We Get to Choose Our Anxieties

by Fr. Justin Huang
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

1 Corinthians 7:32-35

Mark 1:21-28

Believe it or not, we choose some of our anxieties. That’s because some are based on our world view. When we’re in high school and university, for example, we experience great anxiety to get good grades, but this is based on the world view that our identity is based on our performance. We should aim for excellence and do our best, but God doesn’t demand only A’s. If we believed and lived this truth, we’d have less anxiety.

Remember the four levels of happiness? 70% of people default to levels one and two as their dominant levels of happiness. Level one is about immediate gratification. When we’re young, we focus on games and fun, and when they’re taken away, we experience boredom. This isn’t anxiety, but it’s a suffering some young adults experience for a longer time because they haven’t chosen a more mature worldview.

Many of us subconsciously focus on level two happiness: achievement and success. That means we unconsciously play the comparison game: Who’s better, has a bigger house, better car, who makes more money? When we lose or fail, there’s massive anxiety. The point is that we’re choosing this.

For years, I chose much of my anxiety. I would take responsibility for those of you who are struggling, so, if you weren’t doing well spiritually, I’d be overwhelmed.

God offers us the freedom to choose our world view, and therefore some of our anxieties. St. Paul writes about different kinds of freedom and anxieties for married and unmarried people. He begins, “Brothers and sisters, I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided” (1 Cor 7:32-34).

‘Free from anxieties’ means free from unnecessary anxieties and anxieties of the world. Some anxieties are natural, as when Jesus, in His human nature, feared death—we can’t ever be completely free of these. But, if a father loses his job, it’s right to be concerned for his family—anxiety here comes from responsibility. However, the devil will add an unnecessary worldly anxiety that says, “I’m helpless. What do I do? People look down on me.” Do you see how in this anxiety there’s no reference to God here? St. Paul wants us to be free of this.

Another example: Should parents be anxious about the faith of their children? They should be concerned, but not anxious. In other words, they should care, but without stress. This is possible, though hard!

St. Paul says that some people, when they choose not to get married in order to dedicate themselves to God, have fewer worldly anxieties but are anxious about pleasing God. ‘Anxious about the affairs of the Lord’ means focus, not nervousness and fear.

He compares this to a ‘married man’ who ‘is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife.’ All of us here know that marriage is a path to holiness, and we’ll get to this in a minute! But, in practice, it’s often harder for married couples to become saints because they haven’t had good role models of holy couples, they’re not surrounded by other couples trying to be saints, and sometimes, husband and wife themselves disagree about focusing on God. So, St. Paul is saying that people who choose not to get married for the sake of God are freer to focus on Him. Now what about the bachelor who chooses not to get married because he can’t settle down? He’s chosen to be free to focus on himself. Everyone has a chance to become a saint, but some people choose to put themselves in objectively better situations by, for example, surrounding themselves with dedicated people.

So, if a couple decides, “I think we should focus on the affairs of God, and stop trying to compete with the Jones,” they become freer. If they live out this world view, they’ll have more calm, gratitude and fewer arguments.

This is Dr. Jérôme Lejeune, who died in 1994. He was married with five children. He’s famous for discovering the genetic cause of Down’s Syndrome. Yet, once his work allowed for pre-natal diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome, he objected to its use for abortion. “After receiving the Allan prize [for genetics], Lejeune gave a talk to his colleagues which concluded by explicitly questioning the morality of abortion, an unpopular viewpoint in the profession. In a letter to his wife, Lejeune wrote, ‘Today, I lost my Nobel prize in Medicine’” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jérôme_Lejeune). In the U.S. 90% of babies with Down’s Syndrome are aborted, while in France it’s 96%, and Iceland it’s 99%. Lejeune opposed this, saying, “I am not fighting people. I am fighting false ideas” (https://catholicinsight.com/without-fear-the-pro-life-witness-of-dr-jerome-lejeune/). Two Thursdays ago, he was recognized by the Church as being heroic in virtue, is now Venerable, and God willing, will become a saint. Pray to him!

