When Anxiety Comes Knocking

Many of us have felt it – suddenly, a little gerbil starts spinning its wheel right in the middle of our chests! Our minds race to keep up and our thoughts become prods that drive us from one place to the next.  Living life at such a frantic mental pace leaves us exhausted but unable to sleep. Anxiety is a disquieting bedfellow.

When anxiety persists over time, modern psychology categorizes it as a disorder.  Once it is named, treatment becomes an option, since it has now been classified as a medical condition.  Journalist Lisa Miller skillfully summarizes this issue:

“Anxiety can . . . be a serious medical problem, of course.  It sometimes precedes depression and often gets tangled up with it (which is why Prozac-type drugs are prescribed for anxiety too).  But anxiety has a second life as a more general mind-set and cultural stance, one defined by an obsession with an uncertain future.  Anxious people dwell on potential negative outcomes and assume (irrational and disproportionate) responsibility for fixing the disasters they imagine will occur. ‘What’s going to happen?’ or, more accurately, ‘What’s going to happen to me?’ is anxiety’s quiet whisper.”

Have you ever felt that way? Roughly 25% of all Americans will experience some level of a diagnosable anxiety disorder in their lifetime. This issue is of particular significance for women since the rate of occurrence in women is double that of men.

Contemporary culture’s answers to these disorders are a class of drugs called benzodiazepines (try saying that three times fast!) which include Valium, Xanax, Ativan, and Klonopin.  In Miller’s words, “A benzo is plain and pure, a chill pill: You can take it when you need to without committing to months or years of talk therapy.”  These drugs’ effects are brief and, like many medications, simply treat symptoms without addressing the issue’s underlying causes.

Believers are not immune to anxious thoughts, even persistent ones. But do we, within the context of our faith, have a remedy other than the one prescribed by our culture?

The simple, but profound, truths of Scripture do offer a real remedy for anxiety!  They speak to the cause and prescribe solutions that eliminate that underlying cause.  As the written words of our Creator, they affirm not only His ability to form us, but also to renew what He has formed.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way. (Ps 139:23-24)

The words from this Psalm clearly address the issue of anxiety.  Because God knows our hearts, He also knows the anxious thoughts that reside there. These verses also point out the link between anxieties and hurt, which is something we might expect. Yet God’s perspective on the source of the hurt may be surprising, for He focuses on the “hurtful way in me.” It seems that with anxiety, the hurt is self-inflicted. The concluding phrase in this text is powerful for us. The Psalmist’s heart cry to God is to be led and it implies being led back to “the everlasting way.”   That’s because our anxious thoughts lead us away from God and following Him is the way back.

Ok. Now that we’ve described the problem, the next logical question is, “What does following Him in the midst of anxiety look like?” Again – His Word proves to be sufficient for us!

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7)

The command to “be anxious for nothing” is followed by how we are to win this battle of the mind.

Our immediate response must be prayer.  It is a prayer that pours out our requests to God.  Whining and complaining are not allowed, for God requires a spirit of thanksgiving in this conversation. This is one of those times that we are called to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving. This is a prayer of faith that costs us something since it directly contradicts all of the emotions we are experiencing. It’s tough.

But this faith does not go unrewarded! God responds by pouring out His peace, which is beyond human comprehension. We don’t have the words or the ability to grasp this peace. And it’s that what we’re looking for when we’re anxious? A power beyond what we know we have within ourselves? This incredible peace then guards the very hearts and minds which birthed the anxious thoughts and are now transformed by it. Amazing, isn’t it?

Blessed be the Lord!
For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
 The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him. (Ps 28:6-7)