The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that one in eight children suffer from anxiety disorders. And those are just the children who are diagnosed. Many more suffer quietly, trapped in a world filled with worry and fueled by fear. One of the best things you can do for your child who worries is to help him uncover the biblical antidote to worry.
Unlike some of the other things that we struggle with in this life, the Bible actually has a lot to say about worry and fear. God in His wisdom knew this would be a struggle that many of His children would face. The key to unlocking the shackles of worry lies in a very familiar passage on the subject: Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” You probably even know this passage by heart. The problem is that when something becomes that familiar, we can miss the truth that was right in front of us all along.
The Solution to Worry
Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin was a popular, feel-good song of the 80’s. It may sound a bit like the passage above, but this song is not biblical. Mr. McFerrin’s solution to worry is to “be happy.” Just like that. Stop worrying and be happy. Piece of cake, right? Hardly. Good thing God is full of grace and mercy and that, unlike pop culture, His word is alive and helpful for teaching. Let’s see what God wants to teach us about worry from His word.
First of all, God does not expect us to never experience anxiety. If that were the case, He would not have included so many passages on the subject in His word. We can assume then that the beginning of Philippians 4:6 is much more than a platitude of “don’t worry.” I think it is much more helpful for us (and for our kids) if we think of it more in the terms of “don’t wallow in your worry.”
The word “but” in this Bible verse is the doorway to the solution to our anxiety. We are instructed to not remain trapped in our worries; we are supposed to do something else instead. What else are we supposed to do? Three things are listed in the passage:
- Pray. At its very basic level, prayer is simply a conversation with God. We are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). It is as if you are having an on-going dialogue in your head with God. With regard to worry, God wants us to talk openly with Him about our worries and our fears, as they happen.
- Give thanks. The second component of our solution to worry is to give thanks. It is very difficult to continue to wallow in a state of worry and angst if you are mindful of all the things for which you can be thankful. Making a mental or physical list is a great way to make the thanks come alive. Turning every worry into a chance to praise Him is another great alternative.
- Present your requests to God. Finally, we can solve our worry problems by asking God for help. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7) Asking God for help shows several things: we are submissive to a greater Person, we are dependent on Him for help and our heart is soft and receptive to His will.
Applying these Truths with Your Child
As stated above, children are not insulated from struggles with worry. If you have an anxious child, consider the following steps.
- Tell your child that he is not alone. Use scripture to show him how often God references worry. He wouldn’t do that if your child were the only one who worried. (This site has a list of verses that address the subject of worry that you can use to “prove” this point.)
- Have your child look up and then copy Philippians 4:6. Then ask him to underline all of the verbs in the passage. What verbs does he see? What actions can he do instead of worrying?
- Brainstorm together. Come up with some ways that he can implement the three solutions (prayer, thanksgiving and request). Here are some suggested activities:
- Create a tiny phone receiver out of oven-bake clay. Bake until hard. Have your child keep it in his pocket as a reminder that God is always available and willing to listen.
- Create a “thankful tree.” Cut a small branch from a tree. Cut out blank leaves from card stock and add a hole with a hole punch. Every time your child faces a worry, have him write one thing he is thankful for on a leaf and hang it on the tree with some butchers twine.
- Create a prayer journal. As your child struggles with worry, help him write down specific prayer requests that will help him address his specific worries (ex: help me to remember to sing a Christian song as I wait for the bus). Then look for ways that God will answer those prayers.
For many children (and adults) worry is a life-long struggle; a battle between flesh and spirit. Helping your children to develop godly coping skills early on will give them the resources they need to win their war on worry.
If you happen to struggle in this area, I highly recommend you check out www.overcomepanic.com. It is a great and godly resource for Christians who struggle with worry.
Photo credit: anitapatterson from morguefile.com