I couldn’t sleep easily when I was younger. Instead of getting rest, I would stay up and think of all the things I had done wrong in life, repenting of new and old sins alike. In that way, I had a religion similar to that of an early Martin Luther, who was so addicted to confessing his sins that his fellow monks became annoyed—especially because so many of his confessions were trivial. On top of this problem, if I had anything coming up that I was nervous about, I’d get hung up on thinking about it, imagining all the different ways that it could go badly. Nighttime paralyzed me with guilt and anxiety. Satan (which means, “accuser,” by the way), would throw his accusations at me and I’d just sit in them for hours—that is, until I finally found a way out.
The solution I found isn’t going to sound very holy—in fact, it may not even sound healthy—but the trick for me was to fall asleep to cartoons. Futurama, the Simpsons, SpongeBob, and the Fairly Odd Parents soon became my best friends. I learned that I couldn’t stop the thoughts from being tossed at me at night, but I could put up a wall of humor against them. In due time, I managed to escape from their hold by refocusing my attention elsewhere. With enough practice, I could eventually fall asleep before the opening theme song ended.
Telling anxious people to not be anxious isn’t overly helpful. In many ways, it’s like telling a drug addict to stop being addicted to drugs. What you have to do instead is find tactics to overcome anxiety. Since most of my nightly thoughts weren’t worth my time and took me to bad places, I personally fought back by ignoring them. (Though we have to be careful in doing this, as many of the thoughts of our inner life are important to sort through. We need to be discerning about what thoughts are worth our time and what ones are just fuel for a fire that doesn’t need to be lit. We are not looking to repress anything.)
Over the years, shutting down anxious thoughts has taught me Jesus’ lesson quite well: being anxious doesn’t make anything better. Indeed, it often makes us defensive, depressed, and worse off. Spiritual warfare primarily happens in the mind and what we reflect on there paves our path for the day. Jesus calls us to not get caught up in the anxious thoughts that can make us miserable, but to renew our minds to a different kind of thinking: “God knows what we need and will care for us. Anxiety won’t make life better and adds nothing to our day. It’s better if we put our faith in God.”
*This devotional was created out of the themes of Matthew 6:19-24 found in today’s reading at CommonPrayer.net. The reference to Martin Luther can be found in chapter 2 of the audiobook, Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings.Below are the various AI-created pictures I typed into existence via Mid Journey to mock up artwork for today’s post.