Knowing God has a plan for my good can be of great comfort especially for people, like me, who suffer from crippling anxiety. Social media has been a godsend in many ways including renewed and new friendships as well as remarkable opportunities to evangelize. However, it also comes with a greater opportunity to discover the many troubles, illness, and tragedies people face.
Over the years, I have been blessed to accrue many “Facebook Friends” and have found unique ways to use those connections to share my Catholic faith. A few years ago, I was inspired to reach out on Facebook for prayer intentions to bring with me to Eucharistic Adoration. Every week I still receive over 100 requests for prayer. This has become one of the most humbling and inspiring social media activities; however, it comes with one major difficulty.
Just Step Away from WebMD
The trigger for my anxiety comes in worrying that all the illnesses or tragedies people ask me to pray for will eventually befall me or my family. For me to remain fully present to others (as I wish to) and to keep from going into full-blown panic mode, I will often repeat to myself, “Not your cross, Allison.” This is a powerful reminder that not everything is all about me. If there was a sin associated with anxiety, it would be the tendency to become incredibly self-centered as I encounter the world.
Additionally, my anxiety manifests itself as hypochondria which causes me to become even more self-absorbed as every ache, pain, or spot leads me to hours searching on WebMD. I have literally self-diagnosed myself with every form of cancer possible over the last few years. Gratefully, they have all the result of far less menacing causes.
Comfort in the Word of God
One of the Scriptures I turn to in those moments of paralyzing anxiety is Jeremiah 29:11:
For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
After many years as a lukewarm Catholic, I was invited to study the Bible. That simple invitation became the impetus for a powerful resurgence of faith in my life. Jeremiah 29:11 was one of the first scriptures introduced in our reading and quickly became one of the first I memorized. One day I felt a prompting to read more discovering Jeremiah 29:12-14:
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
How could I have gone so long without knowing the rest of God’s incredible message in Jeremiah 29? The instructions to call upon him and seek him with whole heart, and the promise that comes with following them, are indeed something that induces great peace! This Scripture gave my worrying heart direction, as I have long ago learned, just worrying changes the outcome of nothing. Most importantly, worrying also does absolutely nothing to end the act of worrying.
Bargaining with God
There are times of great anxiety in my life when I will repeat and ponder Jeremiah 29:11. I truly want to believe there are indeed plans for my good and not for my woe, but it is a struggle. My deep, all-encompassing, paralyzing, plaguing question has always been: will God allow good things in this life or will I have to wait for a chance at them in Heaven? While it should be comforting to realize that regardless of how my life on earth unfolds that the ultimate plan for my good is to be with God forever in heaven; sometimes I am still very fearful.
In my fear, I find myself begging God to allow my life to be void of all suffering, illness, and strife. I want my coffers full, my weight perfect, and my anxieties squelched. If I am honest, I want to give God my whole heart but only if he will promise to do things my way. My love clearly comes with a desire for a pre-nuptial agreement. Although studies show most people would rather die than speak in public, give me the audience any day!
The Most Harrowing Experience of my Life
In the summer of 2013, I was on the beach in Rio de Janeiro with an estimated 400,000 Catholics attending the opening Mass of World Youth Day. My group had tried to get as close to the altar as we could after being erroneously told the area we were settling into was delegated to receive the Eucharist during the Mass. When we arrived hours before the main event, we had ample room; we laughed, drank coconut milk straight from the coconut, and chased cold waves. A soft, warm rain fell upon us for most of the day, but our enthusiasm at being part of this magnificent event barred the discomfort of our drenched, heavy, and chilly clothes from bothering us.
As the Mass began, space became less and less accessible. I was elbowed and stepped on; my good nature of 10 hours ago faded as even maneuvering the crowd to find a restroom became impossible (good thing I had only one coconut that day)! The Mass was beautiful, as all Masses are. The celebrant was not Pope Francis, but Rio Archbishop Orani Joao Tempesta who did a magnificent job kicking off the incredible week of festivities to come. After the Mass, one of the young men in our group noted the easiest way off the beach and avoid the tightly compacted crowd was to head toward the shore. It was in the opposite direction of million or so people funneling toward just a few exits. If we walked along the shore, we could come up off the beach much further down the coast where it was less crowded. Unfortunately, for reasons only our leader knew, the decision was made to disregard this sage advice, and he navigated our conga line of twenty-two people straight through the packed crowd.
The trek was harrowing to say the very least; I had to wrestle people to have room enough to breathe. The woman in front of me fainted. By the grace of God, a young man caught her along with me and helped support her the rest of the way off the beach. I have never been so frightened in my whole life, and spent the entire time in frantic prayer for assistance, calling on our Blessed Mother, my guardian angel, and every saint I could possible think of!! The next day, safely away from the beach but still quite shaken by the experience, I knelt in prayer during the morning Mass, to seek some answers from God. My first and quite earnest question was simply, “Lord, am I going to leave Rio alive?”
God’s Plan is a Reward
The answer quickly and plainly came into my heart: “Death is not a punishment, but a reward.” That was the answer? Really God – that is all you have for me. That isn’t soothing at all because you still aren’t filling me on any details here. I’d even had taken a simple yes or no! Again, the voice in my heart repeated, “Death is not a punishment but a reward.” This time it was accompanied by the thought: “If you say you love me so much, why are you so afraid to meet me?” Then I recalled the words from Jeremiah 29:11: “My plans for you are good, and not for woe.”
I seek God with my mind. I am lost in my desires and expectations. I believe my heart, if I would let it, out of pure love for God, would want what exactly God wills for me. My heart would long to be with God and not fear the possibility of meeting him before I am a very old woman (or longer). As St. Augustine says, my heart was created with a God-size hole in it that will be filled only by my Father in Heaven. Fear can be overwhelming, but St. John reminds us “true love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). My job is to seek God will all my heart, to not let the uncertainty of the unknown overcome me, and to remember death is a reward not a punishment. Death is what I am called to every day in answer to my temptations and penchant for sin. Death is how Jesus overcame sin and death itself. Seek with your whole heart; God has promised he will be found!