Worry vs. Anxiety

worry

Some of the literal translations of the Bible do not do not contain the word “worry” anywhere in the contents. Search a KJV or ESV Bible for the word worry and it will not be found. Many people think that the Bible tells us not to worry because God is in control. While it is true to a degree it is not true in the way we might think. Dictionary.com defines worry as “to torment oneself with or suffer from disturbing thoughts” and that sounds awful. The Bible does use a similar word, “anxiety”, that many people use interchangeably with “worry” in every day speech. In fact many of the newer translations use “worry” and “anxiety” interchangeably. The KJV does not use the newer words “worry” or “anxiety” but uses older words like “Be careful for nothing” or in Christian speak one might say they “cast their cares to God”. But in modern language worry and anxiety have taken over the conversation. Anxiety is the primary word used by the ESV when it translates the Greek μεριμνάω (me-rēm-nä’-ō). This Greek word, μεριμνάω, means “to be anxious or to be troubled with cares”.

6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 ESV

I do not think of myself as a worrier. Crazy scenarios like bears attacking me in my sleep while camping might pop in my mind but then I just shrug my shoulders and go back to sleep. My wife on the other hand worries about all kinds of plausible ill-fated scenarios while camping. Moms by nature are known for their ability to worry. Is that a bad thing to be concerned about the pitfalls of life and want to avoid them? I don’t think so and I doubt God would want his people to not worry about clear and present dangers. The greatest danger of all that every person alive should worry about is where they stand with God. If you are not saved by Christ then you should be gravely worried.

I may not worry about much but I am anxious. I have been an anxious person my entire life. My anxiety is in full force when it comes to interactions (like parties) with people. The nervousness of it all wears me out. Dictionary.com defines anxious as “full of mental distress or uneasiness because of fear of danger or misfortune”. Reasonable worries might be used in a productive way to keep one safe. Anxiety however is full on mental trouble that may be crippling in any productive life. Psychology Today has a great article that breaks down the difference between Worry and Anxiety. Here are two key points.

“If you’re concerned about getting fired because you did really poorly on a project, you’re worried. If you’re concerned about getting fired because your boss didn’t ask about your child’s piano recital, you’re anxious.”

“Worry tends to be more focused on thoughts in our heads, while anxiety is more visceral in that we feel it throughout our bodies.”

That last one really hits home for me. My anxiety around people impacts me physically. On occasion I have a duty that requires that I speak publicly. The last time this was required my anxiety got the better of me and while practicing the presentation my blood pressure spiked so high that I went into a full headache and nose bleed while practicing my first run through (I know that sounds crazy but it is true). The energy I need to get on stage and speak to a crowd is consuming of all my physical and mental energy. The insanity of this is that logically I know that I am prepared, capable, and encouraged to present. Why my body reacts with such stress is beyond me.

The question then dear reader is your life full of worry or anxiety? How much do the cares and troubles of this world paralyze your life? Hopefully we are all fortunate that worry is limited to practical and productive problem solving in a sin cursed world. While I do live an anxious life (at one time even writing this blog in front of the world would have been too much for me) I prayerfully live that life in submission to God’s desires for me. I serve him and if he wants me on a stage speaking before a crowd then I will summon courage not from myself but from Christ.

22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? Luke 12:22-25 ESV

The reality is that anxiety does not add to life but takes away hours and days. Jesus speaking to the disciples tells them not to be anxious in serving him. If they can learn to trust him and draw strength from him for the basics like food and clothing then the they can trust him with power that changes lives.

26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Luke 12:26 ESV

It is natural and normal to worry about practical issues that are right in front of you. But take to heart the words of Paul and submit your cares and anxiety to Christ. Bring him everything. Nothing is too small or too trivial for God provides even our daily bread.

