We are already living in anxious times.

COVID-19 has taken things to an entirely different level.

A friend of mine was shopping at her wholesale club store this week when she witnessed a customer “steal” a pack of bottled water out of the cart of a shopper who had turned to look at another item. Another friend shared that someone had stolen a pack of toilet paper out of her car this week. I suspect many of us are wrestling with a scarcity mindset right now, but come on….these are not normal behaviors.

Clearly anxiety is getting the best of us. In times of uncertainty, we need a way of reminding ourselves about what we truly believe.

If the Coronavirus and the ensuing fears of scarcity have you feeling a bit more anxious these days, I want to share a few simple breath prayers with you that I’ve found to be helpful. Breath prayers have a rich history in the contemplative Christian tradition, dating back hundreds of years. These prayers are intentionally brief, typically corresponding with one’s breathing pattern (thus the name). Over the past few years, breath prayers have become an integral part of my devotional life, a powerful way of praying the Scriptures and reminding me about what I believe.

For most, a breath prayer consists of a simple phrase repeated over and over as a form of prayer. Some will immediately object that Jesus prohibits such prayer in Matthew 6:7, but not all repetitions should be considered vain. Furthermore, the Scriptures are filled with some of the same prayer phrases over and over again. (“Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever,” I’m looking at you.) My prayer life has benefitted greatly from the use of these easily repeatable words of prayer and supplication. And in particular, repeating some of these lines from Scripture gives me strength when I am fearful.
The first breath prayer comes from Psalm 94.

Psalm 94:19, When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

I’ve started praying this when I feel anxious and fearful. I don’t think of myself as a particularly anxious person, but I think everyone experiences what the Psalmist describes, moments when anxiety is truly great “within” us. My anxiety usually manifests itself as irritability. (Just ask my friends and family.) For others, anxiety can lead to insomnia, nausea, lack of concentration, and a host of other things. We must use discretion to seek professional counsel when anxiety becomes chronic. But I’ve found this text to be a tried and true spiritual method for decreasing anxiety when I feel it becoming “great within me.”

When I’m praying this breath prayer, I shorten the line to something like: “In this anxiety, console me with your joy.” (Remember, breath prayers are short and simple, corresponding with our breathing patterns.) I’ll say it several times in a row, maybe as many as a dozen times in a minute if the situation warrants it. As I direct these words heavenward, I can feel my anxiety and fear dissipate slowly. And I feel a sense of God’s peace, which is indeed a joyful reprieve from the throes of unease.

Other times, I simply pray, “Jesus Christ is my peace.” When I feel uneasy or when things seem to be spinning out of control in my life, I come back to this bedrock truth: “Jesus Christ is my peace.” That’s taken directly from the prophet Micah and the apostle Paul. But this prayer helps to remind me that even during times of chaos, I serve the One who commands the winds and the waves. Even the chaotic power of Death could not defeat King Jesus! He is our peace — the One who can calm our fears.

We cannot control the circumstances of our lives. But we can control what we pray. In these times of anxiety, may we seek the consolation of the One who provides joy and peace.