Many Christians have their “go-to” Bible verses. When my anxiety started last July, I went straight to mine and held on for dear life: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6.
I prayed this verse and tried with all of my might to feel differently- to trust God, surrender to his direction, and stop depending on myself. But, my feelings weren’t changing. I felt more and more desperate as it seemed to me that my prayers were going unanswered.
In the second week of this state, I eagerly anticipated a School Board meeting on a weekday evening. One of the board members was our Deaconess, a woman who I respect and admire immensely. She’s wise, loving, and faithful. Her counsel means so much to me. After our meeting, I asked if she had a moment to talk. After our fellow board members departed, I burst into tears and started explaining what I was going through.
Deaconess listened patiently, quietly, and with a look of concern on her face. I cannot recall everything I said (I was kind of a mess), but there were a couple exchanges I’ll always remember.
I explained that I had convinced myself that I could stay happy all the time and was now trying to reframe my understanding of happiness. I asked her how she felt about happiness. Deaconess replied, “Something happens that makes me happy, but I don’t think of happiness as a state I try to stay in.” She went on to explain that joy, peace, and hope are always present through Christ. That’s where she dwells, not in happiness or striving to feel good. This was a revelation to me.
When I told her how manically I’d been praying the Proverbs verse and desperately trying to trust, she responded, “But don’t make it law.” She was referring to one of Luther’s revolutionary writings – the distinction between Law and Gospel in the Bible. God’s law is what humanity must fulfill whereas Gospel is what Christ has accomplished for us (therefore fulfilling the Law). Her point was clear, this verse is pure Gospel. God is inviting us to trust him, surrender to his will, acknowledge his presence, and allow him to direct our paths. It’s not a directive. It’s not “Thou shalt trust in the Lord…” All of my striving to trust was precisely opposed to the spirit of this verse. This single idea, “… don’t make it law” made the most significant impact on my growth and awakening to a life of surrender.
Towards the end of our talk, Deaconess lovingly told me that through this process, “God is deepening your peace.” At the time, I couldn’t fully embrace this idea. But, in hindsight I understand the wisdom of this observation. Through this period of suffering, God did increase my dependence on him and therefore grew and deepened my peace, (hope and joy, too!).
Several weeks later, as I was finishing my first reading of The Happiness Trap I prayed about finding a way to connect the lessons this book had taught me with my understanding of God’s plan. From my journal that day: “I prayed aloud and asked God to help me reconcile my desire to bring Him all my worries and anxieties with these psychological practices of defusion and expansion. I felt like a linkage was missing for me and I wanted it to feel like an integrated process.”
The answer came to my mind instantly, the verse that had been in my heart and mind from the beginning – Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6) is about surrender and acceptance of God’s superior will. Acceptance is one of the main lessons of ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). Through trusting in God, I could fully accept whatever thoughts or feelings came my way.
I had the “answer” all the time. The process of growth has been about my ability to accept that there really isn’t anything more I need to do. In other words, I needed to see Christ’s work in my life as Gospel instead of Law. He’s doing all the work and I’m the grateful recipient. I cannot control my life or improve what he has already perfected.