Confronting Worry Part Two: The Anatomy of Anxiety

We know we’re not supposed to, but we all do it. And for some of us it becomes life altering.

I remember, more vividly than I would like to, the great anxiety I experienced in my teens and early twenties. Most of my worry was rooted in social and relational fears. I spent countless nights crying myself to sleep. That sick-to-your-stomach anxiety was one of my closest companions. It even caused me to lose weight my freshman year of college instead of gaining the infamous ‘freshman 15.’

Worry can turn a fun-loving and kind person into a sickly, fearful, and irrational mess. I know. So do some of you.

Thankfully, God has brought me to a place where I usually don’t experience those anxiety symptoms much at all anymore. He has helped to be more secure in His Truth in so many aspects of life. And He has shown me a tremendous love that has cast out many of my fears.

But God impressed on me the need to devote time to study in this area so that I could share with others, concretely from His Word, about how to become an overcomer of worry. I have experienced a morsel of the immense Peace that God has to offer in return for our anxiety and I so desperately yearn to somehow encourage others to taste of that Peace too!

That’s why about a year ago I did a more serious study of what God’s Word has to say about worry.

There was one discovery from my study that for me was so poignant and convicting. It helped me to realize how much worry and anxiety (used somewhat synonymously in the New Testament) hinder growth in the believer’s life – how much it had in mine.

Μέριμνα. Yes, that’s Greek, but it’s what one important point hangs upon, so bear with me for a moment. This Greek word transliterated is ‘merimna,’ – for those of you who want to know the pronunciation.  It most often is translated as ‘care,’ or ‘anxiety’ in the New Testament. Through further examination though, I came to realize that there was another idea attached to this word. And that is the idea of being distracted or divided through worry. Let me illustrate with a Bible verse that exemplifies this nuance.

Mark 3:24-25 “And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (KJV)

There it is, in the word ‘divided,’ our Greek word ‘merimna.’ Are you beginning to see what is implied?

Worry divides our attention, our emotions, our thinking in such a way that it does not allow us to function wholeheartedly in any given realm of life.

This concept hit me hard as I came face to face with the results of my anxiety. I began to realize how anxiety had divided me as a person. It distracted me from the truth, it distracted me from seeing God at work in my life and others’, and it therefore prevented spiritual growth in my life. I see now there were so many, many opportunities I have had to be a testimony to those around me, but because I had succumbed to worry, especially about what others would think, I missed out on what could have been life changing moments. And I missed out on the joy that comes from fearlessly obeying Jesus.

As I dug deeper into God’s Word, another passage confronted me with a similarly convicting message: worry and anxiety make us fruitless Christians.

In Matthew 13 Jesus tells the parable of the sower and the seed. He is explaining the different responses people have to hearing the Truth. Some don’t understand, some receive it temporarily and then walk away when difficulties arise. Then we get to verse 22: “And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the WORRY of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes UNFRUITFUL.” (NASB)

There you have it. God’s Word, His Truth, is squelched by worry. He longs for us to be fruitful, doing the good works He has prepared for us to do (Eph. 2:10). That is where we find abundant life, by being the people He created us to be and letting His power be at work through us.

But worry demolishes abundance. It makes a believer’s life impotent.

This is not what God desires for us, what I desire for myself, or what I desire for anyone else who knows the Truth and has the great privilege of walking in it.

We could go on and touch upon all that modern psychology has to say about anxiety and it’s symptoms. But I think we all know and have at times experienced the physical and mental ramifications of a life led by anxiety.

Whatever angle you examine it from, worry is a destructive thing physically, spiritually, mentally, and socially. But above all else it is a tool of the Enemy to draw us away from the One, Jesus, who can truly bear all our burdens – and not only ours but the burdens of the whole world.

I urge you dear sister or brother, don’t let your abundant life in Christ be stolen! Fervently seek after the God of all peace and I guarantee you will find rest in Him!

“The next hour, the next moment, is as much beyond our grasp and as much in God’s care, as that a hundred years away. Care for the next minute is just as foolish as care for the morrow, or for a day in the next thousand years – in neither can we do anything, in both God is doing everything.”  George MacDonald 

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Confronting Worry: My Story (Part 1)

I quickly wove the fingers of my left hand into my husband’s and gripped firmly. My right hand clutched the airplane seat arm rest. The lights flickered a few times and then went out. The hundreds of other people on our plane were tensely quiet, as was I. I watched as the long row of overhead storage running down the center of the cabin rapidly shook back and forth. Then we plummeted. I felt weightless for a moment, and then like someone was forcing me back down into my seat.

My grip tightened as I imagined what could possibly be happening to cause our giant double-decker Boeing 747 to be tossed around like nothing more than a feather. My tension redoubled as I thought about the fact that we were over the vast Pacific Ocean, with no place for an emergency landing, just the fierce water below.

Thoughts of my five young children potentially facing life without their parents swarmed in my mind. About the difficulties they would encounter that we might not be there to shepherd them through. And I wanted nothing more than to be home.

But the most terrifying realization was that I was helpless – at the mercy of our pilots and the sky.

Nothing could distract me from these frightening thoughts. Not a book, not the myriad in-flight movies available, not even the comfort of my husband. My senses were heightened to the extreme and aware of even the slightest jostle.

The intense turbulence continued off and on for the first three hours of our 11 hour flight from Taiwan to San Francisco. To say I spent the flight worried would be a gross understatement. Panic probably comes closer to reality.

The irony of my circumstance was that I had taught on overcoming worry just days before, during Shorebreak (camp for military High School students living abroad). God was reminding me that the victory over worry I have experienced in my life didn’t necessarily ensure no further struggle. It was time to practice what I taught.

I knew I needed to stand against this worry, whose root was my physical safety and life. I must “be anxious for nothing,” and “let my requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). So I prayed. And I relied on the fact that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, because I certainly couldn’t eek out a complete sentence to God, such was the fear and anxiety.

But my feeble attempts didn’t bring the immediate rush of spiritual peace I longed for in that moment. Even so, I knew I had to keep resisting. Just as I had taught days before, I took hold of the command to think about what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, etc…. (Phil. 4:8). The only way I was able to do this was to sing songs full of God’s truth. I racked my brain for hymns and choruses to focus on, rather than my fear.

As I was nearing the end of my repertoire, I remembered a little tune that I had made up for my oldest daughter when she was afraid.

You don’t need to be afraid,

There’s no cause for alarm.

You don’t need to be afraid,

When you trust in God above.

 

Have I not commanded you,

Be strong and of good courage?

For the Lord Your God

Is on your side!

 

You don’t need to be afraid,

There’s no cause for alarm.

You don’t need to be afraid,

When you trust in God above.

It’s such as simple little song, but for some reason God used those words to bring me the most peace in the midst of fearing for my life. He used them to remind me of His sovereignty. That my life was His, to do with as He pleased.

As difficult as it was for this mother to face, God reminded me that if He did choose to bring me home at that moment, He would care for my children. And perhaps, that was the plan He wanted to work out in their lives (though it cuts me to the heart to think about it).

Thankfully, it was God’s plan to leave us here with our family a little while longer! But, I emerged from this encounter with a bigger perspective of life. People come and go, they are born and they die, and yet God is in complete control. And more importantly, He can take tragedy and transform it into triumph.

Through the study of God’s Word and the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, I can confidently say that I am more of an ‘overcomer’ of worry and anxiety now than I have ever been before. I’m sure more circumstances will arise to put me to the test, but with God’s help I know it’s possible to be victorious.

There is much more I plan to share from my study of this topic. It is my deep hope and prayer that anyone else bound up by worry and anxiety might experience the true peace that God has to offer us all!