We are in a new series titled Biblical Solutions to Pandemic Problems. We will be looking at common problems during this season such as anxiety, fear, loneliness, boredom etc and find out real solutions from the Bible for these real issues. These problems are not unique to humanity but rather they are heightened during this pandemic.
Personal Story: Omitted in this manuscript. Can be found in the audio only.
CS Lewis - Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also harder to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken’.
The world at best helps you manage these problems while the Bible gives solutions to overcome these problems.
Some current scenario in India
1. India is the most depressed country in the world according to a recent WHO report. Practo announced in a release that mental health-related queries grew 665% since last year. 85% of the respondents were below the age of 40. Some of the common issues for which people enquired were for anxiety, panic attacks, depression, alcohol problem, sleep disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder and fear. BBC analysed some causes for anxiety during this season and concluded that these issues have become unbearable because of an unlimited news intake, excessive use of social media, binge watching and the fear of virus itself.
2. What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal biological response to threat. It is normal and universal.
3. Anxiety vs fear
Most people dont understand the relationship and difference between anxiety and fear. Both have similar emotions and yet they are different. Fear has to do when a threat is immediate while anxiety has to do with a future, imagined, vague threat. This threat can be real or imagined but it is in the future.
For example, when a dog chases you, you are afraid. But someone might be afraid of dogs. Both have similar emotions but the dog chasing causes fear and fear of dogs relates to anxiety.
It is normal to be anxious before an exam, an interview, before making a presentation before a crowd, moving to a new city, meeting new people. Anxiety is a normal emotion that helps us adapt, prepare, adjust, protect ourselves and be alert.
4. Not all anxiety is bad. It becomes bad when it begins to hinder normal functions.
5. Signs of anxiety
These are signs one has to pay attention which can point to some form of anxiety.
Physical - Restlessness, fatigue, muscle tension, difficulty falling or staying asleep, difficulty concentrating, shakiness, trembling, palpitations, rapid or shallow breathing, aches, light headedness, dizziness.
Emotional – fear, dread, uneasiness, insecurity, overwhelmed and feeling not in control.
Cognitive – thoughts are intrusive, uncontrollable, recurrent, irrational and automatic.
We tend to internalise out thoughts. Thoughts like, “I am a failure, no one loves me, I won’t make it, I am not good enough…” are recurrent and uncontrollable. The person will increasingly have negative and critical thoughts about situations, about others, future and even about God. When they do something bad at work, they are afraid that they will get fired, when their friends reply to their messages, they conclude that their friends don’t like them, when they have conflict with their spouse, they think their spouse will leave them. These thoughts are irrational and recurrent. They tend to imagine the worst possible scenarios and dwell on it again and again. They will project their current fears into future and imagine the worst. They often tend to jump to conclusions without waiting for outcomes. These thoughts escalate and become more intense as time goes by.
Behavioural - There are three common behavioural responses.
Fight - anger, aggression, irritable, snappy.
Flight – avoidance, procrastinating, escaping to binge watching, over eating or sleeping.
Freeze – feeling numb, feeling stuck, paralysed, lack of motivation and low mood.
In normal anxiety, these thoughts are fleeting. They are like waves, they come but they soon disappear. But when the anxiety is bad, these thoughts are persistent, excessive, disproportionate to situation, the mind is constantly preoccupied with anxious thoughts, not able to turn it off, extended period of physical symptoms and it begins to affect normal functions.
This is when a person should get help. Help can be in the form of just sharing your anxieties with a friend and processing your fears. It can also mean meeting with a professional counsellor to get help. It depends on how severe the anxiety is.
Most people wonder about anxiety for a believer. Usually people dismiss anxiety in religious settings or give pat answers such as “Don’t be anxious”, “Just pray”, “God is there” or even attribute it to some hidden sin or weak faith. Some wonder if they are even saved when they struggle with anxiety. Is anxiety sin?
Like we said earlier, not all anxiety is bad. Being anxious before an exam or an interview is a normal emotional response. Some people are even more anxious than others and it is part of their personality traits. Some anxiety can be a direct result of sin. Imagine someone steals money from their office, every time they go to work they will be filled with anxiety whether they will get caught or not. Anxiety is also fundamentally rooted in unbelief. It is an unbelief in the goodness of God.
The best way for a believer to process anxiety is not to look at it as a lack of faith but a battle of faith. Our faith is under attack and it is a call to stand firm and dig deeper into our relationship with God.
