’t have faith that there really is a “big picture,” how can we expect to find any peace?
I had to realize that even if Elly did come back from overseas and her feelings had changed, God would still be there for me (Hebrews 13). My prayer looked something like this:
“God, Your word says that in all things, You work for the good of those who love You (Romans 8:28). So I know that if Elly comes back and doesn’t want to be with me, I know that you’ll use it as an opportunity to draw me closer to you, just as you did before. And if that happens, I know it’s just because You have something better in store for me. I love Elly, but if I have to give her up so that I can be close with You, so be it. I would rather be close to You than live outside of Your will for my life.”
At that moment, I surrendered my plans to God and allowed Him to be in control–and I felt total peace. The uneasiness was gone. Once I decided to give God the reigns, I rested in knowing that I had nothing to worry about. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
As it turned out (thankfully!), God wasn’t telling me that Elly wasn’t “the one,” He just wanted to recalibrate my focus to make sure that my hope and my trust were ultimately in Him and not in man.
Fast forward 8 years and God was reminding me of this lesson in a totally different way.
Anxiety (worry), at its core, reveals a lack of trust in God. When I am worried about something, it is because I do not fully trust that God is sovereign and in control. (See Matthew 6:25-34.)
If I did have total faith in God and total trust in His sovereignty, what would I have to be worried about? Who can compete with the Almighty God, the Creator of all things? Who can thwart His plans or rival His power? Who else existed before time began? Who else has the power to calm the raging seas or raise the dead to life again? No one! Therefore, because I believe in Him, I should truly have nothing to worry about.
A former pastor of mine used to say that we should only be concerned with the things that are within our control. If it is outside of our control, it does us absolutely no good to worry about it. As humans, this is extremely difficult, because we all like to have control! As it applies to the situation with my heart, I had to realize that God is the one who keeps my heart beating. And even if it is defective, He will ultimately determine when it stops. God is not confined to our time or space or reasoning. He defies odds all the time. And I have to believe that He will keep my heart ticking until I have fulfilled all the purposes he has planned for my life.
This doesn’t mean that it’s an easy lesson to apply. I still worry and have anxiety quite often. But I’m learning to change how I deal with it and how I talk to myself when I feel anxious. I have to daily surrender to God and allow Him to be in control, reminding myself constantly of those things I mentioned above. I also did learn practical techniques to help with the anxiety, such as deep breathing to counter the shortness of breath, but techniques really only provide temporary relief. I needed to change my thinking, which wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t been reading my Bible and praying daily. It was doing those things that helped me relinquish my desire for control and trust God with the outcome.
So what have you been worrying about lately? What inputs are you allowing to affect your thinking? Are you spending more time listening to yourself or talking to yourself? In what ways haven’t you been trusting God for the outcome? If not God, in whom or in what have you placed your trust?
What I learned was that God is the only one who will never let us down. He has promised never to leave us nor forsake us and I experienced that in, what was to this point in my life, my deepest time to need. Many things will happen to us that we may never understand. While we don’t always have control over what happens to us, we do have control over how we respond. We can choose to let our anxiety run rampant, or we can choose to trust that God is sovereign and in control and rest in the peace that He alone is able to provide.