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Searching for Peace in an Anxious World
The phone was ringing. I tried to blink sleep out of my eyes and focus on the clock next to my bed: midnight. I picked up the receiver.
The woman on the other end of the line was hysterical. Through tears, she told me that she was a single mother living in California with her three young children. She was having a panic attack. Over and over she told me, "I can't copeI can't deal with all this!"
This young mom is not alone.
Most of us are struggling to cope with "all this." We are members of an increasingly stressed-out society. According to one researcher, one-third of the U.S. population experienced a panic attack in the last year. More than 19 million Americans suffer from debilitating anxiety disorders. Harvard Business Review has reported that stress-related symptoms account for 60 to 90 percent of medical office visits. Our pharmacies can barely keep Maalox and Prozac in stock.
What is happening? Why do so many of us live in a continual state of fear and anxiety?
We each have our own set of reasons: Health problems. Marital difficulties. Parenting battles. Financial struggles. An amoral culture. Technological advances that accelerate the pace of life into a dizzying spin. Violence on our roads and in our schools. And most recently, threats of terrorist attacks in a variety of forms. Today, even the formerly mundane task of opening a letter can be a life-threatening event! I know of at least one mother who wouldn't let her daughter open Christmas cards for fear of anthrax exposure.
At the same time, some of us are contending with fears that stem from our past. I still remember the pain and anxi-ety I endured as a little girl, watching helplessly as my father's addiction to alcohol grew steadily worse. I didn't understand his erratic and sometimes volatile behavior, and I became ashamed of him and of our run-down home. There was not a single blade of grass in our front or backyard. Paint was peeling off the outside of the house and some of the rooms inside. I was too embarrassed to invite a friend over to spend the night. Millions of other children have experienced these same distressing circumstances.
Studies reveal that one-fourth of children in the world today live in an unstable or dangerous environment. When a boy or girl grows up in a home characterized by violence, physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, or any unhealthy behavior or attitude, he or she typically feels ashamed, humiliated, and insecure. I know firsthand that these feelings are not easily erased in adulthood.
Not everyone, of course, is struggling with troubles past and present. Yet even those who are "coping" often find it hard to relax today. After all, a crisis could be right around the corner. It seems to be one of the rules of livingjust when we think we have our little world buttoned down, we encounter what a friend of mine calls a "suddenly."
A Frightening Night
My husband, Dr. James Dobson, and I experienced a shocking "suddenly" on June 16, 1998. We had put in a twelve-hour day at Focus on the Family and the National Day of Prayer. I was too exhausted to cook, so Jim offered to fix me a hamburger.
We were in the kitchen. Jim was assembling the burger and I was going through the day's mail. Suddenly I heard the burger hit the floor. I glanced up and saw Jim slowly trying to locate the meat with his foot. I said, "Jim, what are you doing?" He didn't answer. I repeated the question, and again he didn't answer.
I looked into Jim's unfocused eyes and realized that he was unable to speak. Then he reached out, put his arms around me, and held me tight.
Panic-stricken, I ran to the phone and dialed 911. Within minutes the paramedics were rushing Jim to the hospital. He had experienced a major stroke. That began the most frightening night of my life, as he underwent two CAT scans and other diagnostic tests. The neurologist then told me about a recently developed medication called tPA that could be very helpful. The downside was that death occurs in about 6 percent of patients who receive it. I had to make the decision whether or not to administer the drug. What a terrifying moment that was!
Knowing that Jim would rather take the chance on wholeness, I decided to authorize the medication. Six other people had to sign the release, which absolved the neurologist and the hospital of liability. The tPA was administered just forty minutes before the end of the three-hour period beyond which it becomes ineffective. Still, Jim couldn't speak, and his right side was partially paralyzed.
I faced the prospect of losing my beloved husband of nearly four decades, or, if he survived, of helping Jim through years of speech therapy, physical rehabilitation, and medical care. As I drove home from the hospital at 5 a.m., I began praying. I was experiencing one of the greatest challenges to my faith in my entire life. I wondered why the Lord would take away the abilities to write, speak, and create from this gifted man who ministered every day to millions around the world. As Jim had written in one of his books a few years earlier, there are times in our lives when God doesn't appear to make sense. This was certainly one of them for me.
Little did I know that He was about to perform a wonderful miracle for Jim. When the news of Jim's stroke was announced on Focus on the Family's radio program and millions of people around the world began to pray for him, God clearly heard and answered their (and our) petitions. Later that morning, Jim began to say a few words, and by 4 p.m. that day he was essentially over the stroke. He talked in sentences and his strength returned. He suffered no disability, and today, four years later, he is more creative and effective than ever.
Tragedy does not always end this miraculously, even for those who have served the Lord faithfully for many years. God is sovereign, and He does what is best in His eyes. Yet even when the worst occurs from a human perspective, "God works for the good of those who love him" (Romans 8:28). Prayer is never unanswered. Sometimes the response is yes, sometimes it is no, and sometimes it is wait. But our heavenly Father is there even in the most troubling of circumstances.
