When I was in college, a friend and I combatted finals week stress in an unconventional way. Instead of pursuing the peace of mind that accompanies preparedness, we essentially blew off studying altogether and spent our time eating out and wandering through the mall. We must have been totally overwhelmed because neither of us is the type to relieve anxiety by shirking responsibility.
More often than not, I attempt to quell stress by maintaining a sense of control. I want life to unfold according to a smooth, scheduled, self-made plan. I do my best to resist the unknown, and I’d rather not be in a situation that requires me to trust.
I was confronted with the futility of striving after control when working through a devotional for an upcoming mission trip. A section of the devotional highlighted Matthew 11:28-30, a well-known passage in which Jesus summons the weary and burdened to come to Him for rest. After reading the verses, I responded to the prompt, “What has wearied or burdened your life?”
Can you guess my answer?
“Trying to be in control.”
Notice the irony. The desire for control makes the alluring but deceptive claim that anxiety will be alleviated as long as I’m in charge. If only I know what’s around the next turn, then I’ll be able to relax. If I can just make sure my circumstances are preferable, then I’ll finally rest. The problem is that no matter how persistently I wrestle for it, control isn’t up for grabs.
The notion that control is attainable is delusional, and worse is the belief that I would be a better god than God. Isn’t that the bottom line, after all? My mouth says, “He’s got the whole world in His hands,” but my life is spent bartering for a portion of it to hold onto myself. It’s an exhausting proposition.
When Peter instructed his readers to humble themselves by casting their anxieties on God, he shed light on the connection between humility and trust (1 Peter 5:6-7). The psalmist’s assertion that “our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases” works in tandem with Peter’s declaration that “He cares” for us to assure our hearts of both God’s sovereignty and His goodness (Psalm 115:3; 1 Peter 5:7).
Too often we seek relief from stress by trying to rule over our own pretend kingdoms, a practice which quickly breeds more worry. We can’t micromanage our burdens away, but we can offload them at the feet of the One who offers rest in exchange. In other words, because our God is both sovereign and good, the antidote to anxiety isn’t tightening our grasp, but opening our hands.
Scotty Smith was right when he said, “Nothing will make you more sane than to see the occupied throne of heaven.” It’s only as we remember Who reigns over the world that we receive the peace of mind we need to live by faith in it.