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Anxiety and The Church

"Even though God does not give us our fears, and in His original design at creation there was no worry, it is now a very common experience." By Karen Hurula
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I have often heard “truisms” in church about anxiety that are not accurate interpretations of Scripture.

See if you have heard any of these:

“God does not give us a spirit of fear, so if you are fearful, you do not have faith in God,” and “there are 365 verses in the Bible against fear, anxiety and worry, one for every day of the year, so clearly God tells us not to fear.”

The implication of those statements is that our anxiety is evidence of our lack of faith or our failing to rely on God or our outright disobedience to Him. These examples are relatively tame, unhelpful maybe, but tame. But there is another message I have heard that is much more damaging and, and that is the idea that since God doesn’t give us fear, it must be from the devil. I have even heard that anxiety in one’s life is evidence of demonic activity. These misinterpretations of Scripture have been around for a very long time, some from even before we had a good scientific understanding of anxiety.

It’s important to make a few distinctions of what we mean by the word “anxiety.” It is possible to experience anxiety and worry about our faith. Early in my own spiritual walk, I often worried that I wasn’t “truly saved” or I’d wonder if God’s Word and His promises were really true. These kind of questions about God, and the worry about them we might have, are best addressed through prayer, Bible study and ongoing discipleship. But unfortunately, when we only address anxiety as a spiritual issue and not a legitimate medical and mental health issue, well-intentioned Christian people offer the wrong solutions and so, good Christian people suffer without help. When one suffers with an anxiety disorder, we describe anxious thoughts as intrusive, unwanted and distressing. If you have an anxiety disorder, you know you have tried to stop your thoughts, you have prayed that God would increase your faith and remove your anxiety, and yet you can feel powerless to stop them.

It’s time to move forward and away from these unhelpful messages. Anxiety is a medical and mental health disorder that is complex, with many different presentations, that is very responsive to treatment. Our Christian faith is no protector against getting this disorder, BUT there is good news.

I often journey with my clients through their anxiety and I love to challenge them to invite God into their anxiety. Because what is true, is that God has promised to be always with us. What our faith does give us is the most loyal friend to help us face any struggle we might have. Because we have attached anxiety with a weakness of faith, many feel guilt and shame about their anxiety and try to hide from God, rather than invite Him in.

There are actually more than 365 verses in the Bible that reference fear, anxiety and worry, and I think God addresses it so much because He knows how easily we can worry, be anxious or be afraid. Ever since the Fall, when Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden of Eden, humankind has had to work for their food and shelter, fight for survival and worry if they will even make it in this world. It is also because of the Fall that sickness and disease came into the world. God knows how naturally we worry and He loves us so much, that He gives us plenty of reminders. Even though God does not give us our fears, and in His original design at creation there was no worry, it is now a very common experience.

So yes, pray about it. Ask God to remove your anxiety, join you in fighting back against your anxiety and fill you with courage to seek professional help when it lingers.

For Further Study:

  • Reach out to your corps officer/pastor, school counselor or your medical doctor to start a conversation about finding a licensed professional to help treat your anxiety.
  • There are helpful apps you can use to help you relax and unwind when your anxiety has your mind racing: “Calm” and “Breathe2Relax.”
  • A book I like to recommend is “Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry,” by Amy Simpson.

Dr. Hurula holds a doctorate in clinical psychology and master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College. Her passion is the integration of psychology and Christian faith in our understanding of people. Dr. Hurula is a fifth-generation Salvationist (member of The Salvation Army) and attends the Oakbrook Terrace Corps in the Central Territory. She currently serves of the Director of the Wheaton College Counseling Center.

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