Is anxiety a mental or emotional state we simply can’t escape? According to an article at the Christianity Todaywebsite, it is indeed:
“Through no choice of our own, we live in a state of anxiety that is largely disconnected from the reality of our otherwise normal circumstances.”
Reinforcing the view that we are helpless victims of anxiety is the label assigned it by the National Institute of Mental Health, which calls it GAD, or “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” The PubMed website offers this prognosis: “The goal of treatment is to help you function well during day-to-day life. A combination of medicine and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) works best.” In Christ, however, we are offered so much more than the ability to merely “function well during day-to-day life.” Sadly, those outside of Christ know nothing of this. Even sadder is when Christians miss it and then richochet from one self-help book or method to the next.
The author of the Christianity Today article recalls her earlier struggle with anxiety:
“On my best days I thought of it as a pesky trial, something that God allowed me to experience; on my worst, I thought it was the absence of God due to my total lack of faith.”
Her view is not uncommon among Christians, and it will certainly typify those who don’t quite get what it means to be “in Christ.” Christians who feel helpless about anxiety probably know that Scripture says we have no reason to be anxious, but they cannot apprehend how that’s true. Yet the way the author describes her worst-day experiences—“I thought it was the absence of God due to my total lack of faith”—provides a clue as to why so many can’t apprehend it. The truth is, we will never find freedom from anxiety through mustering up enough faith. Faith is a gift, and it comes to us from, in, and only through Christ. Faith in Christ is faith from Christ. And once we are in him, God is never absent from us again.
Because that is true, Paul is able to write: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil 4:6) Along with most Christian anxiety sufferers, the CT author had heard that before:
“Many a well-meaning Christian had trotted out Philippians 4:6 when I confessed my struggle. . . . The underlying message here seemed clear to me: Pray more. Give thanks more. Don’t focus on your anxiety.”
But that’s not the underlying message. Paul’s message is just the opposite: “Christ has given more and done more, and God is in control.”
The CT author expresses frustration with Justin Taylor’s recent blog post, “Eight Reasons Why My Anxiety Is Pointless and Foolish.” In response to this post she writes:
“This kind of treatment (a list of reasons with Bible verses posted beneath each one) only ends up alienating those of us who have seriously struggle[d] with it. Telling Christians that our anxiety is pointless and foolish and pointing to a list of verses as evidence doesn’t serve to create community; rather, it perpetuates fear: fear that there is something wrong with me, fear of being seen (and rejected) for who I really am, fear that I will never trust God enough.”
She finds the blog post condemning because she isn’t looking far enough. Looking to herself or to community won’t free her—or any of us. If our focus remains horizontal—on ourselves or on other people—rather than vertical, we will always miss the freedom from anxiety that is most definitely God’s will for all his children. It is not his will that we spend our energies seeking out and trying to master mere coping mechanisms. Looking to Christ is the way out—and resting in him will progressively free us more and more.
For all of us who struggle with discouragement over our anxiety, here’s our promised freedom, and if we are in Christ, it’s ours already. We just have to stop looking at ourselves, our methods, and our self-made models and start looking here:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph. 1:3-14)