How Chester A. Arthur Helped Me with Persistent Anxiety

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Chester A. Arthur is helping me with my persistent anxiety.

Arthur, the 21st president of the United States and described by some historians as the most forgotten of our Presidents, is known mostly as the man who become President after the assassination of James A. Garfield. Like most presidents, he did some good things and he made some colossal mistakes.

Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

The son of an abolitionist preacher in pre-Civil War America, there is little evidence of active faith in Arthur’s own life. However, one “religious” act for which Arthur is known is his selection of Psalm 31:1-3 as the passage upon which his hand would rest as he took the Presidential Oath of Office. The verses speak of the humility expected of a leader before God:

“In You, O Lord, I put my trust; Let me never be ashamed; Deliver me in Your righteousness. Bow down Your ear to me, Deliver me speedily; Be my rock of refuge, A fortress of defense to save me. For You are my rock and my fortress; Therefore, for Your name’s sake, Lead me and guide me.”

The passage expresses humility in the face of immense challenges. There is scant evidence Arthur put these words into practice, but his choice of this passage challenged me to consider the psalmists words.

Presidents are clothed with immense power - words Congressman James Alley claimed Abraham Lincoln said to him during the fight for the 13th Amendment that banned slavery. The psalmist reminds us that political power, no matter how immense, shrinks before Divine guidance.

That is how Chester Arthur is helping with my anxiety. When I read his choice for this inaugural oath, it struck me how a man about to take on great power would be wise to remember the need for God’s guidance to steward his own influence over human affairs.

Those of us who battle anxiety are involved in a power struggle with ourselves. Anxiety drives us to gain control over our world. Anxiety warns us that bad things are impending. In response, we seek ways to manipulate circumstances to avoid those unpleasant outcomes … or we retreat deep within ourselves, frightened by the negative circumstances but feeling powerless to do anything about it. Both responses reveal an underlying belief is that life is out of control.

Humility can be a balm for anxious people. For some, it can even be an antidote. As we grasp the truth that even the struggles of life are inexplicably in the hands of a good, kind, loving Sovereign God, we can relax our grip on the desire to control all the variables.

The challenge is that anxiety-prone people often have an almost inherent struggle to trust God. Sometimes, it seems His track record is not so good. Sometimes, the things we fear most do happen. We seize control because we can’t trust the variables to anyone else – including Him.

In those moments, when God does not make sense, that’s when we must cling even more tightly to the notion that God is indeed good and kind and loving. Admittedly, trust goes against every instinct of the person for whom control feels essential. It’s one thing to know the promises of God. It is indeed another to believe in His character.

That kind of trust, that says whatever you send, I’ll accept it, is not blind faith. It is exactly the opposite. (NOTE: that statement is from Kurt’s message on 10/21/18) Blind faith means we trust in something without evidence. The Scriptures define faith as being built upon the facts – of God’s character and His promises.

The Bible is clear; God is reliable, good, and kind. His ways of goodness and kindness are sometimes different from the way we would define it, but that is our failing, not His.

God is worthy of our trust. Nothing that happens in our life is outside the scope of His love. The more I live into that, the more my anxieties melt away.


Matt Howell is the CCO’s Director of Information Systems. Matt brings his excellent skills in research, process implementation, software management, and technical training to assist all areas of the CCO with data management.

Most recently, Matt served the CCO as Director of Training for First- and Second-Year Staff.

“The CCO’s bold mission to change the world by helping college students recognize the reality of Jesus Christ in their lives inspires me,” Matt says. “I worked in higher education for 18 years before I joined the CCO in 2009. The college years are a crucial developmental period in the life of a student. I’m excited and humbled by the opportunity to play a role in the spiritual development of college students.”