Throughout my Christian journey, there have been several scriptures that I have meditated upon as a way to remind myself of God’s promises. As I was recovering from a year of severe anxiety and depression, I memorized Philippians 4:6-7 while at a retreat that I can say changed the way that I interact with God and His Word. I still remember sitting in silence by a stream, magnificent rocks in the background, when I really read Philippians 4 for the first time. Paul’s words have encouraged me in some of the darkest times in my life, especially his promise that we will experience God’s peace “which exceeds anything we can understand” (v. 7 NLT). What a beautiful reminder of the goodness of God!
Today I was reminded of the next exhortation in Philippians 4, an urgency to change the way that we think. Paul says, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (v. 8 NLT). When I was struggling with anxiety and depression twenty-five years ago, these words helped me to change the way that I was thinking about my circumstances. These words also helped me to refocus my life on things that brought glory to God rather than things that added to my anxiety and depression. Just like Paul’s encouragement in v. 6, “Do not be anxious about anything” (NIV), these words reminded me that I did not have to think about things that discouraged me or depressed me. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, I can think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.
In the midst of a global pandemic and the uncertainty that comes with it, it can be difficult to think about such things. Personally, I have been very distracted by the news related to plans to “reopen” schools this fall because my own school division is still making the decision of what we will do: a hybrid model of virtual and in-person instruction or 100% virtual instruction. I can honestly say that I do not know what is right for my community. Recently, there have been news stories that suggest that the positive cases of COVID-19 may not be as high as they are being represented. It is unclear whether or not we need to be as worried about the spread of this virus as schools resume this school year. Despite these news stories, I also know that the effects of this virus can be incredibly taxing on people who have contracted it whether or not they wind up in the hospital. I do not want to be infected, and I do not want to infect my co-workers, my family, or my community, especially my church members who are at risk of complications of COVID-19 that could result in their hospitalization or death.
I can feel myself slipping. If I don’t take the time to step back and listen to the voice of God, I could easily fall into the downward spiral of depression. I am tired of people saying that teachers just want a break from students. I am tired of people vilifying my co-workers. I am tired of people saying that the decision to teach in-person or to teach virtually is a political decision. I am tired of people saying that teachers are hysterical and that we are giving into fear. And I am angry that I really don’t get to have a voice. I am angry that people want to blame teachers for the problems we have. I am angry that we are sometimes the scapegoat. And more than anything, I am sad that school will not be the same this year no matter how we return to instruction.
So while I am stuck with all of these emotions swirling around in my heart, God is reminding me to trust in Him. A pastor on my district posted this morning, “Beware: your feelings are often not accurate. If unchecked those inaccurate feelings can greatly damage your faith.” I want my faith to be firm and steadfast. I want to reflect Christ’s sacrifice and love in my community. I want to think about things that are true, lovely, admirable, and pure. I want to be guided by the Holy Spirit so that I can be faithful, so that I can be loving, so that I can forgive, and so that I can continue to represent Christ in my family, in my community, and in all of my relationships with others.
Today choose to seek God’s way for your life. If like me, you are feeling overwhelmed by the news, the false information, the confusion, remember to stop and to seek God’s truth. Remember to follow Paul’s advice to fix your thoughts on things that are “true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse” (Philippians 4:8 MSG). Take your thoughts captive today and make them obedient to Christ, the One who is true, the One who is right, the One who is honorable, the One who is beautiful.