The freedom of trust: Combatting anxiety & exhaustion through childlike faith

At that time Jesus said in reply, "I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike..."
-- Matthew 11:25

Recently I was chatting with a friend about the pros and cons of renting vs. buying a place to live. Both of us currently rent apartments, and we agreed that although noisy neighbors and lack of space can be major drawbacks, we are huge fans of on-site maintenance. As I explained to my friend, some people love spending their weekends on home renovation projects and relish the ability to customize their living space, but I am perfectly happy hanging some artwork on my unchangeable beige walls and calling it a day. While some people love digging in the dirt and cultivating a gorgeous garden or lush lawn, I’ve stuck to fake plants ever since the Great Basil Fiasco of 2017 revealed that my thumb is anything but green. And although some people have no problem fixing a broken pipe or troubleshooting an appliance malfunction, I’m the actual reason that lightbulb jokes exist. So at least for now, the renter’s life is the life for me.

The conversation then shifted to our childhoods and how we always knew that our parents would be able to take care of anything that went wrong around the house. Even if they couldn’t perform the work themselves, they always seemed to know where to go, who to call, what questions to ask, and what tools to have on hand. Whether it was a random leak or an unwelcome critter, I never feared a single mishap, because I knew Mom and Dad had everything under control. And to be honest, this attitude extended beyond maintenance and repairs; as a child, I never doubted my parents’ ability to handle anything.

Of course, now that I’m an adult, I can look back and smile at my naïveté. I realize that nobody knows what to do in every situation. Most of us are faking it until we make it, and by the time we make it, there are new challenges to fake our way through. But through my younger eyes, my parents were invincible. And although I was certainly an anxious child in many ways, I never doubted their ability to take care of me and to make everything okay. And until more recently, I didn’t realize how incredibly freeing this was. No matter what events transpired throughout the day, no matter how stressed I was about my teachers or schoolwork or not fitting in with my peers, I could sleep peacefully at night knowing that my life was ultimately in good hands.

Last week, as I was praying with the above passage from Matthew 11, I was reminded that Christ invites us to this same freedom, regardless of age or maturity level, in our relationship with God the Father. It’s good to study theology and strive to comprehend the complexities of our faith, but in our quest to become “wise and learned,” it’s easy to forget the beautiful simplicity to which we are called: that of a parent-child relationship. And while it’s important not to mistake childlike for childish, too often “growing up” involves adopting the belief that we’re our own bottom line and striving for total self-sufficiency as a result. And take it from your friendly neighborhood anxiety sufferer here — this is a terrible way to live. This is a recipe for sleepless nights and miserable days spent trying not to crumble under the weight of the world.

I was first introduced to this idea of childlike trust in God about a year ago, when I started diving deeper into the life and works of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. At first, Thérèse’s central message — that the path to holiness can be as simple as embracing our smallness and abandoning ourselves completely to the love of God the Father — seems almost too good to be true. That is, until I actually tried living it out and realized that it might be simple, but it sure ain’t easy. Her “little way” often feels like one giant trust fall, where you wonder, up until the very last second, if there’s really someone back there who will catch you. But Thérèse was greatly encouraged by the words of Isaiah 66:12-13, and we can be, too: “You shall nurse, carried in her arms, cradled upon her knees; as a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” The Lord isn’t just going to catch us; He’s going to hold us, rock us, and comfort us like a parent doting over a newborn.

I’ve come a long way in cultivating a relationship with God that looks more like this rocking chair scenario and less like the parent-in-line-at-Target-with-a-cranky-and-overstimulated-toddler-who-insists-on-doing-everything-herself situation. But as with everything in the spiritual life, it’s an ongoing process. So just when I felt like I was doing pretty well with trusting God to take care of my career, my health, my vocation, my loved ones, etc. — BOOM. Cue global pandemic, with a dash of unemployment for good measure.

These past few weeks have been especially trying — perhaps more so than the initial shutdowns, if I’m being honest. We’re beginning to see the disastrous effects of re-opening the country too early, a one-two punch of cases spiking and public vigilance plummeting. It’s hard not to become consumed by fear of the unknown (or anger at those who aren’t taking precautions and are putting the rest of us at risk). It all feels like a nightmare, a dystopia, and on a personal note, definitely not a great time to be job searching and preparing to move to one of the biggest COVID-19 hotspots in the country (#bestlaidplans). It’s an exhausting predicament with no clear end date in sight.

But once again, Matthew 11 reminds me that whenever I’m exhausted, it’s most likely because I’m carrying burdens that aren’t mine to bear. (Or that I stayed up too late binge-watching Netflix, but as far as I know, Jesus doesn’t address this issue directly.) The Lord doesn’t want me to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders — that’s His job. He doesn’t need me to know how things are going to turn out ten weeks, ten days, or even ten minutes from now — He already knows. He’s not asking me to be everyone’s personal savior — He already took care of that, too. Instead, He invites me into the freedom and respite of radical trust: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

What if, even in the midst of a global pandemic, I actually lived from this truth? What if I really just did my best, wore my mask, and left the future up to Him? What if I returned to that childlike sense of wonder and security, knowing that in my Father’s house, He’ll fix all the leaks, change all the lightbulbs, and kill all the spiders (or novel coronaviruses) for me?

Part of me hesitated to even publish this post, for fear of sounding like one I’m advocating for a laissez-faire attitude toward real problems. I can assure you, this is most definitely not my aim. Sure, Jesus said, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden light,” (Matthew 11:30), but this still implies that we’re wearing a yoke, and a yoke is an implement of labor. We still need to do the work. But we don’t need to do it alone or in a panicked frenzy, and we don’t need to bear the yoke of the entire world. We can simply do our best with what we have, and know that even when we do lapse into cranky-toddler-at-Target mode, we still have a Father who can’t wait to rock us to sleep.


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