You may have encountered a crisis of your own recently; you may even be in the midst of one right now. When these "suddenlys" strike, they are unnerving reminders of the fragility of our existence.
We all want peaceful lives and contented hearts. Yet with threats to our tranquility growing at a seemingly exponential rate, is it any wonder that many of us succumb to worry and fear? More important, is there a solution? Can we know certain peace in these uncertain times?
The answer, of course, is yes.
Our Refuge and Strength
Though some might christen the twenty-first century the Age of Anxiety, our current troubles are not new. Mankind's future has always been uncertain. Since the days of Noah and his family, Moses and the nation of Israel, the persecuted early church, the Pilgrims, and America's founding fathers, the answer for people facing adversity has always been the same: Almighty God.
Simply put, there is no security apart from Him. When problems threaten to engulf us, we must do what believers have always doneturn to the Lord for encouragement and solace. As Psalm 46:1 states, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble."
Because of our pride, or affluence, or independence, or a thousand other reasons, many of us act as if we can get along just fine without the Lord. For years we've put up a sign that says to God, "KEEP OUT! Keep out of our government. Keep out of our communities, businesses, and entertainment. Keep out of our schools. Keep out of our families. Keep out of our lives!"
And God is gracious. He doesn't force His way into places where we have not invited Him. He politely leaves us alone, taking His shield of protection and peace with Him. The psalmist informs us that "the shields of the earth belong to God" (Psalm 47:9, nkjv). When those shields are removed, we face the fury of life's storms on our own.
Yet God does not abandon us. He keeps His promise: "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5). Even during the storms, He stands just to the side, ever watchful, waiting to embrace us the moment we again seek His presence. His words to Jeremiah apply to us all: "Call to me and I will answer you" (Jeremiah 33:3).
Even better, our Father reveals how we are to call upon Him. We can speak directly to heaven through a remarkable gift called prayer.
The Lifeline of Prayer
I learned to depend on the Lord early in my childhood. During those turbulent years, my mother held our little family together. Though she wasn't a Christian at the time, she knew that she needed all the help she could get as she raised her children. So she sent my brother and me to church every Sunday, and it was there that I was introduced to Jesus Christ and invited Him into my heart.
As I learned how to pray and began speaking to the Lord, I sensed His love and care for me. Amid the chaos of our disintegrating family, this little girl found hope and comfort in Jesus. I've been praying and relying on Him ever since.
The many answers to prayer in my life have reinforced my belief in its power and importance. Prayer is our pathway not only to divine protection, but also to a personal, intimate relationship with God. That's why I am so honored to be in my eleventh year as chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. I count it a privilege to play a small part in calling people of faith to their knees.
Jesus demonstrated the significance of this intimacy with God to His disciples. He "often withdrew to lonely places and prayed" (Luke 5:16). He "went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God" (Luke 6:12). He even told the disciples the parable about justice for the persistent widow "to show them that they should always pray and not give up" (Luke 18:1).
I have often wondered why the Bible places such a heavy emphasis on prayer, especially since Jesus reminded us during the Sermon on the Mount that "your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matthew 6:8). When I mentioned this to my husband, his response was both simple and profound: "Well, God desires a relationship with each one of us, and there is no relationship in eavesdropping!"
Indeed, the Lord desires a personal, two-way conversation with meand with you. You are His child. He wants you to seek Him, to love Him, and to spend time daily with Him. When you do, He hears and responds. Jesus said: "When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" (Matthew 6:6).
If Christians would follow through on this truth, we would change our lives and the course of history. After all, just as prayer is important for us as individuals, it is also important to entire nations. One of my favorite Scripture verses is 2 Chronicles 7:14: "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
As I reflect on this verse, I am encouraged. Prayer groups are springing up throughout America. Our nation's leaders are openly asking for prayerful support from the public. As a matter of fact, for the first time in more than a century, members of both houses of Congress met recently in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol for a time of prayer and reconciliation. In the midst of our tumultuous times, God may be preparing hearts for a new openness to seeking Him through the lifeline of prayer.
How about you? Are you ready to renew or increase your own commitment to prayer? Do you want contentment in your heart and peace in your world? If your answer is yesor even maybeI encourage you to keep reading. I will introduce you to the National Day of Prayer's four-step approach to effective communication with God. It's simple, practical, and biblical. We call it P.R.A.Y.Praise, Repent, Ask, and Yield.
The apostle Paul urged that "requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior" (1 Timothy 2:13). Let's please God by actively seeking, through prayer, "peaceful and quiet lives"for ourselves, our spouses, our children and grandchildren, our friends, and our nation.
Are you ready to know certain peace in uncertain times? Good. It's time to P.R.A.Y.