Developing a Theology of Anxiety…and Why It Matters (The Truth about Mental Health)

In the famous words of Lin Manuel Miranda via Hamilton: An American Musical

“If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?”

My oldest daughter wanted a t-shirt with this phrase on it for Christmas, but low and behold, of all the Hamilton shirts I could find… this one didn’t exist, at least in time for Christmas.

I have a theory. It’s just so much work to even know what we stand for.

It’s work to scour the internet for research on whether news is fake or real. It’s work to decide what matters to us personally. It’s work to jump on another bandwagon when the next day brings a new thing we need to stand up for.

It helps to have a basic foundation. It helps to believe in something greater and bigger and truer than momentary movements and messages.

As you can imagine, I don’t expect you to know how you feel about everything, or take on every social injustice. But if you’re tired of trying to figure out what ideas to keep and which to set aside, it’s time to get into the Word.

There is a theology to everything we think, feel, and see in this life. We have a basic belief system through which we view life. That thing, whatever it is, gives us stability in an ever changing world.

Why do we need a theology of anxiety in particular?

I’m so glad you asked!

Without a basic lens, you feel like you’re watching a tennis match: looking one way and then the next, following the thing of the moment hoping it’s something that matters.

Studying topics and concerns from the foundation of Scripture tells us what God values, how God sees our situation and our need…otherwise we end up feeling sad, alone, and abandoned because He isn’t participating in this life with us or by our rules.  Then we default to whatever sounds like a good idea to help us at any given time, trying one thing, then the next, and the next, so we end up feeling worse.

In this episode, we look at what God values rather than what the world around us values, and how it affects anxiety and the care we offer for anxiety, as well as mental health stigma in general.

After you listen, give us your thoughts! How do you think the foundations we recognize in our life impact mental health, spiritual care, and anxiety in particular?

*Did you know? The ILMS podcast is sponsored in part by Melissa Sue Photo and Design. I highly recommend her! She does much of my graphic art work and is a gifted professional photographer. She is unapologetically enthusiastic about helping people tell their stories! Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, and her website. Pssst – she’s helping me redesign this summer, so look for an exciting reveal in the Fall. 😉

Trying to find beautiful: On body image and relationships

I have a complicated relationship with the word beautiful.

The first time I remember telling myself I was fat was in junior high.

I’d like to think it had to do with a changing body and hormones, but I don’t think that was it.

There is something about being suddenly aware of boys that throws a girl into new beliefs about herself. I’d like that not to be true – and it may not be an issue for some of you out there – but for many of us that’s just the way it is, and we need to be honest about that. From a very early age, our beauty is tied up in the relationships around us. It actually makes me want to cry a little bit, that our beauty would be wrapped up in what a someone thinks of us. There is something off there, something so connected to the way it’s supposed to be, but not quite right, and it’s hard to figure it all out, so we plunge ahead on weird courses trying to make ourselves feel better,

trying to find beautiful.

In high school, I remember exercising for beauty, rather than health or strength for the first time. Maybe if I did just the right amount of sit ups I would feel better. I remember healthily and not healthily saying no to chips and Snickers bars and pop, because maybe then I’d be pretty and my hips would stop making pants so dang difficult.

I thought with marriage my body image issues would be better. With a husband to tell me I’m beautiful, what can go wrong? That pit of disdain (or at least discomfort) when I weighed myself or looked in the mirror would melt away in the arms of someone who loved me unconditionally.

But it didn’t get better.

Shocker, but a man didn’t solve my problems.

Even as an adult, the word beautiful played games in my head, taunting me with something I’d never be.

I’m not girly.

I’m not graceful.

I’m not good with my hair.

I like food a lot.

And then, one day I turned to my left and saw my daughter. The words taunting me, I heard from her mouth. That was when I demanded that something had to give. I pleaded with God to help me. Lord, I want her to see beautiful in herself, in her friends, in me… instead of maybe ok.

God’s answer, as always, was the Word of God. He picked me up, dusted off my shame, and sent me to the Scriptures.

