I’m one of those weird breeds who reads four different books at a time. Anxiety came at me this week in three of them And one of them is fiction. Then my pastor touched on it Sunday. So I’m writing under protest this week. Anxiety is not a topic I wanted to explore. Even my anxiety over writing about anxiety has been off the charts.
But if it’s coming at me hard, maybe it’s coming at you hard. So here goes nothing. Or maybe something.
I’m not talking about feeling anxious sometimes, which can hover before a work deadline or strike when blue and red lights flash in the rearview mirror. These anxious feelings submit quickly to Philippians 4:6. They can be scriptured away.
But full-blown anxiety is a freight train. If you’ve felt it, you know. If you haven’t, be kind.
Anxiety is so closely tethered to fear. In fact, the big hallmarks of anxiety are excessive and sometimes irrational fear or dread. Anxiety speeds up the heart and sits in the gut. Over the long term, it ups the risk for heart disease and depression. One person I know describes the panic around anxiety this way: “There’s no praying it away. There’s no making it stop. I just have to let it run its course.” And this person has loved Jesus longer than I’ve been alive.
Anyone who’s known me for five minutes knows I love the origin of words. The etymology of anxiety is straight mind-blowing. The word reaches back to a Latin root that means to choke or squeeze.
I’m guessing Xanax has mocked a few of you from the medicine chest. Statistically, anxiety affects 40 million adults in the U.S. So, basically, round up the population of America’s six most populated cities – New York, LA, Chicago, Houston, Philly and Phoenix – and you’ll silo the equivalent of half of the nation’s anxiety suffers. Half.
His name is Jesus.
Now. This isn’t a Pollyanna slice of “just get some Jesus” and your behavioral health diagnosis will disappear. That’s irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst. This is an especially fragile reality when addressing past trauma and abuse or unresolved grief. Counselors who can help you pinpoint the fear triggers, repair soul wounds, untangle past patterns, or unhook from toxic people are essential for healing.
This is not a Jesus-plus theology either.
Walking with Jesus is everything and it is enough. But while we walk with the Master, we still have to muster.
Most of us didn’t hop on the hamster wheel of anxiety overnight. It’s not hop on, hop off. Renewing our minds takes time. In the interim, we still have to get out of bed. We have to make it through the real world where real people cause real pain. We have to tame our fears that the cancer will return. We have to stare down a stack of bills bigger than the bank account. As Louis Giglio writes in “Goliath Must Fall,” “We don’t minimize our view of the situation; we maximize our view of the only One we can totally trust.”
So while more trust – not more us – is the byproduct of walking with Jesus, we still have to put the car in drive. We need resources that will help us reckon with our anxiety inducers. By all means let’s take the help.
But let’s not forget the Helper.
Jesus is the name that gets things done. His name breaks down walls. His name quiets fear. His name is power for life and power over death. If Jesus is front and center – the object of our trust and our worship – then, Giglio writes, our giants will stop talking. Or we’ll stop listening.
My hands-down favorite movie scene of all time rolls in “The Chronicles of Narnia” when the Icy White Witch strides into camp strutting condemnation and condescension to make her claim on the life of young Edmund Pevansie. She flashes her upper hand, demanding that the Great Lion Aslan turn the boy over to be killed. She taunts. She flaunts.
And at Aslan’s tooth-baring, calm-shattering, dangerous roar she falls weakly into her makeshift carriage. Oh yeah, that. That’s what darkness does when it hears Jesus say “Enough.”
It’s this same roaring Jesus who brings the decibels down to quietly instruct us, “Do not be afraid.” And I don’t hear a “go-to-your-room” voice or a “how-many-times-do-I-have-to-tell-you-this” exasperation. I hear calm, kind “I’m-right-here” reassurance.
Maybe all the “fear nots” aren’t in the bible because God wanted to be bossy. Maybe He just knew how frequently we’d be afraid.
He knows He’s not going to fall off His throne. He’s not out of His depth. He’s not wringing His hands, wondering how to reign. But He wants to remind us of that, too. So over and over and over again, He does.
I met this morning with my friend and mentor Margaret Mason and asked her, “Why do all the fear-is-the-opposite-of-faith sound bites make me feel a little beaten up? Can it ever be both-and? Can we ever say, “Jesus, I’m so afraid of ______, but I think you’re good enough at math to turn this negative into a positive? Can faith live in my spirit despite the pit lodged in my stomach?”
Wise as she always is, she leaned across the table and said, “Maybe it’s this: If you’re really working the God system, fear can’t keep you trapped.”
And then she dropped the mic and refilled her tea. OK, she didn’t really do that. But she could have.
Maybe instead of notching faith neatly onto an X-axis in disproportionate measure to our fear, the real benchmark is: Is fear trapping us?
Jesus reaches down from His majesty into our misery with the two adjectives He uses to describe Himself in Matthew 11:28-30. He is “gentle” and “humble in heart.” I love how Eugene Peterson renders this passage in “The Message”:
“Are you tired? Worn out? … Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Recover your life.
Find real rest.
Live freely and lightly.
It sounds so Narnian. Yet we don’t have to walk through a wardrobe. We get to walk with Him. Work with Him. Watch how He does it. And that takes time.
In the run-up to the cross this Easter, we can find a Savior who understands whatever anxiety we’re experiencing today. It can be tempting to read crucifixion accounts and think Jesus had the unfair advantage of being God. But that strips Him of His humanity. It renders way too neat and clean the physiological and mental angst of a man in a garden sweating actual drops of blood. Medical experts say this rare phenomenon, called hematohidrosis, is triggered by acute fear and extreme mental stress, which forces the capillaries that feed the sweat glands to rupture.
If there was any way around the wrath He was about to suffer, Jesus was face-down, asking the Father to find it. And that’s when the first drops of blood fell.
You guys. Anxiety isn’t some off-topic taboo. Jesus understands. In every way we need to be understood.
He is a good Author. We can trust Him with our story. He’s smart enough to figure out the plot. It might get ugly before it gets pretty. But, in the end, the Lion roars and the Icy White Witch loses her footing.
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