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.

Freedom to walk away

I used to work with offenders.

That’s a terrible way of saying it. Really, I worked in treatment with those who came to me with notes written on their file, like sex offender and domestic violence offender. We used fancy terminology like recidivism and compulsion, but mostly we were concerned with the recurring nature of the problems, the abuse.

I thought, going into it, that I would teach people skills and I would uncover lies; I would advocate for voices that had been silenced. I did, but mostly I learned a lot about others, about myself, and about grace; about what is dirty and clean, what is conceivable, and what is forgivable.

I had to look in a mirror in that work and come face to face with this Truth:

I am capable.

I am not better.

I am not above.

Chief of sinners, though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me.

See, I have a slightly shady past. At this point in my life, I like to follow that up with, “don’t most of us?!” because it’s true. Most of us have struggled at one point or another with one big, bold question and it is robbing freedom right and left, for me, for you, for those who have rebelled, offended, abused, and every person in the middle of all of that-

Am I forgivable?

Until we answer this question our sins will haunt us and our offenses will remain the same. That was a giant lesson I learned. Mental capacity, family structure, employability – all were important, but slightly irrelevant in recidivism, that fancy word that means “Will they do it again?”

Galatians 5:17-21 tells us we have a flesh-and-Spirit war going on inside of us and around us, as believers or unbelievers. Satan wants our souls. The best way he can figure getting them is through the entanglement of shame:

For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul lists all of these deep and difficult things that separate us from God, quickly, or slowly over time as they are practiced. When we hate, when we have fits of rage, when we envy, when we act out in sexual immorality, we turn away from God just enough so that we can’t see Truth and then Satan uses shame to keep us turned, believing a lie that this thing, this sin cannot be forgiven.

A funny thing happens, we keep at it. Without a place to turn, we just keep walking straight into the desires of the flesh, into sexual immorality, into jealousy, into discord.

Jump ahead to Galatians 6:1 –

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.

In hearing the Word of Truth, in another person opening our hearts and minds to the Spirit’s work, we can walk away…

walk away from shame

walk away from unforgiveness

walk into Light

walk into redemption.

God forgives. He forgives division, He forgives dissension, He forgives sorcery. He forgives orgies, he forgives idolatry. He forgives every dark thing we could encounter and He breathes life into broken hearts who have been abused, used, and tossed aside.

He also gives us one another to fight the good fight and walk away.

Whether your past looks like sexual impurity and selfishness or that of someone else’s, whether you did pretty darn good and avoided rebellion altogether…

You are forgivable.

You are forgiven in Christ Jesus.

You are loved.

He restores. Walk to Him in the Spirit and away from all the junk of life.

Forgiven, Restored, Set Free.

Live free.

Discussion questions:

What sins do you think people label as “worse sins”?

How do labels for “worse sins” rob all of us of the freedom found in Christ Jesus? What part do you see shame playing?

What darkness have you seen Christ overcome in your past or around you that shines His Freedom into your life?

 

Finding Help and Healing:

If you need help and healing for sexual abuse or assault go to https://www.rainn.org/

If you need help and healing for domestic violence go to http://www.thehotline.org/

Find help and healing for porn addiction and sexual compulsivity at https://www.xxxchurch.com/

Find help and healing for violent behaviors in a specialized local treatment program. You pastor can help you find a local one, pray with you, and offer ongoing spiritual care and confession.

The Truth about Mental Health: For you and for your children


I would like to proclaim a truth about mental health:

It just is.

Mental health is something we all have. I know we’d like to relegate it to people with some diagnosable illness, someone far different from ourselves, or some distant cousin that no one talks about, but you have it. I have it. We all have it.

Mental health is part of all of us. It’s made up of our neurons and hormones and synapses. It’s made up of our emotions, our sensory system, our experiences, our heredity, and our relationships.

We have this gigantic part of us that we are ignoring, wishing, hoping-for-the-best that it stays on the up-and-up.

Let’s proclaim a new truth together: Mental Health is.

We all have it. It’s a part of us. Sometimes it’s happy and doing well. Sometimes it’s struggling. Some of us struggle with it more, others of us less. Sometimes it needs treatment, medications, and more support than we’d like, but it’s better that way; peaceful, functioning well with some help. But it’s important to understand that it’s a thing inside each of us, not relegated to someone less than, outcast, or disconnected. It may look different in each of us, more dramatic perhaps in some of us, mostly happy in others of us, but it’s always there, a part of us, woven and knit in us by our Creator, messed with by a world full of sin.

In today’s podcast I present more on this truth. I pray it helps lighten the shame associated with mental health, for us and for our children.

Sometimes, we think we need to “keep it together.” We need to be at the top of our mental health game and so does everyone in our households.

When we read Proverbs 22:6:

Train up a child in the way he should go;
    even when he is old he will not depart from it.

we think “training them up right” means that we just need to teach them the Word, good values, good morals, good character, and then they’ll be able to “keep it together.”

Truth: It doesn’t work like that.

Training them up means sharing hope and sharing the struggle. It means gathering around the Word so that when the hard times come we know where to turn and so do our children. It means helping them learn that there is no shame in sharing the burden, getting help from experts, and being honest about brain chemistry, individual needs, and when mental health goes awry.

Our children won’t be perfect. We won’t be perfect. Often mental health is out of our control, out of their control; but it is never out of God’s control. He is in the realm of synapses and emotions and struggle too. He is God of even this- when it’s good, when it’s bad, and when it’s ugly.

Truth: We all have mental health.

Let’s normalize that. Let’s rejoice in the gift of one another for support and encouragement when we each need it. Let’s thank the Lord for the creation of medicines, for doctors and nurses and therapists who are in the know, for hope in a God who values our tears when we’re hurting and holds our arms up in the triumph…for us, and for our children.

 

I Love My Shepherd Podcast, Episode 17: The Truth about Mental Health