Where to Put Your Anxiety
As a pastor, my chief burden is to “keep watch over your souls” (Heb 13:17). Keeping watch has never been harder than in this moment of social isolation. I’ve heard from many of you, and the elders have done a great job reaching out every week. But I’m sure there is more going on “out there” than we know. Fair enough; even in normal times, you don’t fill your shepherds in on everything. But, in the age of corona, I’m especially concerned about the anxious load many of us may be bearing in isolation.
Even before the pandemic struck, you and I were living through what has to be one of the most anxious moments in human history. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million American adults struggle with some form of anxiety disorder. About 1 out of every 4 kids between 13 and 18 are in the same boat. As psychologist Robert Leahy has noted, “the average American child today exhibits the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient did in the 1950s.”
Again, that all reflects the situation before COVID-19. Today, how many more of us find ourselves overwhelmed by anxiety over our health, loved ones, finances, the future of our nation, and so on? Worse, forced social distancing has robbed us of so many of our typical go-to’s for psychological comfort and mental health.
For some, anxiety comes like a tidal wave; it leaves us paralyzed and in need of intense and immediate care (spiritual and medical, pastoral and professional). For others, it nags like an ache that just won’t go away. Wherever you are on the spectrum, Scripture has a word for you: “Cast all your anxiety on [God] because He cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7).
When Peter wrote those words, he addressed them to a church in exile—in a way, a church like ours. Our present exile isn’t quite the same, but we nevertheless find ourselves isolated from the people and places who bring much-needed stability to our lives. In this lonely situation, Peter reminded that church and ours of how much God cares for His people—how our anxieties are ultimately safe with the maker and lover of our souls.
God cares, and it’s because He cares that He invites us to cast our anxieties on Him. This doesn’t mean that we push them away for a little while, but that we repeatedly transfer them onto the back of the only One who can truly bear them. To do that, Peter says, we must humble ourselves “under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift [us] up in due time” (1 Pet 5:6). What does that look like? It looks like getting honest with ourselves and others about our anxiety. It looks like stopping to name our present struggles, bring them to God, and allow Him to speak into our situation through His Word and other Christians.
This week, I ran across great advice from counselor David Powlison on how to confront our anxiety in humble faith. I’d encourage you to read the whole 4-part article or at least this helpful summary by Justin Taylor.
At a glance, here are the six main things Powlison recommends we do with our anxiety:
- Name – “…name the pressures. You always worry about something. What things tend to hook you? What do you tend to worry about? What “good reasons” do you have for anxiety?”
- Identify – “…identify how you express anxiety. Spot the signs. How does anxiety show up in your life?”
- Ask – “…ask yourself, why am I anxious?”
- Listen – “…what better reason does Jesus give you not to worry?”
- Talk – “… go to your Father. Talk to Him.”
- Give – “Do and say something constructive. Care for someone else. Give to meet human need.”
To all this, I’d add my strongest warning that you do not try to manage this on your own. Share your anxiety with a friend. Scripture tells us that in bearing one another’s burdens, we fulfill the law of Christ (Gal 6:2). Don’t go it alone; God wants us to bring one another to Jesus. Moreover, talk to one of your pastors or elders. Like Peter by the edge of the Sea, Jesus, our Good Shepherd, has called us to love and care for you as one of His precious sheep. All you have to do is pick up the phone. You can also schedule a call (voice or video) with me if you prefer.
I’d also encourage you to consider speaking with a professional counselor—especially if you have a history with anxiety. If you need more guidance or a recommendation on who to call, please reach out to Pastor Casey or me. We’d be happy to help you.
Anxiety is all around, but it will not own us. We have a God who sees us, who knows us, and wants more than anything for us to cast all our anxieties on Him. Why? Because He cares. He knows what we’re going through, and He is ready to meet us in the midst of it.
May God comfort our souls and bring us all the strength to endure our current trial.