It is not uncommon to become anxious on one’s spiritual journey. St. Francis de Sales pointed out that anxiety is the soul’s greatest enemy; it is a source from which other temptations arise.
Sadness can be caused by external evils such as poverty and sickness or by internal evils such as ignorance, dryness, and temptation. If a person seeks to be delivered from sadness out of love of God, he will do so with patience, gentleness, humility, and calmness.
However, if a person seeks deliverance out of self-love, he will be eager and restless, and will act as if everything depended more on him than on God. If deliverance does not come speedily, he becomes impatient and disturbed, and a justifiable sadness turns into unreasonable anxiety.
Dangers of anxiety
If the heart is anxious within itself, St. Francis pointed out, “it loses the power to preserve those virtues which are already acquired, and also the means of resisting the temptations of Satan, who does not fail to fish in such troubled water.”
“Anxiety arises from an unregulated desire to be delivered from any pressing evil, or to obtain some hoped-for good. Nevertheless, nothing tends so greatly to aggravate evil or hinder good as over-eagerness and anxiety.”
“Whenever you urgently desire to be delivered from any evil, or to attain some good thing, strive above all else to keep a calm, restful spirit; steady your judgment and will, and then go quietly and gently after your object, taking all fitting means to attain thereto.”
‘In my hands’
“My soul is continually in my hands” (Ps 118:109). St. Francis recommended frequent self-examination to determine whether the soul is under control, or if it has been snatched away by some passion or anxiety, or has strayed in the pursuit of some ill-regulated emotion of love, hate, envy, lust, fear, vexation, or joy.
If our heart is not under control, we should gently lead it back into the presence of God; steadying our affections and desires under the guidance of God and in obedience to the holy will of God.
St. Francis wrote, “Do not allow any wishes to disturb your mind under the pretext of their being trifling and unimportant; for if they gain the day, greater and weightier matters will find your heart more accessible to disturbance.
“When you are conscious that you are growing anxious, commend yourself to God, and resolve steadfastly not to take any steps whatever to obtain the result you desire, until your disturbed state of mind is altogether quieted; unless indeed it should be necessary to do something without delay, in which case you must restrain the rush of inclination; moderating it, as far as possible, so as to act rather from reason than impulse.”
The enemy of the soul seeks to make sinners take delight in sin but experience sadness in good deeds. St. James wrote, “Is any among you sad? Let him pray” (Jas 5:13).
St. Francis commented’ “Prayer is a sovereign remedy: it lifts the mind to God, Who is our only joy and consolation. But when you pray, let your words and affections, whether interior or exterior, all tend to love and trust in God.”
“Vigorously resist all tendencies to melancholy, and although all you do may seem to be done coldly, wearily, and indifferently, do not give in.
“The enemy strives to make us languid in doing good by depression, but when he sees that we do not cease our efforts to work, and that those efforts become all the more earnest by reason of their being made in resistance to him, he leaves off troubling us.”