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Bible Reflections View Comments

Stop Anxiety Before It Starts
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, March 2, 2014
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“Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” Jesus puts this question to his listeners and we can almost picture them scowling a bit as though preparing to argue and then realizing the truth of what he’s saying.

We know that worry is more often than not completely pointless. And yet overcoming anxiety seems to be something that many of us struggle with our entire lives.

Infants grapple with separation anxiety, a sudden sense that the person they rely on for their very survival is suddenly no longer attached, not near enough to see, smell and touch. The seemingly vast emptiness around them is terrifying.

When we start school we have to deal with peer pressure and fitting into a social world that doesn’t revolve around us and our needs. Children adapt to this in different ways. In high school and college we’re anxious about tests and grades and having a social life. As young adults, we face concerns about starting a career, a family and all the responsibilities that go with making our way in the world.

As we move through middle age we begin to worry about health and retirement and younger people passing us up and dismissing us in the workplace. Then we retire and we worry that all our friends are dying and our families are too busy to care about us and we become acutely aware that death is just around the corner.

If all these things (and a hundred others) aren’t enough to worry about, many people struggle with free-floating anxiety and dread that grabs hold of them in the middle of the night and they find themselves worrying about something to which they can’t even put a name or face.

Sometimes anxiety becomes so much a part of us that when we’re not feeling worried and anxious, we worry that we’re not worrying. Anxiety can become a habit, and we all know how difficult it can be to break habits. It’s difficult to know what to tell people when they’re caught up in anxiety.

But one of the most effective things— whether for ourselves or others—is to simply stop the worry before it gets started. Whether we use a few words from Scripture or a quick prayer or just a few deep breaths, it can be enough. It may not always work. It might take some time before it becomes a habit.

We might also return to Jesus’s words in the Gospel. So much of what we worry about is in fact the very things he addresses with his first-century audience: food, clothing, shelter. Granted, these are the basic necessities of life. But it’s rare that most of us are truly without these, at least for any length o f time. We might wish they were more elaborate, fancier or tastier. But this isn’t cause for anxiety.

It’s no accident, I think, that Jesus sets the natural world against our material, production-oriented concerns. Study after study has shown that time spent in nature, even something as simple as looking out the window or stepping out the door, can calm our anxious minds and hearts.

The natural world is one of the clearest signs we have that the same God who set the planets—including our own blue marble—in motion continues to watch over us and provide for us. If we can focus on this, most of the things we dread will never happen. God will see to it.


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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog The Church really is my mother, too. She isn’t a vague maternal force for a generic collection of anonymous people. This Mother truly nurtures us—each one of us. And for those of us who are baptized Christians, the Church has actually given birth to us on a spiritual level.

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