Anxiety, Shame, and the Church

The weight of anxiety in this world today is palpable.

Is it any wonder?

We live in a world with so many homes shaken by loss, concerned for provision and mounting student and credit card debt and the constant barrage of should’s and would’s in marriage and parenting; a world with emptier churches and full addiction clinics; a world where terrorism knocks on the front door. In this world, the sheer amount of graphic images and social media we take in each day may heighten our internal anxiety meters to red alert all by themselves.

You may not struggle with anxiety yourself, but you see the fruit of it all around you. It seems like a problem with a pretty simple solution- trust.

So why does it wreck the hearts and minds of so many Christians?

It would seem that casting cares isn’t as simple as we’d like to make it out to be.

When someone is anxious we often share a small half-sentence found in 1 Peter 5:6-7. I’m sure you can find the familiar words below:

 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

While this Scripture, is certainly applicable, what if this verse actually perpetuates the problem of anxiety for many anxious Christians and non-Christians?

What if it actually creates anxiety rather than relieves it?

The problem is not in the Scripture itself, but maybe in our application of the text. Just because it says anxiety, doesn’t make it the best verse on the topic.

Unintentionally, we may reach out to someone in compassion, but if all we do is share this verse, the silent undertone of the conversation is

“pray harder, believe stronger, have more faith.”

This verse is given in the context of community, church community in particular. Casting care is done in the safety of relationship, not individually, not as a directive, and not as a pat answer, but as an ongoing connection of two souls, bringing the anxiety of brokenness before the Lord…together.

More appropriately, every single one of us in this faith walk stand every day as the father in the book of Mark – seeking healing from the troubles of this world, from illness, from disease, from brokenness:

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

Christ Jesus took on the cross for us, not so that we would have no trouble and all fear would be gone.
God uses even this: anxiety, fear, lack of trust, turmoil.

Anxiety, like all suffering, can be useful in that it points us to our own need for the Savior. It’s like little alarm bells in our bodies that tell us – You were made for more than this life. Heaven will come one day when all this trouble will be no more.

He took on the cross so that whatever fear we may have in this life may be given to Him, shared with Him, and cared for in the Body of Christ, where shame has no place, within the context of eternal life won, the tomb empty, and hope reigning. Allowing the church, the pastor’s office, or a simple conversation over coffee to be a safe place to share the burden decreases the shame of having anxiety for the one struggling. It makes seeking spiritual care, counseling, medication, or any other treatment so much easier and less shaming also.

We were made for casting cares, yes, but deeper than that, we were made for connection – sharing the Word, sharing Hope, being honest with one another about our own struggles, and sharing the grace of Christ in the midst of the mess.


Coming January and February 2018 – a new series on the I Love My Shepherd Podcast –

The Truth about Mental Health: Anxiety.

Episodes include topics such better defining anxiety, creating a framework of theology for anxiety, helpful passages in spiritual care for anxiety, and Embrace it or Escape it: practical suggestions for anxiety care. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher.

YA Bonus – Freedom isn’t all about you

Someone next to you needs to hear your voice.

Perhaps you don’t already know this, so I will speak it plainly:

Someone needs you.

You know people that I don’t know. You sit beside people that I do not sit beside. You have influence in the lives of people around you, whether you know it or not.

When you speak hope, hope shines.

When you speak Life, Life shines.

When you speak Christ, Christ shines.

There are people in this world who will never open a Bible, and people who may hear the name of Jesus but do not know the freedom He offers, the power of the resurrection to lift guilt and shame and all the junk of life.

Your pressures and struggles are different than mine. Youth and young adults have pressures and struggles that I can imagine, I can talk about from my experience, but ears aren’t quite as open to my voice in the past tense. You have the benefit of the present. You have the benefit of, “I’ve been there. I am there. We’re in it together.”

In today’s podcast we’ll discuss some unique yokes of young adulthood and why “in it together” matters more than you might think.

Refusing to be halfway in

How many times have you invited someone and never received an invitation back?

It hurts.

This isn’t new to our generation. Maybe connecting with people is complicated by the presence of social media and a disconnection in neighborhoods, but reaching out and not receiving meaningful relationship in return is not new.

Paul addresses this universal human concern directly in Galatians 4:15-20:

 What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. 18 It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, 19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! 20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

Paul has theological concerns that are the purpose of his letter to the Galatians. He wants them to be spiritually free, not burdened by this yoke of circumcision and Levitical law that the Judaizers were trying to deceive them with. But he knew that spiritual freedom didn’t exist in a box. Spiritual freedom impacts every freedom in the Galatians’ lives, and in ours as well.

Paul’s message was that he wanted, and expected, real, genuine, honest, and reciprocal relationship with the Galatians. Is that too much to ask?

To some extent, yes, and Paul knows it. Our relationships will not be perfect. We are all sinful people. Paul speaks about this in his own letter to the Roman church, in Romans 3:9-12:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”

We are all in this relational reality boat together. I mess up, you mess up. We offer confession and forgiveness and the planet turns and turns.

However, Paul also points out that there is a difference between sin present in our relationships and trading in people we love to impress other people. I can’t deal with masks. I can’t deal with fake, and very many of us cannot deal with that kind of rejection.

Paul, a very real person, had every right to be heartbroken, angry, sad, and bent out of shape about this kind of behavior in a relationship, particularly in the church.

Paul’s message to the Galatians and to us is:

We are all in.

All in.

Paul didn’t shut off his love for them – he wrote and labored for them. He references the pain of his heart and mind, the cost of being tossed aside by his fellow brothers in Galatians 4:19:

…my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!

This is serious labor, the work of relationship.

Just as children are born and grow over time, so does relationship and Paul is going the distance, not giving of himself half-heartedly. Loving when it’s hard. Caring when it feels like too much work, when it physically hurts.

He also calls some BS. Honesty in relationship, spoken in love and with the foundation of real relationship, breaks open the doors for Christ to shape and grow us. Paul, wraps his challenging statements in love for the Galatians.

 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. (Galatians 4:20)

“I wish I could speak gently to you. I wish this conversation wasn’t so necessary or so painful…” (Heidi’s paraphrase)

However, he calls it like it is. He expects the Galatians to be all in, as well; Nothing less.

Some people include so that the can exclude.

Whether on purpose or because they are unaware of life outside themselves, this is being halfway in a relationship. It’s not ok.

Paul says, All in or no in.

It gives me strength in relationship to know that I can call it like it is in love, have some level of Biblical expectation of people, while letting Christ form each of our imperfect selves. All wrapped up in the grace of a God who does not disappoint, who always includes.

God is completely and utterly all in.

Romans 8:31-32 is one of my favorite Bible passages about our All-in God:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

All things- exactly what we need for freedom in our relationships, exactly what we need for this day, for this difficult person, for being true and real and honest, when life is grand and when it’s tougher than we ever imagined.

Lord, you are an All-In God. Guide us in our steps, our days, and our relationships to love and set boundaries as You would have us, but to never give up hope that You are working, to give when it’s hard labor, and to love when we do not receive. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.


Discussion questions:

What are your relationship pet peeves? When are relationships hard for you? What happens in them to make them hard?

When has God called you to have stronger boundaries, while remaining “all in” in a relationship?

When has someone invited you further into their life in a way that spoke grace into your life?