Lejeune used his profession and influence to save lives! You have the choice to do the same!

St. Paul then repeats the point about who’s free: “And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit” (7:34).

Virgins are freer to focus on God. Philosophically speaking, what does it mean to be free? Am I freer than my married friends (https://thejustmeasure.ca/2019/06/30/commitment-gives-freedom/)? The answer is: Free to do what? I gave up freedom to get married so that I could be free to spend more time with God, to love all of you!

Do you remember The Sound of Music? Remember when Maria is about to get married, and all the nuns are stuck behind the grill? But they’re not trapped. The reason convents have grills is not to keep nuns inside, but to keep the world out! They chose that life and are trying to protect something good.

Young adults are freer than previous generations: They don’t have the same moral restrictions, they’re free to choose any career they like. But they’re also the most anxious generation. They’re so free they’re lost. Without moral guidelines and purpose, they’re not free to choose the best things. Freedom does not mean the ability to do anything you want! It’s the ability to choose a better life. And to have a better life, you need to make commitments. By committing to God, to serving others, to good friendships, to settling down, you’re free to have that better life!

Does having kids give freedom? I’ve met a few women who, while they love their children, have a little resentment towards them, because their children took away their freedom to live life the way they wanted to. But they’re not seeing the freedom God is offering. Remember the story of Jennifer and her call to have a big family (https://thejustmeasure.ca/2021/01/01/begin-again-by-going-to-the-heart/)? She found peace when she gained the freedom to see 25 years into the future when her children would visit home for Thanksgiving; to see 50 years into the future when they would visit her in the hospital.

When St. Paul says that virgins may be ‘holy in body and spirit,’ he’s not saying that married couples cannot be, because he already taught that all of our bodies are temples of the Lord (1 Cor 6:19). Married couples here are also free!

St. Paul says finally, “I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord” (1 Cor 7:35). What do we want to be free to do? We should try to eliminate negative freedoms and strengthen positive ones.

I once saw Dr. Phil explain that, after seeing his alcoholic father, he made a choice to never drink, and that gave him freedom never to be drunk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxeEsC0TRW4 Start at 30:44). The only true way to take away anxieties about grades, success, and comparison is to make God the centre of your life. It starts with a decision, but then is lived out, and slowly we experience more peace.

If you’re not yet married, think about whether God’s calling you to serve Him alone as a priest or sister. There is much freedom here!

And, in three weeks, we have 40 Days for Life, which gives us the freedom to live out our love for God, to protect preborn babies, and to live with courage.

One of our sisters, Kim Lobo, was once struck with fear about doing 40 Days for Life outside of B.C. Women’s Hospital, because she’s a nurse at Children’s Hospital. Two years ago, during Mass, when we were inviting people to come, she was convicted and terrified. “I remember thinking and praying about it and telling my husband: ‘We should really do this.’ The more I prayed about it, the more I came to a conclusion that if I am scared, that is not the right reason to not do it. Actually, that is more of a reason to do it.” So she and Julio signed up. And after participating, she said, “What I love about [40 Days for Life] is it’s not intrusive, it’s not aggressive. It’s quite peaceful. Oftentimes the fear holds us back. We’re scared of the judgment. But for myself, when I feel that fear, I’m doubting the Holy Spirit. I’m doubting that he can come and deliver. That is the crux of it all. I am not allowing him to take my hand and say: ‘I will protect you. I will hold you through this’” (https://bccatholic.ca/news/catholic-van/pro-life-nurse-witnesses-outside-her-own-hospital). This is a change in her world view: The Holy Spirit really comes and protects us. So she has less anxieties of the world, and is more free to love God and others.

Source: The JustMeasure - We Get to Choose Our Anxieties (https://thejustmeasure.ca/2021/01/31/we-get-to-choose-our-anxieties/)