Are You Sure Anxiety is a Sin?


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?

Isaiah 35:4

 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…”

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13 thoughts on “Are You Sure Anxiety is a Sin?

  1. Hi Katie. Thank you so much for being vulnerable and sharing your experience with anxiety. I pray that will be helpful to others! I, too, struggle with anxiety. I pray the Lord will continue to work in me and bring me into His perfect peace. Just recently (in the past 2-3 yrs) I have had a couple of minor panic attacks that really came out of nowhere. I take comfort knowing God knows me better than I know myself and is helping me.

    I think you bring up a good point about not judging others in this area. We really cannot know what the cause is or that someone is sinning b/c they are struggling with anxiety or panic. And, we are all on a faith journey. We are learning step by step how to trust the Father and rest in His loving arms. We are all wounded and in the process of being healed. None of us have arrived yet. We do well to encourage and build one another up as we walk together, not judge, critique and tear down.

    I feel kind of weird “advertising” my post, but I blogged a while back on this and in particular on when anguish can be a tool of God and the differences between anguish and anxiety. Here is the link if anyone is interested: http://processingtheword.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/anguish-vs-anxiety/

    God bless and keep you, friend!
    Natalie (wordprocessor)

  2. Yay! Good post! Neither blame nor rebuke has done one blessed thing to ease any of my anxiety, but Jesus has some excellent things to say that do. That was one crappy “perfect storm” to have for student teaching, Katie, and the fact you stuck with education is a testament to your determination. I can’t even imagine. So happy for you that anxiety isn’t often a problem!

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  4. Good post, Katie. It so often happens that burdens are placed on people that God didn’t place there, feeling judged for being anxious is certainly one that I’ve encountered. Thanks 🙂

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  6. I really love this post!! It shows a side not known by people who have not experienced anxiety attacks. For myself, I have come to realize that there are times I react to things in a certain way because there is a deep seeded fear within me I never noticed. But when I react to it, God shows me that area of hurt or fear He wants me to pray about and bring to Him for healing. Attacks may be His way of allowing us to know our struggles so we can grow through them. Thanks for your insight!!! Good stuff:)

  7. Thanks for the encouragement, everyone. This is one of those topics that gets me on my soapbox, but it’s also one of the ones that makes me afraid. The church is sometimes so adamant about anxiety being a sin, so I hope and pray that I’m not taking a different opinion just to take one, but that it’s something that’s God-glorifying and humble.

    🙂

  8. I just gotta say…I don’t think “Do not be afraid” would be in the Bible so much if fear (anxiety) was not a common problem.

    Also, God comforts us so much in our anxiety. I have experienced this over and over. He has taken my struggle and made it into a gift, bringing beauty from ashes. Do I want to continue to doubt/fear? No. But, He is with me, even (and especially) in my brokenness. I’m sure you have experienced this, too. And, the wonderful thing is that nothing is wasted. After the Lord comforts us, we are able to comfort others with that same comfort. I kind of feel like that is what this post of yours did…brought comfort to others struggling with anxiety by letting them know they are not alone, not judged and pointing them to the source of comfort and healing: JESUS. So, my thought is that it is definately God-glorifying! 🙂

  9. I completely agree that fear/anxiety is a common problem… but I also think that Jesus was afraid. I don’t know what fear truly is, and there are competing definitions, because fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but Jeremiah was not to be terrified or discouraged because the Lord his God would be with him wherever he went. We are not to be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul, but to fear the one Who can destroy soul and body in Hell… Jesus was facing excruciating physical pain, the weight of the world’s sin, betrayal from friends, and any number of other things… and He asked God to take that cup from Him… to take away the very reason He came to earth… the single most important moment in history. And I don’t know how to understand that verse other than to look at this moment and believe that Jesus knew how bad it was going to be, and didn’t want to go through it. I think that’s sometimes how fear manifests itself. Most of the things I’m afraid of are things that end up being pretty bad. I think the key is that through His fear and ansiety, Jesus submitted to God… He went through something terrifying in obedience.

    Fear certainly can lead to sinful behavior, but I don’t think it’s necessarily sinful to be afraid.

  10. I agree with all you are saying. Really good run-down of different kinds of fear. What I am coming to realize is that “fear of the Lord” (which is part of loving Him…It is revering, respecting and obeying Him) really does drive out other fears. When we live in total obedience to the Lord and are under His authority, we are within the boundaries He sets for us. This keeps us from lots of stuff that we shouldn’t be doing (and that make us fearful).
    There is also fear involved in doing things sometimes. When God asks us to do something, we will often be afraid. It is a decision to trust and obey even in the middle of fear in those cases (Ps. 56:3, Exra 3:3). When Jesus was in the garden praying, He was completely terrified. Even in the middle of that (after asking the Father to let this cup pass from Him) He surrendered to God’s will and chose to go forward. That comforts me…that even our Lord was really afraid and could still carry out God’s will. I really liked what you said about fear possibly leading us to sinful behavior. It is what we do in the fear, not necessarily the fear itself. Although, I continue to pray for God to give me more faith in Him and to let me know Him more…I know the more I see Him as He really is the less I will be afraid. And, the more I know Him, the more I love Him….and that love casts out fear.
    Anyway, I am rambling. This has been a really good post and discussion 🙂

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