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.

The good fruit of correction

Not many of us like correction. When you were little were you timid and easily molded by your parents instruction or did you have a rebellious internal spirit, difficult to tame and lead, what Dr. Dobson would refer to as the “Strong Willed Child”? Maybe you were a mash up- delightful one minute but bullheaded.

Even if we were easily corrected as a child, no child really likes correction. Who loved a spanking or even a good talking to? Whether we cowered at our parents’ mention of time out or busted full throttle through a threat and on to serious discipline, the correction itself is not the part we liked so much as the satisfaction of independence.

As adults, we’re not much different. No one naturally likes a demerit at work, no one loves to be the one who receives a redo on a project, or a “honey, could you do such-and-such differently” at home. We might like the fruit of correction eventually – a promotion, better understanding, richer marriage communication – but criticism, even when it’s absolutely and wholly constructive, is not found on any of our lists of “Favorite Things”.

James has something to say about correction in James 4:5-10. First focus only on the center of this section and then we’ll zoom out. James 4:7-9:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.

This is correction. A requirement to submit to the authority in charge, namely our mom or dad, our husbands, our teachers, our bosses, or our government leaders. Our internal spirit vacillates between relief that someone else is in charge and frustration that it’s not us. We like control, so submission, even in the most submissive of individuals, is a task of growth, best done intentionally.

Listen to James’s words – submit, humble, cleanse, purify. I’m reminded of just how hard it is to get my kids to remember to intentionally wash their hands after using the bathroom, much less the intentional work of submitting to my husband, even though he is kind of gentle, and to my government leaders when I rarely 100% agree with their ideas and laws.

But we submit to a Higher Authority first. Our big beef with correction when we get down to it, is that God is in charge and we are not. We like to choose our own path, direct our own ways and we simply were not made for that. James uses the best language imaginable for the type of submission that goes with correction in our relationship with God. Look back at James 4:8 –

Draw near to God…

Write it somewhere to remember it. If I were crazy (and I am) I would write it on my hand, or my foot, or the top of my knee, to remind me that relationship with God means bending said knee and bowing my pretty little head. It is submission and that’s important- He’s Holy and Mighty and Far Above. But God operates differently in relationship with Him than He does outside of relationship with Him. Submitting in relationship with God is drawing near, being held, and yes, being corrected.

Zoom out to the wider view of James 4:5-10. Read the whole passage below. If you have your Bible out, underline verses 5-6 to see the relationship that we are given with our Father through the Savior.

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

He gives more grace…

That’s Who He is. He gives more grace. Correction is hard…

That pinprick of the conscience when we know we’ve done wrong

Opening our mouth for words of apology when we have spoken too harshly

Walking the hard road because we took our own way the first time around

Correction is hard.

But take heart! Correction by the Father is always delivered with grace. We can see the fruits of it through this lens.

Forgiveness can come in –

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:9

Goodness comes in, completeness comes in  –

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.   2 Timothy 3:16

Rootedness comes in –

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
    but he who hates reproof is stupid.
No one is established by wickedness,
    but the root of the righteous will never be moved.          Proverbs 12:1,3

These are good fruits! God fruits.

James calls our laughter to be mourning and our joy to be gloom, but only because he knows that in that correction for a moment, we can see the light of Eternity forever.

We see our God clearer and closer. He’s right there, eyes in the back of His head, just like a Father, watching in tenderness.

He gives more grace…Draw near…

He’s ready to pick us up when we fall down, dust us off, and help us along as we journey the steep and the narrow, the wide and the open, always one day closer and nearer to Him.



What were you like as a child? How did you deal with correction?

Is there any particular instance of correction you remember growing up?

How has God corrected you in adulthood and when is a time you came through the correction, thankful for His guidance?

An opening torn

Casting Away Stones – Ecclesiastes 3
Week 7 – Ecclesiastes 3:7

Day One: An opening torn
Day Two: A God who sews
Day Three: Foot in mouth, rams horns, and blessed silence
Day Four: a time to speak
Day Five: Mending with words

Heart verse:
Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
    sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
                                                        Proverbs 16:24

Photo credit to

Day 1 – An opening torn

My friend, Sarah, is a seamstress. 

