Maybe you know this feeling: your heart is facing, your legs are trembling, you find it hard to take a full breath. You try to pray but no words come out, or if they do, they feel insufficient. You need God’s peace, but you’re not sure what words will help you latch onto it.
You might be relieved to know there are no magical prayers for anxiety. There is, however, a way to pray that will bring inner peace. When we model our prayers after those of Jesus, we find ourselves being settled by the One who calms the storm.
If you’re experiencing a season of stress and anxiety (or you’re worried about a loved one who deals with these issues), you may fear that your prayers for anxiety aren’t working. Many of us who worry about doing and saying the right thing need reassurance that Jesus hears us, cares for us, and wants to give us peace in our pain.
I know firsthand how difficult it is to fight through waves of nausea, a pounding heart, and tingling limbs to ask God for calm. When you’re so worked up, you slip into a default mode of fight, flight, or freeze. And it’s understandably hard to remember to go to your Heavenly Father in prayer, let alone feel confident as you pray—especially when you’ve prayed in the past for your anxiety to go away and those prayers seem like they have not been answered.
I remember a not-so-distant time when I googled “prayers to make my anxiety go away.” I was desperately seeking magic words to unlock the peaceful feelings I had once experienced in my life. The problem was the more I fretted over what to pray, the more my anxiety heightened and the further I felt from my Lord Jesus.
What if I told you that it’s not about reciting perfect words or naming the right things that will give you peace in your anxiety? What if I reassured you that details like the name you use to address God or whether you say “Amen” at the end of your prayer don’t actually matter at all?
A prayer isn’t worth more if you say it in church or if you whisper it inside your head. In fact, the most important thing about prayer isn’t the specific words you use at all. Let’s take away your anxiety about prayer so the next time anxious feelings rise, you are prepared to focus on what really matters.
HOW TO PRAY WHEN YOU’RE ANXIOUS
If you’re reading this blog to learn a prayer that is guaranteed to make your anxiety disappear, I’m sorry to disappoint you. The good news is I’m going to give you something better than a magic prayer. I’m going to give you an easy-to-remember method to help you get to the heart of your anxiety, address it, and surrender it into the hands of the only One who can help you let it go.
I first heard this method described as the “Gethsemane Prayer” because it’s based on how Jesus talked to God as He stared down His upcoming crucifixion. Some say this prayer that Jesus spoke all alone is the greatest prayer of all time. I’ve found it offers great insight into how the most Holy ‘human’ to ever walk the earth prayed to God in the most anxious moment anyone has ever faced. Spoiler alert—it’s all about extraordinary honesty and absolute surrender of control.
“And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.’And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will’” (Mark 14:32-36).
What makes praying like Jesus did so special? It forces you to the root of what’s causing your anxiousness in the first place. It’s not a surface-level prayer. It goes straight to the heart. Let’s take a deeper look.
A PRAYER FORMULA FOR THE NEXT TIME ANXIETY STRIKES
Give God Your Feelings + Give God Your Desires + Give God Your Trust
GIVE GOD YOUR FEELINGS
The very first thing Jesus did in the passage above is get brutally honest about how He felt.
“My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (vs 34).
So many times, our anxiety is caused by feelings that have been buried, suppressed, or avoided altogether. Simply verbalizing how you actually feel releases a ton of tension that your body and mind are holding onto. If you struggle with anxiety, you may not have a great deal of practice talking about your feelings—I used to be like that too. You need to know that feelings are not bad, even the ones that don’t feel good at the moment. Every feeling needs to be expressed. Who better to talk to about your feelings than God?
The next time you’re feeling anxious, begin your prayer by telling God how you’re really feeling. Anxiety is just a symptom. There’s always more feelings hiding underneath.
GIVE GOD YOUR DESIRES
Notice how Jesus told God exactly what He wanted to happen.
“Remove this cup from me” (vs 36a).
