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.

You can’t do everything

I found some wisdom recently…

You can’t do everything.

This seems to be a recurring theme in my life actually.

I wrote this post a couple years ago when my husband told me I didn’t need to use all my gifts at once. Ha!

You see, there are so many good ideas and worthwhile ventures in this short life. Couple that with the urgency of the Gospel, and you can easily end up with a ball of busyness.

I’m learning with time that I can’t, in fact, do everything.

The Mary and Martha story of Luke 10 has always felt like a thorn in the flesh to me. Yes, Dearest Lord Jesus, I know I need to rest in You, but I really, really like to try and do it all. 😉

My attitude about it changed with these words from a wise speaker at a long ago women’s retreat…

“Mary gave up something good…for something better.”

It’s not that serving and creating and doing aren’t good, it’s that they aren’t better. I need to lay some things down so that I can put my whole heart into Christ, and to what He has given me to do, and do it well.

Maybe that’s a twisting of the story a little bit, because the focus of the passage in Luke 10:38-42 is really on resting in the Lord, but I think it applies more broadly. Anytime I chase trying to do more than I know I’m intended, when resting ceases, and anxiety presses in, when I ignore that still small voice, I’m missing something the Lord is trying to offer me – His comfort, His peace, His control for this day.

So in order to concentrate on the Better, I’m going to give up the good. I’ve realized I need to give up a lot of good things, so that I can focus on writing, at least for a time. Yes, I want to do everything at church. Yes, I want to be the involved mom at my kid’s school. Yes, I want to…fill in the blank…but I can’t do it all.

Giving up the good for the better, will allow me to continue producing more I Love My Shepherd print studies, like

He Calls Me Loved: A Study of Isaiah (coming June 2018)

Good Gifts: A Study of James (coming 2019)

Chasing Freedom: A Study of Galatians (release date TBD)

I am also working on streamable and downloadable video and audio segments for all the studies, as well as downloadable retreat formats for each study.

Plus…podcasts, articles, and resources about ministry life, mental health, family life, and all the good stuff you would expect from I Love My Shepherd…only Better. 😉

What is good in your life? Take a minute to thank God for all the good things He is doing through you and around you? Share them with me in the comments. I would love to hear what He is doing in and through you!

 

Are there any of those good things that can go? Those things that are good, but aren’t Better? Any one thing even that could leave more time for resting in the Word, for spending more time in genuine relationships, or for putting energy into doing something God has called you to with your whole heart?

Thank you for all your support, readers! You give me more encouragement than you can imagine.

Setting aside the good, for the Better.

 

Fighting against shallow grace: Forgiving well

This past weekend, my husband and I had a three day argument about who was more right.

Worse yet- It’s the same argument on repeat:

“You don’t listen attentively.”

“You don’t talk very nicely.”

We sometimes become magically more mature and remember our “I-statements”:

“I feel unheard when you don’t listen attentively.”

“I feel hurt when you don’t talk nicely.”

After a few days of this argument, sometimes after a few minutes of this argument, we get tired of it, and we move to something that looks like forgiving each other.

“I’m sorry, I know I don’t always talk nice.”

“I’m sorry, I know I don’t always listen.”

We don’t want to hurt each other. I understand that there are marriages and other family relationships that do go for the jugular with each argumentative blow, but that isn’t the dynamic at work between my husband and I, or most relationships each of you have either.

Many arguments end with “I’m sorry.” at the very least and “It’s ok.” or even better, “You’re forgiven.” Save the few extremely loud individuals who love political drama, most of us aren’t trying to duke it out with words to win some trophy, but something eludes us here. There’s a missing piece. We are settling for shallow grace and arguments on repeat.

Lately, I think at our house we’ve managed to get closer to the heart of it, and this stubborn problem…I know it’s mine.

In Pastor Andrew Richard’s book, Christ and the Church, a  thirty-day devotion concerning marriage, he includes a really helpful day on reconciliation. It unmasked my tendency to seek shallow grace…for myself, for my husband, and in other relationships.

Pastor Richard, proposes five simple words to begin reconciliation:

I am the worse sinner.

Where I wanted shallow grace, a quick “I’m sorry” from my husband to keep me happy, preferably without having to say it myself, Rev. Richard cuts to the chase: I am the worse sinner. This is the door to real grace – recognizing my utter inability to talk nicely to my husband. I have a fault and he gets the brunt of it. Who cares if he doesn’t listen sometimes! I’m loosing out on grace by pointing out his issues in order to avoid fully looking at mine.

I have sinned.

That’s where grace starts.

I know this can all circle around and you may be dying to say, “But wait, if you never talk about what bothers you, how will you solve any marriage struggles?!”

Good point! But that is for discussion time, not confession time. Arguments demand confession. Discussion is for another time. In the heat of the moment, we most often need confession.

Arguments, disagreements, harsh words give me the chance to take the log-shaped trinket out of my left eye and let Gospel grace in.

It’s so hard, so against my nature. That tells me it’s more Jesus than it is me, and that’s a good thing.

Christ has forgiven me. I have been awful. I have wandered. I have been selfish. I have been rageful. I have been lazy. He actively forgives me anyway. There is no shallow, “I’m sorry” “No problem” in my relationship with Him. There is

“Chief of sinners, though I be.”

“I shed my blood for thee.”

The Word cuts to my heart and because I see my need for grace, I see my need for Him.

My husband mirrors this for me in my daily life. He mirrors all my deepest issues. Other familial relationships, even very close friendships, may do a little of this mirroring too, because of their intimacy. My husband gets the best of me, but he also gets the worst of me. These intimate relationships that lay bare our messy souls remind us that Grace is bigger than my mess.

I am the worse sinner.

Those words stick a little in my throat coming out. I’m learning slowly that it’s better this way. It’s better being healed, than being right.


Christ and the Church is available for purchase here, or get a free downloadable copy here.

Another great resource on the topic of forgiveness, particularly when forgiveness feels like an overwhelming task, is Donna Pyle’s, Forgiveness.