I am so impressed with her. I do not sew. I can do buttons, or even a patch, but to turn on a machine and create something wonderful is not my forte. She creates all kinds of garments – skirts for her goddaughters, fun bags for friends, and very ornate historical costumes. I’m in awe. One minute it’s a piece of fabric, another minute it’s something wearable, fitted perfectly to an individual, making someone feel loved and beautiful. She’s also the artist for our prayer card this week. (Check it out under the Casting Stones tab at the top of this page.)

Ecclesiastes 3:7 –
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

The word for tear in Hebrew is from the root word “qara” (kaw-rah).*
This word can mean to tear, to rend, to tear apart, to split apart. It is notably used in the Old Testament in relationship to grief and loss. It sounds like we moved back a couple of weeks to a time to weep and a time to mourn. All over the Old Testament, and even a little in the New Testament, people are tearing their garments out of grief or distress. Have no fear! While these are commonly related, we are not going to work through that again. Just know that they are related. If you’d like some examples to look up, here are a few:

Genesis 37:29-36 – Rueben tears his clothes in response to the brothers misuse of Joseph
Ezra 9:1-9 – Ezra tears his garment in grief over Israel’s faithlessness
1 Kings 11:7-13 – Solomon’s kingdom is torn from him, because he has been unfaithful to the Lord

But God, He does a different kind of tearing.
We don’t want to miss it.That is the tearing we are going to look at today. There was a time for tearing in response to grief and loss, and there will be a times of grief and loss in our own lives. God has also revealed something new, though. He has torn the Old away and ushered in the New. Let’s look at Matthew 27:45-54 –

45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”47 And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

The temple curtain torn. The New has come.

Hebrews 10:14-23 helps to clarify this –
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,
16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
    and write them on their minds,”
17 then he adds,
I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

He who promised is faithful. All I can say to that is Amen! Let’s look at some of the language in the passage as explanation for the significance of the temple curtain, torn in two. Top to bottom, torn.

Look back through the passage above for these phrases. If you have your Bible out, let’s do a little underlining…
a single offering”
the Holy Spirit also bears witness”
the covenant that I will make”
where there is forgiveness”
the new and living way”
full assurance of faith”

Which one of these phrases speaks Grace into your life this day?
Find a phrase and breathe it in. Each of the words feel fresh off the page for me as I write this, even though they are centuries old. Bask in the mercy of the New Covenant. And listen to this phrase in particular, hear it with freshness –
since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain…”

He has opened the holy places for us. The curtain torn in two means that we no longer need to rend anything. Joel 2:12-13 is a beautiful passage with another tearing –
Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
    and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
    and he relents over disaster.

We can only see the mercy and grace of this passage through Christ’s tearing. Nothing can compare to the riches of Christ’s new covenant, Christ’s new tearing. The message of Scripture, within the framework of Christ’s new covenant for us as believers, is not simply in the tearing, but what the tearing does…the opening.

With Christ’s death on the cross (“through His flesh” in Hebrews 10:20), everything holy is open wide. Doors flung open, but even more torn open. The tearing is painful, but Christ took that tearing for me. And when that temple curtain was torn in two, open wide, out came forgiveness and mercy, in a way the world had not even begun to consider before.
Rend your hearts and not your garments…” says Joel 2:13, because we can “draw near with a true heart in full assurance…” We stand before God and ask Him to open wide our hearts. Open wide our hearts to Him, to His children, to His work, to everything that is eternal and gracious, and just.

When we read tear, we ask God to tear open anything that stands between Him and us, because He has already torn that down once and for all. In Christ, we stand assured. Oh He is faithful. Faithful.

Father, we thank you for your work in our lives. We thank you for your death and resurrection. We thank you for offering yourself. Your very self – for us. We lay our hearts before You, praising You. Asking you to keep working on us. To keep us firm in the knowledge of your continual work in our lives. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.
Discussion questions:
What expressions of grief have you seen or experienced that were helpful in the mourning?
What Old Testament stories do you remember about the temple?
What has God opened your heart to over time and what do you think He is asking you to open your heart to currently?