Throughout my college years at Biola––even during my first semester as a grad student at Talbot this spring––I’ve struggled with a fear of losing control, which is one of my anxiety triggers I’m still working through. Thankfully, I just got over my fear of never measuring up (atelophobia), which actually came from my ADHD. Regardless, I’m also still working through my third and final trigger: conflict. I get anxious when other people don’t like me––for no apparent fault of my own––and still dislike me when I try to make things right. I guess that just goes to show that you also can’t control other people. Anyways, I’ve been reading through Psalm 34 in my morning devotional time, and it’s really spoken to me because it reminds us about how God is in control, even when difficult things happen in our lives.
Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
Depending on your theological view, this verse could apply only to traditional Israel, or also to the church today. I believe in the latter and feel that, since Jesus’ inaugurated kingdom includes Gentile believers (those who are not Jews), we are still God’s holy people. The psalmist reminds us that God is our provider and gives us everything we need. He is ultimately in control over everything and knows what’s best for us, even when we think we know what’s best. That’s a difficult statement to swallow at times, but the more you realize this, the easier trusting God becomes.
Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.
It’s unclear what evil specifically refers to here, but I’ll relate this to my fear of interpersonal conflicts. It’s so easy to lash out at people who hurt us, especially when they make incorrect assumptions about us, but we are called to be peacemakers. Even if someone deserves revenge or a snippy response for the ways they hurt us, we should try to make amends. Even if we forgive someone, however, they may not reciprocate––but as long as you seek peace, you have done your part and can walk away knowing that you cannot control their response or behavior.
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
These two verses are the ones I’ve read over continually this past week. Just as God delivered the Israelites from trouble––especially in the book of Judges––he still rescues us from disasters today if we find refuge in him and recognize that his hand is over us. Now, this peace may not come immediately because we live in a world with evil, but peace will eventually come. God also doesn’t always act immediately because we would abuse his trust, so patience is key here. Having patience is the opposite of needing to have control: it’s knowing that you have to wait for things to work out instead of forcing them to work out.
Secondly, God knows how we feel. His son endured many of the same sufferings we did––including a small feeling of loss of control when he died on the cross as he recited part of Psalm 22 (” My God, why have you forsaken me?”). He is a good Father and is by our side, even when we feel deserted. Remembering this helps me feel better about not having control because I can have confidence that I can find God’s peace if I do not let chaos control my life.
The Lord will rescue his servants;
no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.
Lastly, God is there for us when we face situations beyond our control. I recently dealt with a ministry situation where I disagreed with someone, and I felt like my character was attacked. For a while, I wondered if something was wrong with me, but after talking to other trusted leaders, I realized that I received condemnation for reasons beyond my control. I couldn’t control what the other person thought, but I could control my response. So, I forgave that person and realized that God had my back. At first, I panicked because I thought I was losing sight of myself, but then I understood that the less I dwelled on the situation, the more I felt at peace. The more I stopped living in the past or future, the more contentment I experienced.
Learning how to refrain from controlling every last aspect of our lives is difficult for anyone with anxiety––especially those of us who are perfectionists. It takes time, patience, and effort, but peace will come eventually because the light always overcomes the darkness.