As a counselor and a Christian, I’ve often become frustrated by Bible passages calling for “giving up anxiety.” Recently, however, I heard a sermon on how Christ has “cosmic authority and control in our lives,” and this led to a new understanding for me. It’s not that we will never be anxious in our lives. Christ himself experiences great anguish and anxiety in the garden of Gethsemane when he begs his father to “take this cup from me.” But the following line, “Not my will be done, but yours.” is an example. Philippians 4:6 is often quoted to the anxious, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Again, the following verse completes the call; “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Everyone will experience various levels of anxiety throughout their lives. We know this to be the case because passages like Philippians 4:6 exist. Being anxious is a natural human state; trying to hold ultimate control over our lives in reaction to this is the problem because we were never designed for that. Anxiety can be so distressing that we become blinded by the urge to control and reduce it. In this, we attempt to usurp the authority of God in his creation. We are unintentionally magnifying the problem like water on a grease fire.
I generally break anxiety down into three types: anxiety over a situation, for a season, and sustained anxiety. 1) Situational anxiety is the most specific and common. Worry over a test, a date, a meeting, or any moment that has meaning and unknowns at the same time. 2) A season of anxiety occurs around larger or longer situations. More a marathon than a sprint, a season may have many difficult moments that need addressing before significant relief will occur. 3) Sustained anxiety takes on a more clinical definition. For example, generalized anxiety disorder is a malfunction of a self-protective system where one becomes agitated in mind and body over a variety of things and can have difficulty identifying and reducing these feelings on their own. The Bible speaks to anxiety so often because we experience it so often. It also continually speaks of the one who knows all things and can offer peace to the worried and unsure.
Trusting in God is the next step toward peace, but it is a big task for our human hearts. At first, we cling to our own power and try to control our fear. Then, recognizing our ineptness with that much power, we choose to trust God more and more in all things. Then we begin to be able to tolerate the discomfort of the unknown, as we are leaning on the one who does know. Notice that the anxiety is not gone but paired with the comfort of being in God’s grace. Anxiety separate from worry. Over time, we receive the blessing of peace in our anxiety by acknowledging that God will work all things for our good.
Perhaps, for you, trusting God would look like seeking good counsel. Maybe it would look like starting anti-anxiety medication to open the space for interaction with God where your mind would have been focused on worry. God provides new mercies each morning. When we focus on the potential bad of a possible future, we tend to miss the mercies and grace of the present day. So, you don’t need to “pray away anxiety.” No, we are called to pray because we are anxious. God will prepare a table before you in the presence of your enemies (re: anxiety), not create an absence of enemies. You can develop a relationship with God that will lead you into healing and sustaining space. Possibly even into this office, where we will endeavor to meet you in all things with love, as God first loved us.