6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 ESV

My Prayer for 2016

backup

At the beginning of the last year I was leading a group of youth at a large two day youth conference. Events like this are stressful for me because I am not a fan of crowds. (I know a youth leader that does not like crowds that is crazy) Plus I am a volunteer with a full time day job. This was the first event I had organized and I felt the weight of planning an organizing this outing. Standing emotionally drained in one of the worship sessions with Kari Jobe on stage singing I started a conversation with God about just how worn out and exhausted I was at that moment. I am grateful to have a relationship with my Creator and I love to serve him as a volunteer in ministry. I know He has drawn me to this point and I know that His work serves an eternal purpose. However I fear drawing close to Him because, well frankly, He asks the impossible and demands to be in control. At this moment standing with thousands of others singing I entered into His presence in a way that is familiar to me but not common. The Holy Spirit was near and God was speaking. As in the past He does not say much but He is always powerful and life altering in these moments before His Holy presence. When Moses went to the top of Mount Sinai and spent time with God He was altered as evidenced by the reaction from the Israelites when he returned to their company (Exodus 34:29-30). What I know from firsthand experience is that it is impossible to come before God and not be altered, moved, changed, or impacted in some unforgettable way. He is too mighty and powerful for there to be any other outcome. So it was for me that day at the conference. God told me that if I thought the previous year was busy and exhausting just wait until I saw what lay ahead for the coming year. I knew it would be true. What lay ahead was an in-law moving into my home, a promotion at work that I did not want, a construction project on the basement of my home for the in-law, a final push to wrap up a master’s degree, The pastor asking me to preach for the first time, all while continuing to be a father and husband, and manage the multiple ministries within the Church that are on my heart. There is no way one person can be outstanding at all of those things. Yet that is what the upcoming year had in store. The Holy Spirit speaking to my heart told me that in order to survive the upcoming year that I needed to step out of the comfort and illusion of control I maintain and trust God to be in control. I started thinking about Peter when he asked if he could leave the boat and walk to Jesus.

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. Matthew 14:28-29 ESV

I am amazed at Peter’s boldness and rashness of that situation. They were in the middle of the sea, it was night, and there was a raging storm. How could he just step out of the boat into that level of chaos? The boat itself was not a fun place to be at that moment but at least he knew he stood a chance as long at the boat stayed above the water. At that moment that is exactly what I felt in my heart. God drawing me out of the security of the boat. God asking me to let go of the controlling, reserved, and rational nature of who I am. I try my best to not make mistakes. I speak once I have analyzed and understand an issue. I act when I am confident of the outcome. God was drawing me into an out of control situation in the upcoming year and he wanted me to embrace it with a newfound level of faith and trust in Him. God wanted to demonstrate to me that He is in control and I do not need a backup plan. God is in control and I do not need to maintain the illusion of control in order to serve Him where He is at work. As I meditated on this invitation to me from God while standing in a crowd of thousands I started to scheme in my heart about how I could step out of the boat but maintain control. If I was Peter I would have been able to trust Jesus while stepping out onto the water but the rational and prudent thing would have been to tie off rope to the boat and myself before stepping out. Yes that would have worked. So in my head I committed to stepping out in greater faithfulness to trust God would carry me though the year, but I also promised myself in my heart that I would continue to maintain some level of control and in my own strength accomplish what He was calling me to do.

Here I am one year later at writing this letter as a way to sort out where I stand and what this New Year will hold for me. When I reflect back on the last year I know it came about exactly as God told me it would and I know that because I wanted to maintain control that it was equally disastrous to me physically and emotionally. I have always been a relatively healthy person and have lived an active lifestyle but that ended this last year where I gained weight and I stopped exercising. My cholesterol and blood pressure levels are now at unsafe ranges. By the fourth quarter of the year I was emotionally drained and had to pull back from several ministry investments that I believe the Church should be focused on just as the new church year was being launched. And something new I had never experienced before overcame me toward the end of the year. I started having what I can only describe as anxiety or panic attacks. The peak occurred over the Thanksgiving holiday. We were visiting family out of state for the holiday. The day was unseasonably warm and beautiful so we took the children fishing at a local park. The surroundings were calm and peaceful. The park was quiet and calm around this pond. The striking thing to me that day was the contrast to how gorgeous and peaceful that day was on the outside yet internally my chest was constricted and in pain. I was struggling to breathe comfortably. I took a walk on the park paths taking deep breaths trying to relax. I started to reflect on why I was such a mess. My job was out of control were that last promotion had left me consumed with an unreasonable and impossible demands. I had drawn away from spending time listening for God and His vision. I felt as if the ministry at Church was on hold because I had nothing to invest physically or emotionally at that point. This is what keeping control looks like and I was not happy with the results. I was immediately reminded of my encounter with God earlier in the year. I knew this was all on me and that I needed to surrender.

So here I am contemplating the upcoming year. I have been slowly spending time drawing close to God and He in is mercy and grace has restored me in several ways. I am once again emotionally restored with a desire to write and teach. The anxiety attacks are gone. I have lost several pounds and am feeling physically better. However there remains one major task before me. The same request that I cheated one year before. Will I step out of the boat? Will I rest in His control? Will I be irrational and do what the world would say is crazy? I want to. Lord and Father know that I want to. I can’t do any of this that you have called me to on my own. Without you it is not even worth doing. Lord give me the desire and strength to wildly abandon the reasonable safety of the boat. Help me to untie the safety ropes. Father I am yours and I want to move forward in this relationship counting everything else as lost. I struggle to say this but I desire it… Father have your way with me.