|With Mark in Dresden, Germany|
Last month, I accepted the realization that I am an anxious traveler. While I have had the privilege of traversing much of the globe as a child of missionaries and then later as one myself, I was usually accompanied by someone. Only four times in my life have I made overseas journeys by myself. While in college, I spent six weeks studying with Baylor in France. (That was when I finally accepted that I am an American, but that’s another story.) Then during my seminary days, I went to Japan (via Korea, Philippines and PNG) for a summer missions experience. And while in Indonesia, I traveled to Australia and to the US for two weddings.
I also realize that in almost all those instances, I was met by someone who helped me get to my final destination. Only to Paris did I make the whole trip alone. And that was stressful! I even cried! And I was young!
So now for the past 30 years, I have traveled with Mark. He’s the adventurous one. He rents the cars, navigates the new directions and drives 100 miles an hour on the autobahn! He makes the trips fun. So I was rather taken aback when I spent a good portion of our recent trip to Europe worrying!
Will we make the flight? Will we figure out the train? Will we understand where to go? Why doesn’t the number on my ticket match the number on the sign? What if we get on the wrong train? What if we don’t have enough cash? Where do we get cash? If we rent a car, what if we put a dent in it because insurance is really high? Will we know where to park, to find our Airbnb? Where will we eat? What if we get lost? And it went on and on.
This is ridiculous, I told myself. You enjoy this. This is a once in a lifetime chance to see and experience a new place. Don’t be a downer for Mark. Laugh. Have fun. Stop being anxious!
In Philippians 6a, the Apostle Paul says, Do not be anxious about anything. What does that mean? What is anxiety? How does one NOT be anxious? About ANYTHING?
To be anxious means “experiencing worry, unease, or nervousness, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome”. The “Feeling Wheel” puts it in the same quadrant as fear. I know that for some people, anxiety is a crippling disorder that they fight every day. Medically, it is “characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.” I am not equipped to address that in this post. Instead, I speak to others like me, who periodically let an impending decision or the care for a loved one consume our thoughts with worry.
In Biblical Greek, anxious means to be troubled with cares. This same word was used by Paul when he described the concerns of a married person versus a single one in 1 Corinthians 7:34. Jesus used this word too in Matthew 6:31-34 when he instructed us to not worry about what we shall eat or drink or wear. And perhaps the best example is in Luke 10:41-42 where Jesus told Martha that she was worried and upset about many things instead of choosing what was better.
So back to my trip. Despite my anxiety, I was actually able to enjoy myself. How? I was not alone. Only because Mark was with me was I able to relax and enjoy the experience. It took a bit longer, but we did figure out the train. We got where we needed to go and we got home again without any real glitches. And just as Mark’s presence helped assuage my fear, Paul reminds me that God’s presence does the same. Just look right before our familiar verse. In 4:5b, it says, The Lord is near.
I know. I know. We usually jump to the next phrase—instead pray about everything—but we’ll get to that later. (Remember that the punctuation and verse divisions were added by scribes and not by Paul himself.) For now I am encouraged to see these two familiar phrases joined together once again. Fear and God’s presence.
I noticed this in my study last year of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary” (Luke 1:28-30 italics mine). Sprinkled throughout Scripture, the promise of God’s presence is given as an antidote to fear.
So what will I do the next time I am troubled with cares? First, I will trust the One who goes with me. Because I am not alone, I can reach out to him to ask for his help, guidance, company and direction. Mark may be a good travel companion, but only God is with me—in me—through anything!
Thank you, Father that your Holy Spirit never leaves me and is in fact, in me. I take you with me wherever I go and I am not alone. Teach me to lean on your presence when I am prone to be troubled with cares.
Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Psalm 23:4 “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Hebrews 13:5b-6 “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.'”