Our passage is from Philippians 4 which is the most common passage that deals with anxiety.
Phil 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious abt anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Paul is in prison. He has lost everything, his goals and plans have come to nothing, he is abandoned, chained and locked up. He should be filled with anger, depression and anxiety. But instead he is filled with joy and peace. How is this possible? Here are 3 practical steps to deal with anxiety.
A. Be conscious
Most struggle to realise when they are anxious and are not aware when anxiety is unhealthy and when it is normal. Most times we keep going on and on when our body and mind is crying for help.
Be conscious of what is happening to your body, moods, sleep and behaviour.
Be conscious of your pattern of thinking, what you are feeding your mind with, your fears and what you are preoccupied with.
Be conscious of your routine, time you spend on social media or binge watching.
Be conscious of what triggers these anxious thoughts. And when you are conscious, be honest about your emotions, fears, worry and anxiety instead of dismissing it.
B. Be curious
a. Be curious about what you pursue
We all want joy and peace. But we think the way to joy is through unending pleasure. So we pursue pleasure with all our heart. But more pleasure does not lead to joy, instead it leads to more anxiety.
Some think the way to joy is through success and how we define it. They feel if they get into the right college, pass an important exam, find a good placement in a company or get to a position in their career etc. So they pursue this with all our heart but it leads to more anxiety not joy.
Some think that the way to joy is by avoiding or procrastinating difficult decision and tasks. We end up shopping or streaming to avoid what’s next. This leads to more anxiety, not less. – shopping/streaming
All these are false saviours, not meant to save, redeem, fulfil or satisfy you.
b. Be curious to what you believe about yourself
You can process this with yourself or with a friend.
What is are you really afraid of? What is your deepest fear?
What are you really anxious about?
What story do you tell yourself? What lies do you tell yourself? Believing these lies leads to more anxiety and not joy.
c. Be curious about the root of your anxiety
Anxiety is a surface feeling that masks deeper feelings of embarrassment, fear, grief, helplessness, loneliness, sadness or hurt.
d. Be curious about what you believe about God
The root of anxiety is ultimately unbelief. It is unbelief that God is not good enough, he does not care, he is not powerful to provide, he is not fair or just or true. Anxiety and worry is a sign that I am letting fear and lies disciple me and not God.
When we are conscious and curious, we begin to see that we have traded joy for fleeing pleasures, false promises and lies. The result is personally I become more anxious, spiritually God feels more distant and relationally I am restless.
C. Be connected
6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Be connected to God and be connected to God’s people. You don’t have to let anxiety cripple you. God offers help through his people. They can remind you of the gospel, your worth and value in Christ, they can point you to the light, to the beauty of Christ and gently help you see the lies you believe and remind you of the truth. God uses people as a vehicle of his grace, comfort and help. So don’t deny it. Don’t let pride or shame keep you from reaching out.
Be connected to God. He is the source of peace and joy. God is not mad, angry or disappointed with you our unbelief or anxiety. God looks at us with unconditional love, he weeps with us and he long to help us.
How can you be connected with God? It is in the context of prayer. Paul talks about dealing with your anxieties in the context of prayer and thanksgiving.
My friend Akshay shared the following in our conversation about this passage.
Anxiety is being preoccupied with what I don’t have.
Gratitude is being preoccupied with what has been given.
And Prayer is being preoccupied with God, the giver of all things.
One thing we struggle with when we are anxious is prayer with gratitude because our thoughts are far from what Jesus has done for us.
We see Jesus deal with anxiety in the following passage.
Matt 26:36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
When the writer uses the words sorrowful and troubled. He is using the language of anxiety. Jesus was so troubled and sorrowful that he thought he was going to die. Only Jesus can be anxious and yet without sin. So this is not sinful anxiety. But it is true that Jesus agonized about the cross, the pain, the shame, the curse and the ultimate wrath of God which was going to descend upon him.
It is in this most darkest moment, he calls to his close friends Peter, James and John and he pleads with them to watch with him and pray as he is unable to bear this pain. He tells them to just be with him in his dark moment. Stay with me, he pleads. But he was abandoned by his friends.
Why did Jesus go through such pain? Why was Jesus called a man of sorrows? He did it for you and me. He agonised and later took the cross and died in our place so we don’t have to be filled with agony about our life and eternal destiny. He did it so that in our present anxieties, he is with us, praying for us, being near us, for us, in us giving us strength and grace. And one day we will be with him when all our agony and anxiety will be turned into unimaginable joy in his presence.