On a crisp, fall day in 1973, I was a college junior, and I was feeling rather anxious about the things going on in the world. The technological developments in the mass media had made it possible to be instantly aware of the many threats and problems we faced around the globe.
I came across a book that day by Gary R. Collins, “A Psychologist Looks at Life.” He, along with other mental health professionals of the time, conceded that we were officially living in “the age of anxiety.”
If 1973 ushered in the “age of anxiety,” then we have taken that anxiety monster and made it even bigger. The American Psychological Association recently published findings that spokesperson Dr. Lynn Bufka describes as the most alarming stress report in their 15-year history.
Everyone has a problem with fear, worry and anxiety
Mental health professionals tell us that it is natural for us to experience fear, worry and anxiety from time to time. The Bible also reflects this understanding. God created us as emotional beings.
Christian psychologist Dr. Tim Allchin says our emotions are given by God to put us “into motion.” For instance, he says that fear is a God-given emotion that alerts our minds to danger, be it real or perceived. He states that anxiety is what we feel when our body is responding to the emotion of fear, and worry is the thought process that mulls over and gives power to the object of our fear.
When we read the Scriptures, we see a God that does not want us to be hurt by emotions that were designed to help us survive and thrive. If there’s one thing Jesus tried to teach his disciples, it is that they learn to master their emotions.
We can make these God-given emotions work for us instead of against us. When you feel fearful, take a minute to analyze what exactly is causing the fear. Ask yourself, “Am I experiencing a real threat or is it just imagined? Are my spiritual priorities in line? Am I worried about things that are temporary in nature? Is my life based on love of neighbor? Am I worried about things I can’t control?”
Our fear, worry and anxiety reflect our understanding of God
When we fundamentally do not believe God is a loving God that is present with us in all we do, we, of course, are going to live fearful, anxious lives. If your view of God is one of a detached, uncaring God, then I strongly urge you to dig into the Scriptures and see for yourself what kind of God our God really is.
There are numerous times and varied ways God says to us, “Don’t be afraid. I’m right here with you. Let me help you. You need peace? I’ll give you peace. You need calm? I’ll give you calm. You need strength? I’ve got more than enough for you! You need wisdom to plan your course of action? Let me help you think through that. Put it on me! Trust me with it! Let’s find a way together.”
We can’t do life by ourselves—at least not very well. When we spend quality time in prayer and meditation with the One who made us, we find our source of power to overcome fear, worry and anxiety in complicated, challenging times.
Jesus said in John 15 (CEB), “Remain in me as I remain in you…because apart from me you can do nothing.” Another way Jesus could have said this is, “You want my power? Connect yourself tightly to me. Be my branch! I’ll be your vine. Stop worrying about tomorrow. Let me show you how to live one day at a time.”
When we spend time in the Scriptures, when we remain in Christ Jesus the Lord, we will have a right view of God—a God who is faithful and just, a God who wishes us to do great and marvelous things…starting with overcoming our fears and anxieties.
The best way to redirect our fears and anxieties is to look beyond ourselves
We must spend less time worrying about our own wants and needs and more time figuring out how to help our neighbor. A young lawyer asked Jesus what he needed to do to fulfill his purpose in life. Jesus confirmed for that young man what he already knew: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27 (CEB)
This is who we were made to be, what we were made to do. This is God’s prescription for us to operate at our optimum. Anxiety left unchecked will paralyze us. It will isolate us. It will cause self-doubt. But when we learn to focus our energy and our thoughts on someone else’s problem, our anxieties seem to drain right out of us.
This emptying of our anxious energy has a great and blessed effect. It makes room for God to fill us with a renewed spirit of purpose and resolve, an inspired new vision for our lives. When we love God with everything we’ve got, and love our neighbor as ourselves, a great spiritual mystery occurs. We are at our best because we are being made holy. We are living life as God designed it to be lived. We are channeling God’s mind, heart and spirit.
Remember God’s promises
The Scriptures make one thing perfectly clear to the people of God, no matter what era or what circumstance, and that is this: The God of creation, the Great I Am, did not create us to live lives crippled by fear, worry and anxiety.
Isaiah 41:10 (CEB) proclaims, “Don’t fear, because I am with you; don’t be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will surely help you; I will hold you with my righteous strong hand.”
Sam C. Murillo is a United Methodist layperson in the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference. He lives in Franklin, Tennessee. The contact for this story is Laura Buchanan.
This story was originally published on September 26, 2022.