How God Can Use Your Anxiety for Good
Change of any significance has always been hard for me. Every year growing up I dreaded the first day of school, far beyond what felt like the "normal" mourning that summer was over. Going away to college was physically wrenching—I spent the first week unable to eat, convinced that I would never be as content as the hordes of new best friends I was surrounded by. While everyone around me sailed through the first few days, I cried myself to sleep and constantly warred with the nervous feeling in my stomach.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder, they called it. GAD. Which, somehow, seems fitting. GAD, which reportedly affects about 3 percent of the U.S. population, is characterized by frequent, constant worry with little or no cause. A GAD sufferer will generally bear a daily burden of anxiety not tied to any specific threat. Through no choice of our own, we live in a state of anxiety that is largely disconnected from the reality of our otherwise normal circumstances. While my daily anxiety is a bit better now thanks to exercise, therapy, and medication, it remains a quiet companion. The National Institute of Mental Health reported on a study that found women are 60 percent more likely than men to experience an anxiety disorder over their lifetime. Perhaps the higher frequently is due to women's desire to control certain aspects of our lives; perhaps it lives in the same gap we all do, between expectation and reality. Either way, an anxious life is a hard one, and the less we talk about it, the more isolated we feel.
Which is why I was glad to hear about the publication of The Anxious Christian (Moody), by Rhett Smith, a marriage and family therapist based in Texas. The subtitle alone is worth the price of the book: "Can God use your anxiety for good?" Never in my 26 years had I thought about anxiety as a tool that God could use to shape me. On my best days I thought of it as a pesky trial, something that God allowed me to experience; on my worst, I thought it was the absence of God due to my total lack of faith. Many a well-meaning Christian had trotted out Philippians 4:6 when I confessed my struggle: "Do not worry about anything," writes Paul, "but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God." The underlying message here seemed clear to me: Pray more. Give thanks more. Don't focus on your anxiety.
Yet as Smith writes, "When we discourage from safely expressing their anxiety, then we are essentially saying to them that anxiety is a bad emotion …. It communicates to them that perhaps something is wrong with their Christian faith." Smith goes on to talk about how God may be using anxiety to draw us closer to him, allowing us to recognize our need and limitations as anchors to the One who is sufficient. Focusing on the way Jesus set boundaries in community and kept a constant line of communication open with his Father, Smith helpfully and practically reconciles the experience of anxiety with the reality of God's goodness.
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