When I studied and then wrote through the Song of Songs, I began to see that beauty has a lot less to do with pretty and a lot more to do with strength than we think. It has to do with a Savior, and is more intimately connected to His sacrifice and death than I can wrap my head around. It has to do with honor and kindness, even when it holds onto its very physical properties.

And it’s relational.

No wonder I struggled with my beauty based on boys. We understand beautiful in relationship – any and all relationships, romantic, friendship, or familial. That, I believe, is Scriptural Truth.

Healing our beliefs about the word beautiful will be changed in the Word, yes, but God is teaching me that it is also changed in community with each other – in friendship, in life together, in calling out beautiful where we see it, and in proclaiming God’s workmanship in one another – not just to our daughters, but to one another’s daughters, to wives, and to women everywhere.

If you have a complicated relationship with the word beautiful, here is what I want to tell you:

God makes beautiful and God defines beautiful, I don’t get to. I want to believe Him instead, be covered by Him instead of my own ideas about my body and myself and this one word – beautiful,

but we can only do that together.

I’ll never conquer this by myself. Our brains weren’t designed for that. The battle wasn’t meant to be lonely.

Dig out your phone. Text a friend. Tell them they are beautiful. Sing it over them. They need you and in the midst of that, God will heal this weirdness about beauty and beautiful and boys and all of it.

Altogether beautiful, friends.

Let’s help each other begin to believe it.

Click here for a free sample of Altogether Beautiful: A Study of the Song of Songs 

Murky Waters: Fear, Anxiety, and Worry – The Truth about Mental Health

Murky waters…

I remember the time I was on a mission trip to Latvia with two of my, then favorite college students, now very dear friends. We were teaching ESL on a farm in unseasonably warm 96 degree weather. There was a pretty little lake to swim in. During a break one day, we got our bathing suits on, slathered on some sunscreen, grabbed a beach towel, and headed to the lake.

The water was refreshing, although surprisingly murky, which is how we found out a tiny bit too late that the lake was also the habitat for thousands of leeches.

I about lost my stuff.

I had the closest thing to a panic attack I’ve ever experienced. My breath stopped mid-swim. I was sinking. I was powerless to move my arms or my legs, yet somehow I was still chopping, still kicking at the water in a hopeless, full-on flail. My eyes were wide open, but I could see nothing as I went under in those murky waters, aware of only those little black slithering creatures that I was sure were out to get me.

Then, strength and power reached down.

I felt two hands grab under my arms. There were legs kicking me to shore and the familiar voice of my friend David assuring me it was going to be okay,

“It’ll be alright. I have you. I’ve got you.”

Anything God develops for good, Satan will overdevelop for his purposes. While fear wasn’t there at Creation, God certainly gave each of us an innate sense of danger, which kicked in full throttle for me that day at the lake.

This makes fear, anxiety, and worry messy things within themselves. Add that to the murky waters of a messy life and it gets complicated quickly.

Today starts the I Love My Shepherd podcast series –

The Truth About Mental Health: Anxiety

Look for four episodes in the coming weeks:

Today, Episode 42 – Distinguishing Fear, Worry, and Anxiety

Episode 43 – Defining Anxiety: A Recontextualization

Episode 44 – Developing a Theology of Anxiety

Episode 45 – Practical Tools for Anxiety

Whether you deal with anxiety yourself, care for those who experience anxiety in your family or as a professional, or you want to be more aware of how to speak encouragement and life to people in your church and in your neighborhood, know that we are in this walk together.

God is the greater, stronger, perfect version of my friend at the lake. He reaches in and picks us up from the murky waters of life. Sometimes He rescues us from the lake, and sometimes he chooses to help us swim through the mud, but He is at work.

“I have you. I’ve got you.”

Please share your experiences with me. Tell me what you have learned on your own journey with anxiety or helping another. Again, this podcast series is not a substitute for counseling and local resources, but there is always something new to learn and I’d like to at least open a conversation.

The Truth about Mental Health –

Anxiety = the murky waters of a messy life

We will feel the intensity of this broken world at times, all of us in different ways. It’s so much better with God in the midst of it all.