How Do You Spell ANXIETY?
Fr. Michael Crosby, OFM
There’s a story told about St. Francis of Assisi, that one day he noticed a serious young friar sitting alone, very much lost in himself, while the rest of the community was enjoying good conversation. Francis went over to him and whispered: “My son, if you’re in sin go find a confessor. If not, then come and join your brothers.”
For Francis, the only real worry in life was being in sin, and the Lord had already provided a remedy for that. So a hallmark of spirituality was joy and peace.
In this he was following the teaching of Jesus who so often greeted his disciples with “peace”, and urged them, “Fear not, I am with you.”
Jesus and every Christian teacher since him has warned us about the destructive power of fear, and the creative power even of personal
disaster when it is accepted with trusting love. Jesus reminded us that most of the things we are worried about are out of our control
anyway, so we’re much better off when we let go of our anxious cares and let him be Lord.
Just say the word “anxiety” slowly, and discover its weakness. Right in the middle of “a-n-x-i-e-t-y” is that sound: “I”. It stands
there like a little idol, that “I”, that ego. It proclaims that I trust more in me than in God, and that’s why I am anxious about me
rather than trusting in him. There are other ways to spell anxiety, such as guilt, trials and pain. All of them contain that central
weakness: the “I” that is afraid to surrender self-reliance to the Lord.
We read in the very first pages of scripture that after God finished his work of creation, he saw that what he had done was good – – not perfect, that was for another realm — but good. So he rested from his work.
Now God did not rest because he was fatigued. He rested because he wanted to appreciate the good he had accomplished, and to declare
his confidence in the stewardship he had invested in Adam and Eve. So he backed off, not indifferent to the welfare of creation, but
confident in the eventual accomplishment of his purpose, no matter how we humans might fumble and abuse his providence.
That was a tremendous act of hope on the part of God. He professed his trust in us, and followed through on that trust by
respecting our need to learn from our mistakes. Now it’s our turn to return that gift of trust by investing our security in God.
Another peaceful saint, Philip Neri, was noted for his trust in God. While still a seminarian, he was shooting pool when one of his
classmates tried to distract him with the question: “What would you do, Philip, if you knew the Lord was going to call you home to himself
two minutes from now?” It was a problem calculated to cause anxiety. But Philip never broke his concentration on either his game or his God
as he replied: “I’d sink the eight-ball into the side pocket.”
In our relationships with each other and with God, the less we
concentrate on us and the more we consider the other, the greater will
be our peace. Check this in your own life: the more you try to
control others the more anxiety you create for yourself. Even our
prayer life becomes anxiety-ridden if it is filled with ourselves and
our needs rather than with the Lord. St. Augustine observes wisely in
“You are always present, O Lord, to those who seek your help.
You respond clearly, but we do not always hear you clearly. We ask
what we want, but we do not always hear the answer you want. Your
best servant is the one who is intent to hear not so much his own
wants responded to, as to respond to whatever he hears you want of
One of the Psalms says it so directly: “Be at peace and accept
that I am God.” When we admit God as Lord of our life, there is no
room for anxiety.