When did anxiety become an acceptable sin?

worry-445511There’s a form of anxiety that is common. You know it like the back of your hand. And you’ve learn to live with it and accept it into your life like a friend. This is type of anxiety most of us face.

There’s a severe form of anxiety. It affects fewer people. It is serious. And it has been given a serious response HERE.

This post is on the former.

Let me ask, when did anxiety become an acceptable sin?  

Is it because anxiety is so universal? As someone confesses, we all shake our heads in agreement with the confessor. “Yeah,” we pander, “anxiety is tough.”

Is it because it’s misunderstood? We could define anxiety as an excessive care or concern. That doesn’t sound too bad. I mean, if a little bit of care and concern is a good thing, then A LOT of care and concern should be better. Right?

Anxiety is actually a great prayer request. It’s akin to asking for
prayer for “caring too much and working too hard.” 

Imagine different styles of music representing different confessional styles. No one wants a small group filled with Hard Rock in-your-face-and-too-excessive-in-detail confessions. Nor is this the place for recycled/outdated/Oldies confessions from childhood. After all, we do want transparency. And we’re sure to balk at (or throat punch) the teenager-pop-station confession about how no prayer is needed because life is sooooo great. And do I even need to add the annoyance of country confessions? How often are you going to confess about drinking excessively after losing your truck, dog, or gal (or some combo)?

So we choose LITE FM confessions. Working too hard is confession LITE. Caring too much is confession LITE. Being anxious about (insert something that is truly important) is confession LITE. It’s not ugly. It’s understandable. It’s acceptable.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 11.01.13 AMAnxiety just ain’t that ugly anymore.

That’s not how the Bible speaks of it. 

Listen to this almost biblical description of anxiety and what the response ought to be:

“Anxiety is practicing failure in advance. It is needless and imaginary. It’s fear about fear, fear that means nothing. Anxiety is diffuse and focuses on possibilities in an unknown future, not a real and present threat…’needless anxiety’ is redundant because anxiety is always needless.”

Wow. That’ll preach.

Where did this quote come from? Was it one of our contemporary rock star preachers? Was it the sage Keller or the excitable Chandler? Was it one of the famous dead guys named Spurgeon, Luther, Calvin, or Lewis?

Nope. None of them.

This seemingly Christian advice comes from a person I have no reason to believe is a Christian: Seth Godin. Seth is an author, entrepreneur, marketer, and public speaker. He has a lot of great things to say but he is not a preacher. And his advice comes not from the Bible but as attempt to help people overcome resistance they face.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 11.04.27 AMOr consider this quote from Mark Twain: I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.

So, get this, anxiety is decried in the Bible (which should be enough). And by Seth Godin. And by Mark Twain. But not by us. Hmmmm…

Anxiety is fear about fear. We are afraid about what could happen. What could happen has NOT happened. Yet it could. And our response to it is fear.

We excessively concerns ourselves with thoughts of potential doom and how that would make us feel and change our lives. We plot and plan our own demise which has not happened (and almost certainly won’t, at least not to the degree we create in our minds). And then we consider how we could avoid it. Or overcome it. And when no exit or power is evident, our worry increases!

And it is needless.

Why?

God. 

“There it is,” you respond, “The trump card of all trump cards. I mean, which of us is smart enough to summon a defense against the Great Almighty? Okay, God. You win. You’re right. I won’t be anxious about this anymore.”

That last line morphs into “I’ll try not to be anxious anymore” which further dilutes to “I’ll ask for prayer for it.” Dah!! We’re right back where we started.

How do we get off this anxiety roller coaster?

  1. We turn from anxiety because God is over all. Simply put, because God exists, we need not (must not) be anxious. He knows what you need. Your excessive care and concern isn’t helpful. God’s got this.
  2. We seek God daily because he is first in our lives. Tim Chester says in You Can Change, “We often associate the sovereignty of God with theological debates. But for all of us it’s a daily practical choice” (emphasis mine).

“I can’t just not be anxious,” you respond. Yes, you can. Because of him. Turn away from it. Turn back to God. You may not even realize how far it has carried you away from God. Don’t accept that. Don’t ever accept that.

