“Just breathe,” I whispered, gently rubbing my daughter’s back and wiping her tears. “You’re going to get through this.”
If you’ve ever sat with someone having a panic attack, you understand how helpless it feels. Silently, I pleaded with God to give her peace in the middle of this storm. And the peace came… eventually.
But what if I was praying for the wrong thing? What if the opposite of anxiety isn’t peace? What if, instead, it’s courage?
I can’t help but think of Queen Esther. As she sat with the news that the entire nation of Israel would soon be executed by order of her husband, the king, surely her mind was racing. Not only that, approaching the king uninvited was likely to get her killed. Yet what other option did she have? To say she felt anxious is an understatement!
In that moment, her father-figure, Mordecai, spoke into her fear. “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14, NIV)
That doesn’t exactly sound like a “peaceful” response to me! Esther was facing a legitimate crisis, so Mordecai didn’t downplay her feelings. I mean, who wouldn’t be anxious and afraid in a moment like that?
Yet, instead of encouraging her to not be anxious, he urged her to be courageous. To take the risk. To be brave even though she was afraid.
Shifting Our Focus
When our children feel anxious, our instinct is to point them to verses like Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, through prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
However, sometimes reading verses about peace in the midst of anxiety only heightens our feelings of anxiousness. We become what we focus on, right? So if our thoughts are constantly on what we’re anxious about and why we don’t feel the peace God promises, it is easy to get stuck in a cycle of spiraling thoughts.
But what if the answer is actually found when we keep reading this passage?
In verse eight, Paul instructs us to focus on whatever is:
- excellent & praiseworthy
In verse nine, he tells us to think on such things and then put them into practice. Paul doesn’t say to pursue peace, but that the God of peace will be with us as we do these hard things. Perhaps peace is simply a byproduct of courage!
Just as Mordecai’s advice helped Esther focus on the right and noble thing to do in her situation, we can help our kids choose faith over fear by instilling them with courage and redirecting their focus.
7 Tips to Help Teens Choose Faith Over Fear
1. Choose to guard your mind (Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 10:5)
The world lies to our children about their identity, and since the beginning of time Satan has tried to distort the way we think about God. What we put into our mind eventually comes out in our actions, and what we think about shapes what we become. Paul constantly reminded believers of the power the Holy Spirit gives us to fix our minds on Christ and fight lies with His Truth.
2. Choose which voice you listen to (John 10:10, 27; 1 Kings 19:11-13)
Today’s teens live in a noisy world with thousands of voices constantly clamoring for their attention. Teaching our teens to listen for the Lord’s quiet whisper will help them step back from swirling storms that lead to anxiety towards the stillness of the Holy Spirit in their soul.
3. Choose to be grateful (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Colossians 3:17)
Numerous scientific studies have revealed that the part of our brain that processes fear and anxiety is the same part of our brain that processes gratitude, making it impossible for the two emotions to exist at the same time. While someone having a panic attack cannot be expected to be grateful in that moment, creating a habit of choosing thankfulness actually rewires the brain and causes an overall decrease in the brain’s tendency toward anxiety. Our Creator is amazing!
4. Choose to let God shape your perspective (Isaiah 55:8-9, Colossians 3:2)
Anxiety causes us to zoom in and hyper-focus on a specific situation, problem, or feeling. But learning to step back and seek God’s perspective, as Mordecai did with Esther, often reframes our situation and provides the courage we need to move forward.
5. Choose to learn from failure (Psalm 40:2-3, 2 Corinthians 4:7-10, 16-18)
One of the biggest causes of anxiety for teens is the fear of failure. We can change that by helping them learn to expect failure as normal and view it as a stepping stone to progress.
6. Choose to permit God to build your character (Hebrews 6:12, 1 Peter 1:13-16, 2 Peter 1:5-8)
Because we love our kids, we often try to make life easier for them. Unfortunately, this conveys the message that life (and God) should make them happy, and when it doesn’t, they begin to blame God. Once our teens are able to view things from God’s perspective and understand that it’s okay to fail, they can begin to pursue holiness over happiness, and will be on their way to allowing God to build their character.
7. Choose to allow God to grow your faith (Romans 5:3-5, Hebrews 5:13-6:1, Colossians 2:6-7)
Facing difficult situations and coming out stronger on the other side builds courage and resilience in our teens. These experiences teach them that God can be trusted and ultimately help them mature in their faith.
Peter tells us that the enemy is on the prowl, “looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Friend, don’t wait until the next time your teen is overwhelmed with anxiety. Start implementing some of these tips now so that your teen will have the courage to choose faith over fear, resulting in the peace that is found only through Jesus.