According to Merriam-Webster’s Eleventh Edition Collegiate Dictionary, anxiety is
“painful or apprehensive uneasiness of mind usually over an impending or anticipated ill… an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (as sweating, tension, and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.”
Anxiety holds a special place in my heart.
I’m sure that’s a crazy thing for me to write, but I’m writing it anyways.
I had a little bout of anxiety when I was student teaching about five years ago. Most of the time, I’m that person who is so laid-back it makes others angry… but during student teaching, I couldn’t make myself be myself.
Part of the problem was that I was medicated. I had really bad acne, so my dermatologist put me on birth control to change up the hormones. Friend Steve later drew graphs and expained what those filthy pills were doing to me and I stopped taking them, but prior to that, I’d been taking them for something like three years without thinking much of it.
Additionally, my student teaching placement was pretty horrible because my cooperating teacher and I were as poorly matched as it’s possible to be. She had me doing about four times the amount of work I was supposed to be doing, and her teaching philosophy completely opposed mine.
Add to that the fact that one of my favorite students shot and killed herself a week into the second quarter, and you’ll have a pretty decent understanding of the uneasiness of mind, self-doubt and inability to cope I was experiencing.
So I started having panic attacks.
They were pretty mild most of the time, and nearly always connected to blood sugar… that’s right, I was also depriving my body of carbs because I thought I was fat.
The panic attacks mostly lasted five minutes, then were gone. I just needed to close my eyes and take deep breaths, and they went away.
Until that one night…
I was having bad teacher nightmares, so I woke up around 1:00 a.m. feeling pretty crappy. My stomach was doing some horrible things, I was sweaty, my heart rate was elevated and I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
That went on for about thirty minutes, and I kept convincing myself that I was fine.
Finally, I got out of bed and walked around a bit, trying to slow my breathing.
Then, I threw up.
I’ve never had a panic attack like that one, and I hope I never do again.
The thing is, though, I had absolutely no control over that. I prayed that I would just calm down. I thanked God for always taking care of me.
I did what all of the good Christians do.
And it didn’t help.
Anxiety isn’t always self-induced. Sometimes, it’s a combination of hormones, glucose, bullets and other circumstances.
I suppose anxiety could be a sin… but I don’t think there’s any evidence to show that it always is.
The reason I bring this up is actually the church. I know that’s probably weird, but churches occasionally weigh in on anxiety, and I nearly always feel cranky after hearing their take on things.
If we were going to make a systematic theology on anxiety, here are some places we’d look for guidance:
1 Peter 5:7, Psalm 127:2, Philippians 4:6…
But, there are a few places I want to give attention to now.
Matthew 6:25 – 34 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,and all these things will be added to you.
34“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
This is one of my favorite passages in the entire Bible because it’s one of the few that calms me no matter the circumstances.
But, I want to point out something about this passage:”Do not be anxious about…” The reason I point this out is because I think we frequently forget what this verse is saying. It does not say to never be anxious. It’s specifically focused on anxiety about daily needs. I think it’s about food, water and clothes. It says not to be anxious about those things, but it does not condemn those who are. It does not rebuke them, and it certainly doesn’t rebuke those who are anxious about something other than food, water and clothing. The reason I think this is important is tied in with the next passage I want to look at.
Luke 22:39-465 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. 45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.
The reason I’ve brought you to the Garden of Gethsemane is because I think it gives us evidence of anxiety that cannot be a sin.
You see, that definition I put up at the top in big letters seems to be describing Jesus’s experience in the garden: painful, apprehensive, uneasy, impending or anticipated ill, physiological signs, doubt…
I think Jesus was anxious. Now, granted, He’s about to be crucified, but if He’s fully man, and yet sinless…
see my point?
3 Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
4 say to those with anxious hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”
This last one is here, because I think we do the opposite of what we’re supposed to do when we tell people they’re sinning by being anxious. I don’t think we’re supposed to be like, “Your anxiety is a sin. You need to trust God.” I don’t think we’re meant to imply that the anxious-hearted are less spiritual than the rest of us are. I think we’re supposed to encourage them and I think this verse in Isaiah says that. I think we’re overburdening people who are already struggling. Maybe they aren’t doing what the bible tells them to do, because it says to “cast your cares on the Lord” and “do not be anxious about anything, but by prayer and petition, present your requests to God”… but we aren’t doing what we’re supposed to either. We are to say to them, ” “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come…”