The first-person story and encouragement below are offered by Compassion International’s President and CEO, Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado. It was originally published by Compassion International.
Anxiety. It’s something that many of us have experienced in our lives—and perhaps especially over the past year. It’s something that children in poverty—and their caregivers, too—are forced to face every day. Anxiety is an inevitable part of the human experience. But God has a plan for us. A plan of peace. And I’d love to encourage you today by reflecting on that holy plan.
I’ll begin by sharing about my own journey with anxiety. For me, the season between 2007 and 2008 is when I discovered a level of anxiety that I’d never known before. Up until then, I certainly experienced anxiety and uncertainty around a big challenge, relationship stresses, performance evaluations, public speaking and much more. But this was different.
In 2007, I went through a traumatic experience while swimming with my son. Both of our lives were nearly taken when we got caught in a riptide. Days after the accident, as my body was dealing with the consequences of the physical exertion, I lost kidney function and nearly died again. But despite all that trauma, I mostly felt an overwhelming sense of guilt for allowing my son to go swimming in an area that I should have known was dangerous.
The anxiety that resulted from that incident haunted me for years. In the days and months immediately following that awful experience, I regularly woke up in the middle of the night—heart pounding, sweating and hyperventilating as my body relived the experience of feeling completely incapable and inadequate to save my son. While I was sleeping, my emotions would transport me back to that moment.
And amid that season of trying to work through the emotional and physical effects of the swimming accident, and helping my son process it as well, the economic meltdown of 2008 started. And that new crisis threatened the very existence of the organization I was leading at the time. We were looking at a massive drop in income that put the ministry, and the payroll for approximately 150 employees, in jeopardy. As president, I felt completely responsible. And once more, other people seemed to be paying for the decisions I made.
During this incredibly trying season, I sought medical help for the physical needs of my body, counselling for the emotional and mental needs of my mind, community support from my family and small group, and of course, I asked for divine intervention through it all. I’m so grateful for the way that God weaves multiple paths to bring us healing. And it was in this season that a particular passage of Scripture came alive to me in new ways—to minister to the needs of my soul and to help advance the slow but steady process of healing. I’d like to share that Scripture with you today.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.
Philippians 4:6-9, NKJV
The opening phrase at the beginning of this passage is clear … hard to do … but very clear: “Be anxious for nothing.” Wow. That statement means so much because it gives us God’s assurance that He is bigger than anything that could come our way. And as long as he can handle it, we can handle it. God’s strategy against anxiety is not to obsess over it or run away from it, but to humbly realize that we can’t handle it without Him.
And then, God seems to interrupt the petition process, and He tells us to do something else that contrasts the world’s way of dealing with anxiety. He says, “Before you actually pray about whatever it is that’s making you anxious, be thankful.” Being thankful somehow elevates what is going on and puts what you’re anxious about into the bigger context, a greater story. And if we do that, God’s promise is that a peace that surpasses understanding will flow into our souls. Even more, God’s peace will stand guard over our hearts and minds.
What God is outlining here is a program that will retrain our minds to choose better thoughts to stand down anxiety. And the next part of the passage tells us how it works. We are told to replace those anxious thoughts with better, life-giving thoughts—thoughts that are true and noble, right and pure, lovely and admirable. In the same way that only light can push out darkness, these peace-filtered thoughts are what push out the anxious ones.
And if we deal with anxiety in this way, the promise doesn’t end there. The next part of the passage says that as we put this into practice, not only do we get the peace that comes from God, but we also get the God of that peace. And with that comes so much more—the fruit of the Spirit. We get love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
This has been the journey that has taken me from a place of feeling broken, unable to stop the paralyzing waves of anxiety in my life, to a life that is increasingly and more frequently experiencing the peace of God, and the God of peace.
Anxiety is no stranger to me. And I know that it is also no stranger to many others. I can’t imagine the anxiety that children living in poverty face. Where will their next meal come from? Or their parents—how will they provide for their children? Or you—you might be facing anxiety for any number of reasons. If you are, I hope you find encouragement in my story. I pray that you lean on God to help you through life’s most trying seasons. I know that his plan for you is peace.
If you are feeling led to spend more time reflecting on this passage, here are a few prompts to get you started:
- Do you ever experience anxiety? If so, what makes you feel anxious? What are your triggers?
- Before sharing those anxieties with God, make a list of things you are thankful for. That has a way of putting your anxiety in the greater story of your life. Just start with three to five things. Give them to God. Then, invite God into your anxiety. Feel the full force of your anxiety and don’t run away from it. God will meet you in that difficult place.
- As you walk through your anxiety with God and a safe community or counselor, be ready with a list of life-giving thoughts and begin choosing to replace your anxious thoughts with thoughts that are true and noble, right and pure, lovely and admirable. Over time, your ability to do this will grow and you will begin to notice the depth of the anxiety diminishing and the episodes themselves happening less frequently.
- As you do this with an open heart for God’s healing, He will begin to fill you with His peace and you will increasingly experience an understanding of God and of the fruit of the Spirit in your life.
- Finally, pray for the child you sponsor, as well as their caregivers. Ask God to relieve the anxieties of their hearts and minds and to fill them with his everlasting peace. Serving and praying for others is also a meaningful way to diminish the controlling power that anxiety can have over your soul.
October 10 is World Mental Health Day.
Learn more about how Compassion is supporting youth with their mental health, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Feature photo caption: Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado visiting a Compassion centre in Rwanda in 2017.