is my faith weak because I have anxiety?
Updated: May 6
For the past few Tuesday nights, I have had the privilege of studying the Bible with 25+ young adults (and young at heart!) as we read the book of Hebrews (you can read my Hebrews study here). After our time in scripture, I try to take a moment to hear what people are thinking- what questions they are wrestling with about God and the Bible. I've decided to write a trail of blog posts discussing some of the common questions I've seen in those Bible studies.
Today's question is: Does having anxiety mean I don't trust God enough?
I recently started taking a professional development course that focuses on further developing my confidence, communication skills, and many other useful interpersonal abilities. Among those skills is the topic of "stress and worry" which we covered this past week in my Thursday night session.
As the class kicked off, our instructor asked us what was currently stressing us in our personal lives. When she posed the question, I had several things come to my mind, but my thoughts were broken by the voice of my colleague- "I don't believe in stress!"
Our instructor was as intrigued as I was. She asked the gentleman to elaborate. "Stress is something we make up in our heads," The older man began, "and when I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior I stopped making stress up in my mind. I don't have anything stressing me because I just let God handle everything. When you have faith you're not supposed to worry."
Well that's nice, I thought to myself but deep down I was frustrated. I thought about all the people in the class who did have stress.. I thought about all the people I minister to who tell me about their burdens. I thought about my own life. This man was implying that anyone with worry was making their stress up in their heads due to a lack of faith. The reality is, we cannot escape from stress, even if we know how to effectively handle it.
I wonder how often other well-intending believers also make this naive assumption. I wonder how often I myself have done the very thing that frustrated me. We are sometimes quick to cast judgment on other people. Maybe casting judgement isn't the problem, but rather we lack a knowledge on how to address someone who is hurting. We don't know how to make the hurt go away so we throw a blanket statement on the pain:
"Go to church more."
"Read your Bible."
"I'll pray for you."
These are all wonderful tidbits of advice, but perhaps not sensitive to the person who is struggling. Many Christians find themselves afraid to admit they have skeletons in their closets and fears in their mind because they feel like they are the only ones who have such things. Before we know it, we become alienated by our worries and made an outcast by our concerns. In our pain, we wonder if we did something to deserve this. We feel guilty.
Allow me to briefly share my own story. I too have anxiety. It started in high school when I found myself struggling to handle the pressures of my academics. Any time I had a test, my heart would pound, my mind would go blank, and the room would feel small and stuffy.
One night I was trying to work on my homework when the entire right side of my body started to tingle. My heart immediately began to beat faster, I lost my focus, my thoughts began to race. Weird ringing sounds filled my ears. I dashed to the mirror to see if you could visually recognize what was happening to me. My eyes were wide. I realized I was holding my breath. I let it out in one big gasp.
I was having my first panic attack.
These attacks continued long after I graduated 12th grade. They would come to me if I was in heavy traffic, or if I wasn't sleeping well, or if I had an important meeting looming in my near future. Like many people, I wondered if it was my own fault. I am a believer, I trust God, why does my body respond this way?
Naturally, I did work on praying more often and reading comforting scripture when I felt an especially anxious thought creep into my head. I found it helpful to listen to Christian music. I enjoyed going to church. However, there was no quick fix for my condition. It took many years of therapy, breathing techniques, and mind relaxation tips to help me gain control of my reckless, panicked thoughts.
We must understand that we live in a world where there are no quick-fix solutions. Nothing is ever as black and white as we might like it to be. In my experience, telling someone that they are fearful because of a lack of faith only makes them more afraid! Now not only are they anxious about the original issue, but they are also worried about letting God down! There are many wonderful things we can learn to do and healthy choices we can make to reduce our stress, yet we must remember that stressors will always come to us at one time or another.
Instead of worrying about having enough faith to please God, let us take the time to acknowledge all the things we are doing to show our love for Him. Just the fact that you are reading this post or wondering if you have enough faith, shows that it is something that is important to you. Let’s also take the time to support, love, and comfort those around us who are wrestling with their own fears. As I leave you to think on these things, I want to share my favorite Bible verse for when I'm feeling anxious:
But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.”
God is with you- especially when you are afraid!