QUESTIONS
  1. What anxiety do you need to turn away (rather than just confess)? Does it help to recast anxiety from excessive care to fear about fear? How might God lessen your fear about fear?
  2. How can we, as a community of people, help one another to not let the sin of anxiety rule in our lives?
Posted on by Cor in FAITH

8 Responses to When did anxiety become an acceptable sin?

  1. Peter Brandt

    Wow! Punch to the gut. This hits me square. And, because it hits so close to home, I’ve thought about it – thinking of fear, to fear about fear..or something like that.

    But, bottom line is what you’re saying is so absolutely true. And, I think if we were Catholic, we should think about putting this into the mortal sin category – well, maybe not that far.

    What I’ve learned about anxiety:
    - absolutely a sin.
    - most often it is rooted in pride. WE know better than God.
    – God/Jesus tell us consistently not to worry – Matthew 6:25-34 is a great place to go to get God’s perspective.
    – and, it’s really bad for us – lump it into “stress” and look at what stress does to your health.
    – and, it is epidemic/normal in our society today. News media – have become our official anxiety aides, in my opinion – the worst media, will make up stuff for you to worry about, if you don’t have enough already.

    Now, that should be enough to stop worrying, right?

    I’ve tried so hard to stop worrying and anxiety in my life, that now I’m worried I’m not doing enough to stop worrying.

    Wow – what a circle. Tough to get out of it when you’re stuck in it.

    So, how do you stop? Give it up. Yes, give it up to God. Like we’re supposed to when we profess we’re turing our lives over to Jesus. And, wow is that hard, because I know me better than God, right – oops that’s my pride showing through again.

    It is giving it up – unfortunately, all-to-often we finally give it up because we’re forced to – there’s nothing else to turn to, except God. Pitiful, but true for me, God seems to want to continually force my hand – are you really relying on me? Really? Really?

    So, spot on – the sin of worry/anxiety, is a sin, and I think it’s a bad one. As I heard Rick Warren say recently – “worrying is practicing to be an atheist”. But, it is so prevalent in the church and in society in general – people need desperate help. And, the help probably goes something like this: – confess, repent, let go – trust, humble yourself, be grateful for what God has done/is doing.

    Again, from a sinful, worrying person, working on it daily – hope it helps a little.

    meaning many of us need help with itBut, it is part of the process of giving yourself fully to God.

    • Cor

      These are GREAT words, Peter. Thanks for the honesty and wise counsel.

      That Rick Warren quote is a keeper!

  2. Vicki

    Cor – this is a great post. Something we all struggle with. But first, I can’t get over calling anxiety a sin. I understand you defined what you mean by anxiety but as someone who sees and treats people with anxiety and panic disorders and understands the neurochemistry behind anxiety, I humble suggest that you don’t use the term anxiety to describe what you are calling a sin.

    I know you have linked Naty’s post and have talked about depression in the past. And I know you personally, so I understand this post. But, at the same time, I think the title of this post could be inflammatory and make non-believers who suffer from anxiety turn away from hearing the Gospel. Actually, when I first saw the title, my first reaction was exactly that.

    But like I said before, spot on with the rest. I don’t have much to add, other than this quote by Neil Anderson from his book Victory Over the Darkness.

    “Fear compels people to do what they should not do and inhibits them from doing what they should do.”

    • Cor

      Hey Vicki.

      Thanks for commenting. I always appreciate when someone of a different discipline adds their thoughts to the conversation. I think it lends itself to deeper conversation. No one person gets to lay down the trump card.

      I wish you would talk more about your thoughts.

      Given how anxiety is qualified in the Scripture, it sounds like I find it easier to call it “sin” than you do. I’d love to hear your thoughts on why this is the case.

      Let me share an example:

      My most anxious thoughts deal with the well being of my family.

      I should be concerned about them. It would be weird if I wasn’t.

      But there are times when I cross from concern to worry or concern to excessive concern.

      Jill is not home when I expected her. This results in me fearing the fearful possibility of what could have happened to her. I’m not trusting in God’s care for her. I’m giving myself over to believing God has not cared for her. Something is SERIOUSLY wrong. It must be. She is late.

      I would qualify this as sin.

      What do you think, Vicki?

      How might this be similar or not to the people you are referencing? Do you feel like anxiety could ever be deemed sinful and, if so, what would those circumstances be?

      Thanks so much, Vicki, for lending your wisdom to this conversation!!!

