This may seem like a strange way to overcome anxiety, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s true: Serve! Give your life away. If you do, you will find your life when you lose your life in something greater than yourself.
Jesus said so. During a debate among his disciples regarding which one was the greatest, Jesus stopped them and told them that their thinking was amiss. They were thinking like the world, which believes that greatness is found in how many people follow and serve you. To the contrary, Jesus taught that the greatest is the one who serves people for their success, not uses people for his own success. He concluded this teaching with these words: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give us life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
In an eerily similar experience, as the disciples debated which one was the greatest, Jesus took a towel and a basin and washed each one’s feet. Including Judas, the one who would eventually betray him (John 13:1-13).
Why is serving others a powerful antidote for reducing anxiety?
First, it allows you to see other people’s problems. Your own difficulties will often shrink when placed before others’ strenuous situations. You become more thankful for all the blessings that you have. Complaining is reduced. Praise increases. And your heart is lifted in joy.
Next, it takes the focus off you. Anxiety increases when your mind is fixed on yourself. You become obsessed with all that is wrong and not working for you. Joy increases when you serve others. Someone once said that joy means: J-Jesus is first. O-others are next. Y-You are last.
One of my wife’s favorite verses is Isaiah 58:10: “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.” I even had this verse engraved on a bracelet I once gave her. Its meaning is quite clear: Go serve the hungry and afflicted, then your own despair will be lifted like the sun entering darkness. Your own gloom will become like the noonday sun.
In the early church, when the plagues hit Roman cities, many Roman citizens fled. But many Christians stayed to care for the sick. Astoundingly, most of them didn’t die. When the citizens returned and saw how the Christians had cared for others, they wanted to know about this Jesus. It was fuel to the dramatic spread of the Christian faith.
The coronavirus is real. We need to be careful. But we can’t quarantine ourselves from caring. During this crisis, find someone to serve, someone who needs your loving care.
When you do, you just may find that your own anxiety is lifted to joy - a joy you’ve never experienced before.