What Do I Do With Anxious Thoughts?

by | May 13, 2024

Do you enjoy waiting in lines? Have you been to Disney World recently? If you have, you probably used their handy app showing all the rides and attractions and the estimated wait times. The last time I was in the parks, the app was a lifeline to help us make the most of our time. Of course, the most popular rides have the longest wait time. We had to decide if the amount of time to wait for a ride was worth the experience. Sometimes we knew it would be worth the wait—like Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Sometimes we opted for a smaller, not-quite-as-exciting (but still fun) ride, rather than waiting for literal hours to hop on something that would be over in ninety seconds. If it was a ride we had been on before, it was easier to know if the wait would be worth it or not. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a prayer app with an estimated wait time for when God would answer? 

If I’m being honest, often, in times of waiting or when my prayers seem to go unanswered, I find my heart leaning toward worry. When I focus on the desired outcome or my perceived lack of response from God, I’m prone to anxious thoughts. My mind runs through all the “what ifs.” And when this goes on for long seasons and weeks stretch into months or even years, I can find myself in an ongoing state of mid-level anxiety. Not the kind of anxiety that drives you into depression. But the kind that keeps you up some nights and nags in the back of your mind with questions like: 

“When will this end?” 

“Will this ever get better?”

“Will my husband ever find another job?”

“Will we ever feel financially secure?”

“Will my child ever be healed?”

“Will my relationship with my (son, daughter, husband) ever feel like it did before?” 

If you’ve ever asked questions like this, you might be encouraged to know you’re not alone. King David—a man God chose to lead His people—asked similar questions in some pretty candid prayers. I’m thankful we have these recorded in Scripture. 

In Psalm 13, David made a desperate plea to the Lord: 

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long will I store up anxious concerns within me, agony in my mind every day? How long will my enemy dominate me?

(Psalm 13:1-2 CSB)

 

Anxious concerns. Agony in my mind every day.

David wasn’t praying about which car to buy or where to go on vacation next year. Those are certainly areas of life where we can seek God’s wisdom. But in this Psalm, David was in agony. He was crying out to God from a place of anguish and despair. He was desperate for God to answer. And it feels like he had been in that place for a while. I get the sense that this wasn’t the first or only time David had talked to God about this issue.  

David repeated this phrase four times: “How long? How long? How long? How long?”

It makes me think of being on a road trip with my kids. You know the refrain. “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? How much longer?” (Please read that last question in the whiniest voice possible.)

David was in that dreaded waiting place. How long will he have to wait for God? When will God come through? How long will he endure these difficult circumstances? 

David makes it sound like he has exhausted himself in this waiting game. He’s begging God to do something because the waiting has led him to store up anxious thoughts and it seems like it was even taking a toll on him physically.

 

Consider me and answer, Lord my God. Restore brightness to my eyes; otherwise, I will sleep in death. My enemy will say, “I have triumphed over him,” and my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

(Psalm 13:3-4 CSB)

Anxiety is not just a mental state. It affects our physical health as well. When your mind is full of anxious thoughts, your body is tired and weary. You lack the energy to care for yourself and to care for others. 

You know what they say: “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Maybe the idea here is everybody needs to do what mom says and make mom happy and then everyone else will be happy. But let’s be real—if you are overwhelmed with anxiety, it’s hard to care for the people you love. 

David compared his anxious state to physical death. That is strong language! We don’t know which trial David was praying about in this Psalm—he had plenty throughout his life to choose from. I think the ambiguity helps us put ourselves in David’s shoes here. 

Have you been in this place of anxious waiting? Have you experienced a season like this when waiting turned to worry? 

  • Maybe when you or a family member has a prolonged illness and doctors can’t provide answers or a solution?
  • When your spouse loses a job and unemployment stretches on for months, draining your savings? 
  • When a teenager is walking in a season of disobedience or isn’t walking with the Lord?
  • When a child is diagnosed with a condition that will affect her for the rest of her life? 

Have you wondered—as David did—if God has forgotten about you? How long will you be full of these anxious thoughts?

In my personal experience, can I tell you what is NOT helpful? Letting all those “what ifs” run through your head constantly. Thinking about the future. Wondering what the outcome will be. Anticipating the day when “things will change.” The uncertainty of the days ahead never brings comfort in the here and now. 

David did something a little different. After pleading with God, he didn’t look at the unknown future. He looked at his past. He looked at God’s faithfulness throughout his life. 

But I have trusted in your faithful love; my heart will rejoice in your deliverance. I will sing to the LORD because he has treated me generously.

(Psalm 13:5-6 CSB)

 

When I read this Psalm, it’s not obvious if David’s circumstances changed or not. Do you know what did change? David’s focus. He turned his focus from his anxious thoughts to God’s faithfulness. God didn’t necessarily eliminate David’s pain, but He transformed his perspective. 

The Hebrew word for faithful love in this verse is the word “hesed,” which is a difficult word to express in English. This one word encompasses a love that is loyal, kind, merciful, unfailing, steadfast, and also a love that takes action. It was the covenantal love God showed for Israel. David had experienced this love in his past. And he’s trusting in it again in his present circumstances. God’s steadfast love was the answer to David’s anxiety.

When I’m in a season of asking God, “What if?” “When?” “How long?”—it’s more helpful for me to look at what God has already done in my life than to anticipate what He will do in the future. 

And I can apply this with my kids too. As they grow older, I see the world affecting them more and more. Their simple, carefree childhood days start getting replaced with decisions about electives and sports teams and which friendships are beneficial for them. It’s tempting to watch as they grow up and worry about what their future holds. 

When I’m tempted to give in to these anxious thoughts, I’ve become intentional about remembering how God has delivered in the past. He’s always faithful. He’s always good. His steadfast love never fails. And what happens in that moment is my anxious thoughts turn to praise. My worry transforms into worship.   

And I find I can depend on God today not just because of what He is doing in my present circumstances or what He will do in the future. I can trust Him because I can trace His hand of faithfulness throughout my life. 

Even when my prayers seem to go unanswered—when God doesn’t seem to be on my timeline—my heart can be released to worship God for His unfailing love.  

We desire for our home to be a sanctuary. But the reality is life is hard, and every day we face stress and anxious thoughts that fill our minds and our four walls. In this session of Building a Strong Family, Annie Mendrala, a MomQ teacher, reminds us of the promises God gives in his Word to trade our anxiety for His peace, “How Do We Handle Anxiety in Our Home?”

 

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