He was direct. He told the truth. He was absolutely honest. When’s the last time you told God exactly what you wanted to happen? As women, we’re often conditioned to keep our desires inside, prioritizing the needs and wants of our family and friends. That creates internal anxiety which builds over time. God wants you to be fully transparent with Him. It’s okay to tell Him what you want in life. In fact, it’s good! You don’t have to worry about what anyone else thinks when you tell God the desires of your heart. It’s incredibly therapeutic to give yourself a voice. Jesus did.
GIVE GOD YOUR TRUST
The final step of praying this way is by far the most difficult one. At this point, you’ve been honest with God about your true feelings (not just the anxiety, but the underlying feelings as well), you’ve shared with Him your desires about what you truly want to happen, and now it’s time to leave the outcome in His capable hands.
“Yet not what I will, but what you will” (vs 36b).
Most women who deal with anxiety like to be in control. When you feel out of control, your body responds by pumping adrenaline through your veins. The problem is that you actually don’t control very much in your life. I recently heard a pastor say that psychologists estimate that people only have about 15% of the control in their life that they think they do. So, who does have the control? God. Once you get out of your own way, it’s freeing to give the responsibility of results and outcomes to God. With the weight off of your shoulders, and it resting squarely on His, you are free to live your days in radical trust.
Like I said, it’s not easy to give up control, but it gets easier when you finally realize that you never actually had it in the first place.
A REAL LIFE EXAMPLE
As I type these words, I’m sitting on the floor of Miami airport, waiting to get on an airplane to Brazil. The past few days I’ve been an anxious mess wondering if I’ll be able to sleep on the overnight flight, worried about losing my luggage, getting sick while I’m so far from home, and conjuring up every single scenario possible about how my anxiety might strike while I’m away. Yesterday, I broke down in tears as the stress and anxiety started to impact my body and my mood. Thankfully, I had already begun studying and working on this piece and I used Jesus’ example in the Gethsemane prayer. I didn’t write down the words as I prayed, but it sounded something like this:
“Oh gosh, Jesus, I’m so overwhelmed by this trip. I’m excited to travel with my sisters and visit a new country, but so many things could go wrong. I’m afraid that I won’t sleep on the plane and that will trigger a panic attack. I’m worried that I’ll forget something important or be a burden while I’m there if I get sick. I’ve been trying to be upbeat and positive on the outside, but I’ve been hiding this fear on the inside. I feel like a hypocrite.
I want this to be an amazing trip, Jesus. I’ve missed Nora, Tyler, and the girls so much. The fact that we get to go visit them in Rio is such a gift. Please help me sleep on the plane. Please help me prepare by bringing all the things I need and keep me from getting sick. Help us have the trip of a lifetime, Jesus.
I know that I can’t control whether I sleep or not. I can only do what I know how to do. I give this trip to You, Jesus. No matter what happens, help me to remain calm and remember that You’ve got me. I trust You, Jesus. Help me trust You more.
You know what happened after I prayed this way? I felt freer. Lighter. I wasn’t pretending anymore. I had given voice to my feelings and desires, and released them all to God’s control. It helps, my friends. It truly does. You can pray this way anytime, anywhere. It does not have to be fancy or even coherent. Pray this way in the panic. Pray this way in the calm. Teach your children, and practice what you preach.
Prayer is meant to be more than the recitation of a few memorized phrases. It’s meant to be a conversation between you and the One who loves you and understands you better than anyone else. It’s meant to be the main way you express your fears and your dreams. It’s a tool for you to hand over control to the One who has greater plans for you than you could ever hope or imagine.
Three words: Feelings. Desires. Trust.
An antidote to anxiety, disappointment, and fear.
Are there tons of other ways you can pray in the midst of an anxious moment? Of course. But I hope the Gethsemane prayer gives you a new outlook on the amazing gift of being able to talk out your anxiety with God. He hears you. He loves you. He’s with you.
Consider writing out your own version of the Gethsemane prayer, tailored to your own specific situation and needs. How might praying this way help you open up to God more consistently and authentically in the midst of seasons of anxiety?
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