  3. Vicki

    Hi Cor,

    Glad to add more to the discussion. Before directly answering the question, I am going to qualify it with why I think it’s important to use the right words. We live in an era where 1/3 people in America are on some kind of SSRI or SSNI (medicaion for depression or anxiety). Yet there is still a huge social stigma about having diseases of the mind (depression, anxiety, bipolar, any personality disorder, etc). The church has a stigma of telling people with depression/anxiety to just trust God more and it will go away. That’s just not true. Yes – GOD is the God who heals, and He can and does cure people of many diseases. But how can we say that someone with anxiety (as I’ll define below) is sinning if God doesn’t cure it? I mean, you’d never tell someone with cancer, ‘You know, your cancer is a sin.’

    Anxiety, as I define and treat, is symptoms of excessive worry on more days than not that interuprt normal daily activities. There is a change from “the normal” human brain in people with generalized and specific anxieties. While the exact why is unknown, we know that neurotransmitters and receptors are different in number and how they act. We know that MRI’s of people disease look different and functional MRIs act different. We also know how the medications that treat anxiety (and depression) work and that they do improve the disease. So in my world, anxiety is a medical condition, treated and looked upon as no different than any other treatable condition.

    The kind of anxiety you are talking about, the kind that I agree with you is a sin, the excessive worry about things that are out of (or sometimes in) your control. Not trusting God has your best in mind, not trusting His plan or will. I couldn’t agree with you and your post more – that is a sin. And one we all have become very complacient about.

    In my study of the word anxiety (using Phil 4 as my starting point) the Greek word merimnao is translated “to be anxious about” as well as care, concerned and worried. And while we are told in Phil 4:6 not to be anxious about anything, Paul uses the same word in Phil 2:20 in describing how Timothy cares for the welfare of the Philippians.

    So, even in the Bible, the word is used in different ways. And I am not suggesting that the excessive worry definition is not sin (I believe it is). Mental illness are not a sin. They are illnesses, medical conditions. And with the majority of non-Christians in this world defining anxiety as the medical condition, I think as Christians we should choose our worlds more carefully as to make sure we are not misunderstood.

    Oh, and I do love having good conversations about issues!

    (I hope this makes sense…It’s almost 6am, I”ve been up for about 20 hour and at work for the last 12 waiting for babies to be born!)

  4. Peter Brandt

    I agree with your comments Vicki. Our first thoughts if we are suffering from anxiety/worry, or if we know someone who is; ought to be: how do we help them, or ourselves.

    And, I know from personal experience that hearing either a platitude “God will take care of you”, or “well, that’s a sin” is really not helpful. Again, our first response ought to be “how can we help?” This ought to be the response to any sin frankly, as usually it’s not the sin that’s the issue, it’s something deeper.

    In the cases you’re referring to it is a medically caused issue, and to your point those conditions, with proper diagnosis ought to be treated with medication and/or therapy.

    In a lot of the other cases, it is symptomatic of something else – some core belief we hold that leads us to want to control the situation somehow, and work through our brains how we’re going to do that. It is at it’s simplest lack of trust in Jesus, and he says “take up your cross and follow me”, not “take up your cross, and then figure it out on your own”.

    In my particular case, I’m not anxious all the time, only when certain trigger events happen, that hit a core belief, that is a lie. Big one for me, is losing a job, which triggers a core lie I tend to believe “I need a job to be successful, and I’m worthless, and God won’t take of me”.

    It has taken me a long time to understand this kind of reaction, and I wish someone had taken me aside years ago, and walked me through what can be referred to as “redemption”, and helped me get to these core beliefs/lies that I have believed for so many years. I’m older than the average person sitting in worship serves on an average Sunday (56), and, just in the past few years have I realized, and understanding better the whole notion of redemption, and how to understand and deal with the lies that I grew up with.

    Too, often when we express our worries, others will either avoid us – oh, he/she is going to pull us into the pit he/she is in”; or we are given the platitudes, and a couple scripture verses to read.

    At Hope, one of the things that helped me the most, was going through a redemption group class. And, I hope everyone either on-staff, or volunteering in the ministries of Hope, goes through training, and working their own issues (cause, we all got ‘em) to understand how to truly work with people with anxiety/worry issues – either based on circumstances or medically caused.

    Again, our first response, should be one of service – how can I best serve this person, who is clearly in some kind of pain. We need to be a place for people who suffer, and often we can aide them in their suffering, as Jesus certainly would. And, if we don’t know how, it would be great to point them to someone who can help them.

    The point here, is that it is a sin, if not a medical condition, but sinners need help, too. Lot’s of it.

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