Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 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.
When I was younger, I was scared of flying. Part of the reason, I think, is because I had a rough experience on one of my first flights. During the ascent, the plane struggled to climb into the air. Everything was shaking. It felt like we were falling, but then the plane would catch itself and jolt higher into the air. A few seconds or minutes later, it would do that again. And then again. Even though I was only fourteen and brand new to this, it was pretty obvious it wasn’t good or normal. It was terrifying.
We made it to cruising altitude. But then, a few hours into the flight, the pilot came on the P.A. system to announce that we were making an emergency landing due to technical issues. That’s it. No other explanation was offered. And again, I was terrified.
Here’s another essential part of the story. The emergency landing was in Moscow. In Russia. In the middle of the night. The plane made it to the runway safely. After all, it never wanted to be in the air in the first place. That much was clear. We sat on the plane for seven hours before being allowed in the airport. Armed guards carrying Kalashnikovs escorted the passengers as we made to the terminal. After a lovely ten-hour visit inside the airport, we boarded another plane and flew on to London, our original destination.
It was years before I was able to fly without deep anxiety. Every sound, every change in the wings’ mechanics caused another spike in my heart rate. I prayed and prayed for God’s protection and peace. People I knew, with nothing but good intentions, would tell me things like, “Airplane travel is so much safer than riding in a car.” And my internal response would yell, “Great, that’s just great, but I’m still a nervous wreck.”
I’m thankful that this anxiety never became debilitating. It never stopped me from traveling. I’ve been overseas more than a dozen times since that first, epic trip. But I have experienced anxiety in many more areas of my life, in work, school, and relationships. I know what it feels like to wake up in the morning with an inexplicable nervousness, that horrible knot in my gut and chest. It’s physiological and emotional. And still, I continue to seek out God’s help. I pray for His peace, His comfort.
As for flying, I rarely experience any anxiety now. I could get on a plane tomorrow and be fine, more than fine, actually. I love to fly. It’s always been about the destination for me, but now, I thoroughly enjoy the whole experience (even the airports). Here’s the thing, though. There was never a moment when the anxiety disappeared in any dramatic way. It was more of a gradual decrease over time. From this, I’ve gained an understanding of how God often works. What is God teaching me as I look to Him to answer my prayer?
I’ve learned that the antidote for anxiety is gratitude. Paul tells the Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” This has been a great surprise. For so long, I thought the remedy to my anxiety was knowledge. If I could just understand how airplanes work, if I just knew enough about their mechanics or the safety statistics, I could think my way out of being nervous. It turns out that anxiety doesn’t respond very well to the facts or the truth. However – and this is strange – anxiety loses its grip when I focus on my gratitude. When I’m able to express my thanksgiving to God, anxiety loses its power.
It doesn’t make much sense, but Paul continues with this. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Did you catch that? The peace of God transcends all understanding.
Gratitude over anxiety is a lesson I have been relearning over the last few weeks. There were three or four days last week when I couldn’t sleep. I was a mess. As the news grew more dire and ominous, the anxiety crept in and took hold. And like I’ve done many times, I prayed, “God, give me peace. Calm my fears.” And like with flying, my anxiety didn’t disappear in a sudden, miraculous way. There are still points in each day when it creeps back in. But overall, I’ve been reminded of the truth that God offers to us.
I’m thankful for all God has given me. I’m thankful for His goodness and His grace. I’m thankful for my family, my friends, and the community He has given. And in that, I find peace.
In these days of uncertainty and fear,
Give us that peace that transcends all understanding.
Give us grateful hearts and minds.
Help us to be mindful of all you have given us.
We thank you for your goodness and your grace.
Be with us. Be our peace. Be our calm.
Jeremy Neckers is the Administrative Pastor at Commonway. Originally from southwestern New York, Jeremy moved to Muncie in the early 90s with his parents and sister. After graduating from Delta High School, he earned a degree in chemistry and biology from Ball State in 2002. While Jeremy has been a part of Commonway since its inception, he spent a number of years as a middle school math & science teacher before joining the staff. He and his wife, Maggie, live in Muncie with their two daughters.
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