Has anyone ever told you to ‘stop stressing’ and ‘not to worry’?
This well-meant advice is probably the last thing an anxious person wants to hear. Simply because nobody WANTS to be stressed and worried, if there were a switch somewhere that we could switch off, we certainly would. Unfortunately, reality is a lot more complicated than that.
We all stress and worry sometimes. Everyone experiences a level of anxiety from time to time, and feeling anxious every now and then is completely normal. However, if left unmanaged, if we are detached from our emotions and keep ignoring their message…. things can progress to a point where we feel so overwhelmed with anxiety that it affects our daily life and show up in different emotional and physical symptoms, including debilitating anxiety or panic attacks.
Mental Health Awareness Week took place in the UK from Monday 15 – Sunday 21 May 2023. The official theme for this year, as set by the Mental Health Foundation, was ‘anxiety’.
We focused on mental health and anxiety at our Sunday service (21st May) in Gilnahirk to mark this occasion. We turned to God’s Word in Genesis 50 for wisdom and encouragement and considered how much God cares about us, including our mental health.
Although no mental health surveys or check-ups were done in the Old Testament times, Joseph was a pretty likely candidate for anxiety and panic attacks, even depression. He had experienced many ups and downs - probably more downs than ups. He got special treatment from his father. He was almost killed but eventually sold into slavery by his brother. He was bullied, exploited, and imprisoned but never defeated.
We cannot be sure how Joseph felt or how he got through his darkest days, months or even years. The Bible doesn’t really go into these details. But there is a sentence that we repeatedly read in these chapters, which ultimately defined Joseph’s story and life journey: 'THE LORD WAS WITH JOSEPH'.
Eventually, Joseph came to the conclusion that God has the power to take the most horrible stories, evil plans, tragedies, accidents, and so on, re-shape them and weave them into the bigger picture of our life story, creating something new and amazing.
In the midst of our unsettled thoughts and feelings, when we feel most unsafe, anxious, or even overwhelmed, God’s word offers us life-changing hope in the promise of his loyal love and powerful presence.
The Biblical antidote to anxiety is JESUS himself – our faithful ally, whose name is Immanuel, God with us! So, remember and hold onto Christ!
Jesus Christ experienced the most horrible form of pain and suffering for our sake. He faced major distress so that we could de-stress and find life-changing rest in him.
Jesus laid down his life to keep us eternally safe from the punishment and death we deserved. He took away the power and edge of the ultimate worst-case scenario of any situation: DEATH. He gifted us his undestroyable and eternal life. Jesus experienced alienation and separation from the Father so that we could be united with him forever.
Jesus died, but he was not defeated. He is alive and victorious, working out his great plans and purposes for his creation, including us. The same God who was with Joseph and carried him through his darkest days, and restored him completely is with us always.
5 PRACTICAL THINGS TO DO TO PROMOTE MENTAL HEALTH:
RECOGNISE – Let's practice recognising and naming our feelings. This can be tricky, especially if we are in the habit of ignoring them and have been detached from them for a long time.
RESPECT – Let’s remember that every feeling is a gift of God given for a purpose. They are temporary messengers, telling us something and helping us to make sense of our life experiences. Don’t just tell yourself: 'Try not to stress' or 'Don't be worrying'. Don’t ignore your feelings, and hope for the best. Acknowledging and validating our different emotions is a crucial step we must take for the sake of our mental health.
REFLECT – When you feel worried or anxious, ask yourself, what is the message here? What events or circumstances make me feel most unsafe and insecure? What kind of things triggers feelings of anxiety in me? What kind of things do I find helpful and efficient in soothing my anxiety? Is it regular quiet time or time spent in nature? Perhaps journaling, daily walks, calming music? There are incredible resources out there, but we must invest our time and energy into finding and practising the activities that work best for us.
REMEMBER – and Preach the Gospel to Yourself.
· That Christ died to make us eternally safe.
· That Christ is with us always, and he has our back!
· That if we trust him with our lives, he will take all the evil and horrible things we encounter and turn them into something beautiful. Jesus can restore and re-shape us just as he promised.
Remember and hang onto Joseph’s words as he talks about how his brothers intended to harm him, but God intended it for good and saved many lives. Remember and hang onto Paul’s words in Romans 8: 31 -32:
"If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?"
RESPOND: Take a few minutes to pause & pray. Let's bring our most honest feelings, worries and anxieties to God and seek rest and relief in him.
Joseph had been through so much, but God was with him in all his many ups and downs. Inspired by his story, let us pause for a moment of silent prayer and reflection. Let’s share with God some difficult and anxiety-filled moments from our past or things we feel worried and anxious about right now. Thank the Lord for his promise to be with us and carry us through our darkest moments with his great power and love.
Let’s pause, reflect and pray…
Towards the end of his life, Joseph came to the conclusion that God knows what he is doing. He is trustworthy and can see the complete picture of our lives. God has a plan to bring life, reconciliation and restoration to his people and the whole creation.
Our loving Heavenly Father,
Joseph’s example calls us too to trust you, your love and your plans for our lives. His words reassure us that you are with us in our ups and downs, and you are relentlessly working to turn our pain and suffering into something good and beautiful, but we must trust you and allow you to be in charge of our lives.
We remember the words of Apostle Paul in Romans 8:28 about how you work for the good of those who love you and have been called according to your purpose.
Would you please open our eyes to see how you were with Joseph and how you are with us every day? Help us to see how you shaped his story and how you shape our stories. Lord, we also seek your help in loving and supporting those around us who might feel overwhelmed with life’s challenges at the moment. We commit to you, our loved ones, and the people closest to us, but also those all around the world who might be struggling with their mental health. We thank you for those who work relentlessly to provide us with health care, and we pray your blessings upon those especially who are providing mental health support to many.
Lord, hear our prayers as we pause one more time for a moment of silent reflection and prayer and lift up to you people and the different situations we are concerned and worried about right now.
Let’s pause, reflect and pray…
Our Father, help us to trust you with all our worries and anxieties and praise you for your wonderful promises. Help us to hang onto the cross and find safety and a calming sense of security in you, through Christ, in whose precious name we pray. Amen.
Join us for the remaining two sermons in this series.
Catch up on previous sermons here: https://www.youtube.com/@gilnahirkpresbyterianchurc9479
Read more about Mental Health Awareness here: https://mentalhealth-uk.org/mental-health-awareness-week/