Last week I tackled a rather daunting task, one that had been looming on the horizon for a long time – I cleaned out the house my parents lived in for over 25 years. Before I began I dealt alternatively with emotions of dread, sadness, and a sense that it would be an overwhelming project. I was anxious – could I sort it all out? make the appropriate dispositions? be a good steward? Did I have sufficient physical stamina and energy to complete the job without sacrificing a month of my life on the altar of their stuff?
I whispered a prayer for God’s direction and strength. Then I got what seemed like a truckload of boxes, packing paper and tape,I put on my work clothes, and made a start. As soon as I got into the rhythm of deciding, disposing, and discarding, I realized my worry and anxiety were unfounded. Rather quickly my mantra became “the job is finite”. And at the end of seven days - notwithstanding the bruises, bumps, and scrapes - it was all done.
And I know with certainty that God was beside me every step of the way suggesting who to call and where to take things. God provided the resources and manpower (I used my trusty two-wheel cart to get the boxes to the garage, but it definitely took manpower to do the heavy lifting) to ensure that the treasures, gear, and equipment - the material things of my parents’ life - will be put to some use by someone, somewhere.
When we grieve most of us easily succumb to anxiety which, at its essence, is chronic worry. Sometimes anxiety becomes a lifestyle – we worry about everything large and small, sometimes to the point of agonizing. After the death of one we love, anxiety may cause us unaccustomed distress or unexpected panic. This is because we’re temporarily unable to cope with the unknown outcomes and long-term possibilities which are now part of the daily fare of our life.
Anxiety is all about uncertainty - it’s usually an expression of our fear of the unknown. One of the ongoing struggles of grief is relearning how to trust in life. This means releasing our grip on fear and trusting in God, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7 NIV).
When a parent dies their children - especially young ones - are anxious about who’s in charge and who will be there to love them and provide for their needs. When a child dies parents are anxious about their other children – those they have whom they now hold even closer, and those for whom they yet hope. When a beloved husband or wife dies, the surviving spouse is anxious about the infrastructure of daily life - who will support them, who will care for them, who will be there for companionship, love, and friendship.
One of God's most powerful commands acknowledges our anxiety, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV). God gives us specific instructions for dealing with our anxiety: we’re to pray about everything in every situation – God cares about the details of our lives – and we’re to be thankful for all God is doing that’s unknown and unseen to us. And when we do, we’ll have peace, the kind of indescribable peace that’s beyond anything we can understand or explain on this side of heaven.
And with this peace God guards not just our hearts, but also our minds, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT). The gift of God’s unsurpassable peace of mind and heart and soul comforts and sustains us in our grief for the one we love.
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Philippians 4:6-7 MSG
Keep me this day, O God, in the trust of your peace. Amen.