Maybe you deal with anxiety by going into control mode. If I asked you to tell me specifically what causes you anxiety, what isn’t working in your life, what would you say? Chances are many of you wouldn’t point to circumstances or mention a situation; rather, you’d tell me the name of a person. It’s not that you can’t control a situation; it’s that you can’t control a person.

You think your way would be working if that person would only do what he’s supposed to do, if only she would feel the way you want her to feel, if only they would change the way they should have changed a long time ago. Maybe it’s a friend with whom you shared some secrets. You trusted her enough to say some things to her that you’ve never said to anybody. And then one day, she starts hanging out with some other friends and stops replying to your texts and commenting on posts—for the most part she has ghosted you. Now you see the things your friend is doing with other friends, and it makes you feel anxious because you want to be included and you’re not. You want to be in control, but what can you do?

Or maybe your anxiety has to do with a significant other in your life—a person you want to feel a certain way about you, to have feelings about you that they don’t have. You want them to feel attracted to you, but their response is outside of your control. The more you try to control them, the more they push you away. The more they push you away, the more anxious you feel. The more anxious you feel, the more you try to control them. The more you try to control them, the more they push you away. The more they push you away, the more anxious you feel. The cycle of anxiety is off and running. And now you’re just full of “what if” questions. What if he never says it? What if she never feels that way? What if there’s someone else? There’s so much in life we can’t control.

Parents live out this dynamic continually. When it comes to our kids, we think, If I can just control their decisions and their feelings and their choices and their entertainment and their friendships, everything will be fine. We see them going down a path, and we think, What if they can’t come back from this experience? What if they can’t turn things around? What if they marry the person they’re dating? What if they never come back home? What if they never leave home? We become anxious as it becomes clear that we can’t control them.

But when we find ourselves in a position where we can’t control what happens next, remember this: it’s an invitation to a closer connection.

In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul reveals some of the anxiety he’s feeling. He lists some things he’s going through that are beyond his control—situations in which he knows his way isn’t going to work: “We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die” (2 Corinthians 1:8–9 NLT). But then he gives us the answer to the question of why he and his companions faced such adversity: “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (1:9). The anxiety he was dealing with gave him the opportunity to connect with the presence and power of God in a way he had never experienced.

Moses also testified to this result. While he resisted God’s mission initially out of fear and anxiety, he learned that his connection with God was ultimately the only thing that mattered. Fast-forward to what must have been one of the most anxious moments of Moses’s life. Moses has led the people out of Egypt and is heading toward the promised land. They seem to be making good progress, but then they reach a place where the way they’ve been going stops working. They come to the Red Sea and are no longer able to move forward. With Pharaoh’s armies closing in behind them, there’s nowhere left to turn.

The people Moses is leading begin to panic and blame him. So Moses stands in front of the people and says, “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14). If he is feeling anxious, he doesn’t show it. His confidence is in his connection with God.

When your way isn’t working and you’re facing an uncertain future, a situation you can’t control, be still and let God fight for you.

Kyle Idleman, When Your Way Isn’t Working: Finding Purpose and Contentment through Deep Connection with Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2023), 67–70.

We have just released a 12-week study on the topic: When Your Way Isn’t Working by Kyle Idleman. You can get it on Amazon. It is also available as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking.