God's tools to fight anxiety.
Updated: Jan 19
I remember it like it was yesterday, one Friday in March of 2020 - Carey turned to me and told me “Kevin just got a call from the Chaska school district, and we cannot use the school for services for the foreseeable future.” This was at the beginning of the pandemic, and 2 days before the next service was to take place. That Sunday I pointed a laptop camera at Kevin in the waiting area of our old church office, and our online ministry was born. Fast forward to today, almost three years later and the AV team and the church leadership have learned so much more about streaming services online. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see the factors that led to where we are today. Fortunately, those are positive developments in the form of more volunteers, better equipment and increased know-how.
But the pandemic had other effects, ones that we can understand with the benefit of hindsight but perhaps could not comprehend in March of 2020 as we all just made due under the changing medical and social landscape. The World Health Organization (WHO) commissioned a review of the scientific literature and issued a brief indicating that globally anxiety had increased 25% on average during the pandemic. This is an astounding number. That means for every four people that had clinical anxiety symptoms, one additional person with such symptoms was added over the course of the pandemic. With hindsight perhaps the causes are obvious - isolation, loss of jobs or income, closed businesses, restricted social connections - these all contributed to the increase in anxiety. I find myself thinking “what can we do to reverse this trend?” In many ways the ship has sailed. More people are working from home than ever, and along with other changes we know that how we interact, travel and communicate may never be the same. So what can we do to alleviate this added anxiety that stemmed from our experiences of the last 3 years?
When I think of anxiety, I put it into two buckets. One type of anxiety stems from our immediate circumstances. We might worry about that overdue bill that sits on our kitchen counter. Or perhaps we have more existential worry. We might worry that we are being judged by others, that our efforts or looks or actions might not measure up to a social or worldly standard that we set for ourselves. Perhaps we feel that we might not fit in. Others might suffer from a popular topic that has gained traction in the last few years called “impostor syndrome,” that feeling that if those around us only knew who we really were that they might see us in a more negative light. Increased isolation has probably elevated this sense for many, as we have fewer social interactions to build camaraderie and trust. The second type of anxiety is fear or worry about the future. We are inundated with a 24-hour news cycle that has no shortage of impending threats, which can amplify our anxiety about our own worries. These can range from worries about our financial future, concern for our children, amongst an ever-growing array of worries about future outcomes or challenges. The lack of control we feel in these situations can lead to increased anxiety.
Sometimes both of these types of anxiety seem like chains. We find ourselves in places where we wonder if we will ever be free of them. The many worries and concerns of modern life can sometimes seem intractable. Well-meaning people offer temporary relief - meditation, stress balls, essential oils, and the ever-increasing numbers of CBD products - all with varying levels of effectiveness but ultimately inadequate. Luckily God has given us the tools to combat and reverse this anxiety, to break the mental and emotional chains. First, when we experience this immediate type of anxiety that might stem from feelings of shame or insecurity in our thoughts about our present selves God gives us the gift of His unconditional love. This is a love that does not waiver in the face of our current circumstances and does not leave us with the changing winds. Isaiah 54:10 says this:
“Though the mountains be shaken
and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you”
His love can break the chains of our anxiety about our current circumstances. It allows us to act bravely, truthfully and freely in the current moment with the knowledge that His love for us is unconditional. Where we see failure and insecurity He sees one of His children that he loves completely and without expectation. This knowledge can free us from our perceptions of the world’s judgment. It supersedes any one person’s opinion of us. It frees us from the anxiety that may prompt us to adhere to the world’s expectations. If we remind ourselves of His unconditional love we can be free of the burdens that our anxiety brings with it.
With regards to our anxiety about the future, God has provided us with the tremendous gift of faith. In many of his sermons, pastor Kevin has asked us to look upon God’s past favor as indication that He will be faithful to us in the future. Too often we become overwhelmed by our anxiety about future uncertainty. Our future finances, our relationships - we wring our hands worrying about all the potential outcomes. Our own myopic understanding of the present leads to worry about future circumstances. But if we put our faith in God’s plan, in the fact that He is in control we can break the chains of this anxiety about the future. My favorite passage about this type of faith, and one that has been at the center of my renewed life in Christ is Proverbs 3:4-6:
Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man.
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
“Lean not on our own understanding.” This is a powerful message. A powerful call to faith that can break us from the chains of our existential worries. This faith can bring us a strength that does not rely on knowing every possible outcome, that does not require us to feel like we need to become fortune tellers to relieve our anxiety about the future. This faith that God calls us to can release us from this anxiety, with the full knowledge that He is in control and that we need only to align ourselves with His will for our lives and that He will reveal our future in His own time.
If you’re dealing with anxiety, whether it be about the present or the future, I would encourage you to seek out Bible verses about God’s unconditional love and the power that faith in Him can bring to your life. These are tools that have stood the test of time. If you remind yourself of them and use them regularly, you can break the chains that anxiety has over your life and reclaim a peace that only God can provide. Romans 12:2 is a great reminder that I will leave you with about breaking the chains of worldly circumstances and expectations:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Then you will be able to test and approve
what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.