Many years ago, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. I have carried that label for a while, but long before that my label was simply “Christian.” The interplay of these labels has been more than instructive; it has been life-changing (and will continue to be). I am writing this article (and the ones that follow) for my brothers and sisters in Christ who either (1) find themselves in a similar place or (2) long to understand and support someone who does.
The Shackles of Anxiety
First, let me state the obvious: everyone deals with anxiety to some degree. That is why Scripture is full of exhortations to those who are afraid. But an anxiety disorder is on a different level. I understand an anxiety disorder as
a severe and crippling battle with thoughts and feelings that threaten your execution of the most basic tasks: going to the grocery store, driving to work, visiting a friend. One of the major differences between someone who struggles with anxiety and someone who has an anxiety disorder is that the latter is prevented from or has significant difficulty performing rudimentary tasks in daily life.
An anxiety disorder, in other words, tightens shackles around your mind, body, and soul. These shackles are so heavy and so constricting that you cannot live what everyone else thinks of as a “normal” life. Minor decisions morph into major ordeals; fleeting sensations spiral into sources of turmoil; life’s ripples run at you as waves. The world is a threatening place. You don’t live life so much as survive it.
In the purest sense of the word, an anxiety disorder is isolating. Your thoughts run away with you; your body follows suit, and your soul is left starved and solitary. You feel alone and hopeless.
And if you’re a Christian, all of this is compounded by guilt. You have been saved by Christ (Rom. 8:38-39), set apart from before the foundations of the world (Eph. 1:4), and sheltered from the wrecking ball of death (1 Cor. 15:55). Why are you anxious? What is wrong with you?
How do you respond?
How you answer that question makes a world of difference, and the responses we have are seldom simple. They are complex, involving attempted solutions from many directions: medication, counseling, lifestyle changes – the list goes on. But here is my follow-up question: Does your response factor God’s purposes into the equation? If your answer is “no” or “not really,” I understand. We live in a world that constantly tells us that the only help we can really receive is physical. “Sure, ‘God’ helps with anxiety: he gives us doctors and medicines.” The spiritual power and purposes of anxiety are largely left ignored. The world assumes that anxiety is not primarily something to be learned from; it is something to eliminate. That is why so many self-help books talk about “overcoming” and “defeating” your anxiety or “conquering” your panic attacks. Do you hear the finality that those words suggest? The objective, for many people, is to remove anxiety.
But what if removing your anxiety isn’t in your best interests? What if your anxiety is something you can use? What if your anxiety is a tool in the hands of an almighty physician? Then getting rid of it would not be wise or ultimately satisfying.
Using Your Anxiety
In the posts that follow, I explore how God has divine, good purposes for our anxiety, and one of the most central ones is to draw us into deeper communion with himself. That’s right: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have extended an invitation to personal communion with you. And your anxiety disorder might just help you get there.
More to come in the next post. Also look for my forthcoming book: Struck Down But Not Destroyed: Living Faithfully with Anxiety.