Never been anxious? Please share your secret with humanity.
Anxiety is a part of life for most people. At some level, we’ve all probably felt anxious about something: finding love, affording life, a future without our loved ones, deadlines, change—the list goes on, endlessly!
Anxiety is a complex issue that affects people in different forms and with different levels of severity. It can look like anything from a sense of foreboding about a specific event, to avoidance of a particular type of situation, to even a general negative restlessness that doesn’t seem to be about anything at all.
Anxiety and fear are different but related. Fear is our response to a real and immediate threat; anxiety is our response to a distant or imagined threat. Fear tends to be intense but brief; anxiety tends to be subtler but can last for much longer periods of time.
The American Psychological Association’s definition of “anxiety” notes that one can struggle with feelings of anxiety or one can actually be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. About 18% of U.S. adults suffer from the latter, according to Anxiety and Depression Association of America. That’s almost 1/5th of the adult population!
But whether you’re battling the feelings or the disorder, anxiety becomes a real problem when it gets in the way of being able to function in life or makes you lose sight of hope for the future.
We are physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual people. Anxiety can have physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual components. God never intended us to be plagued with anxiety, and he gives us access to medicine, counselors, support groups, and good friends to help us overcome anxiety or lessen its effects on us. The help you get from doctors, counselors, and friends is part of God’s calling to them. Especially if your anxiety is severe, don’t wait to ask for help in any of these places!
But it is the place of this article to discuss what Christianity can add to the conversation that culture and the field of psychology are already having. God loves you dearly, and he wants your health, even your mental/emotional health, to flow first from a good relationship with him. As Christians understand it, that relationship is one of the most important things you were made for.
We won’t pretend to know what combination of factors is causing your anxiety, or the anxiety of someone you love. We simply encourage you to consider whether some of these factors might be part of the picture.
We were made to trust.
One of the bedrocks of a Christian worldview is that we were made to live in a close, trusting relationship with the Lord of the universe. In many ways, trust is the opposite of anxiety. We were meant to trust God with our entire lives and our very selves—to live like he has total, loving control of our existence (which we believe he does, whether we live like it or not). This is meant to be good news to us—think of a child sleeping in the arms of a loving, caring father or mother.
But trust can be hard. It only takes a few short years on this earth for most people to get burned on some level for daring to trust—whether by your childhood friends, or your high school lovers, or your parents who let you down…or maybe you even used to trust God and got burned for that. The older we get, the more we see that life isn’t fair and how are we supposed to trust that everything is going to be okay?
The truth is, everything is not going to be okay. Good things will happen to you. Bad things will happen to you. There’s no way to predict when or in what proportions. God doesn’t promise that—especially by our definitions—we’re going to have a “good life.” But he does promise to be our rock. To be present through it all. To wrap us in his love through it all. In fact, he tells us “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). He offers us a love that doesn’t necessarily send away the things we fear, but is capable of making the things we fear look insignificant compared to his love.
God doesn’t ask us to trust him against the evidence. Trust simply doesn’t work like that. Trust isn’t something you choose, so much as it is the state of being convinced—in this case, being convinced that God is reliable, and keeps his word, and loves you, and is taking care of you. Even if he doesn’t express those things by giving you the life circumstances you prefer at the moment, or by taking away your pain.
So the answer isn’t “just trust him,” because that’s hard not only if you’ve been burned by trusting, but especially if you don’t really know the God you were made to trust. The answer is to give him an audience. Give him a chance. Check out some of the things he has to say. Find out for yourself if what he says is compelling, or if he’s someone you could find trustworthy.
Will giving God a chance fix your anxiety? Again, probably not by itself, and probably not completely. But if trust in God is missing in your life, that may be a factor in your anxiety, and you might miss a chance to get better if you don’t look into it.
Guilt has one solution.
There are many reasons we might feel guilty, and it’s possible for guilt to cause or to be tied up with anxiety. You know you have a conscience—we believe God gave everyone a conscience to make his good design for our day-to-day behavior abundantly clear to us, and difficult to ignore.
If you do something wrong that hurts someone else, you know an apology to them is usually warranted (hard as that may be). Christianity says that because God made us, we offend God more than anyone else when we do something wrong. We need his forgiveness most.
The good news is that when we admit our guilt and apologize to God, he delights to forgive us fully and freely because he loves us. Our guilt is truly gone because he has the ultimate authority to do something about our guilt, and he did—not by ignoring it, but by sending his own son Jesus to pay the price for it.
This doesn’t eliminate the need to apologize to others, but confessing sins to God and receiving his forgiveness deals with a root, soul problem that can’t be fixed any other way. You can confess directly to God, but if you have a hard time feeling forgiven, you can confess to a pastor also; they are happy to help you see that God’s forgiveness applies to you too!
This doesn’t deny that an overactive conscience is a real thing—counselors and/or pastors can help affirm your legitimate guilt and correct your misplaced guilt.
Perhaps guilt has nothing to do with your anxiety, but in case it does, dealing with it properly is crucial to dealing with your anxiety.
If I go to God with my anxiety, what can I expect?
Lots of compassion.
You won’t find more compassion anywhere than in Jesus. The writer of the book of Hebrews in the Bible says about him, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). A perfect God came to an imperfect earth to experience our humanity and all its ins and outs. And on top of that, he paid the punishment for every offense against God that every human has ever committed, or will ever commit. This same Jesus is highly aware of the struggle that anxiety can be for us. You should really hear it from him:
- “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
- “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29).
We weren’t made for anxiety, and he knows it’s hard, and he knows we’re weak. He wants us to find rest from anxiety in a relationship with him—again, not that being a Christian instantly cures anxiety. But being connected to Jesus can genuinely help.
God makes us lavish, incredible promises. Part of a Christian life is that over time, you come to see that God’s promises are some of the most true and certain things in a world that’s always changing (Joshua 23:14, Hebrews 13:8). You question and wrestle with those promises when they aren’t immediately evident, yes. But if you’re patient, they tend to make themselves evident to you.
Here are some of God’s promises for people who face anxiety:
- “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7)
- “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
- “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).
- See also: Matthew 6:25-34.
Restoration—even if it doesn’t look exactly how you want it to.
As Christians, we believe God can heal and restore anything. We believe he doesn’t like the brokenness we live in and didn’t want that for us. We also know from experience that he doesn’t always give us healing and restoration when and where we want them. This can be hard and confusing. Paul from the New Testament had some perspective on this—take a look at 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
There are all sorts of reasons God might not heal us immediately, and usually we can’t pin down his reasons in any one situation. Attempts to do so can be patronizing. But God’s presence, pardon, and power are freely offered to us always, whether we’re happy or in pain. He may lead you out of your anxiety. Or his restoration might look like centering you in his love without removing your anxiety—like the eye in the middle of a storm.
What should I do with all this?
- Much of this article discusses potential spiritual dimensions of anxiety. Understand these in balance with anxiety’s mental, emotional, and physical sides.
- Use all the resources available to you to address your anxiety. Counseling. Medication, if needed. Groups. Family. Friends. Faith. Pastors. Exercise. Balanced diet.
- Christians believe Jesus will restore everything perfectly at the end of time. The end of your anxiety is coming, even if it’s not on your timeline.
- God can lead you out of your anxiety. Ask him!
- Even if he doesn’t (yet), he loves you. He wants to walk with you through your anxiety. Hearing his words and promises in the Bible, and plugging into a Christian community, are great ways to start that journey.