Following Jesus Means Not Worrying Even If You Still Have Anxiety

Following Jesus Means Not Worrying Even If You Still Have Anxiety

There's a difference between mental illness and self-destructive overthinking.

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There is something about the slower, calmer pacing of the summer season that has brought me a greater understanding of how I function within my mental illnesses. Daily time devoted to prayer and reading scripture, a healthy sleep schedule, going to the gym, and making sure I drink plenty of water throughout the day has helped me recognize how much of my mental health issues are really a physiological response to the way I treat (or mistreat) my body.

But even though I have found my healthy, physical, and mental summer rhythm, and haven't been struggling with waves of depression or episodes of anxiety as often as I did throughout the school year, worrying and overthinking have still been a hurdle for me.

I've written about my struggles with overthinking in the past, and have even called it my ultimate sin. Still, this summer I have begun to crack down on this specific struggle, in a way I never thought to approach it:

I can struggle with my anxiety disorder but not be overthinking.

The simplest way to explain is this: I have found that my anxiety is often out of my control, that sometimes my mind and body react to situations and circumstances in ways that paralyze me from acting/processing what's going on around me. But when I overthink or worry, it not so much a physiological experience, and rather a very bad habit I feed.

A good example of this would be when I wrote and prepared to give my sermon during a recent gathering in my Christian community. A few days leading up to the sermon I struggled with anxiety (which can sometimes include overthinking) but sometimes can also simply be a tenseness and "fight or flight" feeling that I can't shake or avoid. (Obviously, some stress about public speaking is normal, but where I know it's my anxiety acting up is when my bodily and mental response is way beyond normal forms of tension or apprehension.)

Compare that to me re-writing and constantly deleting/restarting my sermon just because I think it's "dumb" or that it's not good enough. I would worry that I could do better, that it wasn't my best work, and before you know it I'm rewriting sections of the sermon the morning of!

Maybe some are reading this and not seeing the difference between struggling with an anxiety disorder and struggling with overthinking/worry. I think it's okay if not everyone agrees that there is a difference: that's where healthy debate and conversation surrounding these topics come into play.

However, I know myself, especially where my overthinking comes from a lack of trust in God.

I find myself worrying the most when I am not reflecting back on how God has provided for me, how He is currently moving in my life and guiding me. I remember part of the Sermon on the Mount (one of Jesus' most famous speeches), where He describes people who "store up...treasures on earth," and therefore give way to darkness and serve for the materialism of this world. From here, Jesus leads His sermon into addressing the topic of worrying, telling His disciples to "therefore...not worry about [their lives]" (Matthew 6:25, NIV).

For Jesus, there is a correlation in where your heart and desires are set and your current state of worrying. I have found that to be nothing but the truth.

I overvalue how people perceive me and wish to be loved by everyone all the time. I desire to be looked up to as smart and stylish. No wonder even when my anxiety is low my worrying is still high: my treasure is in the earth, giving my mind away to worrisome darkness.

But in this I believe there is hope for all of us, as Jesus closes this section of His great speech with this call to action: "For the pagans run after [food, drink, and clothing], and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:32-33, NIV).

It is through pursuing God first that the darkness of worry and overthinking give way.

By prioritizing prayer, making communication with God the most valuable and integral part of my schedule, I tell myself and my worries that my overthinking doesn't control me, that I can put things on the back burner and not hold a million concerns with me all the time. I have found that naming my worries and praying to seek a relationship with God first might not automatically heal me of my anxiety disorder, but it most definitely chips away and eliminates the storm cloud of worry that, indeed, can be shaken.

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The Husband I'm Praying For

My future husband should be a mirror of the Lord.
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Growing up, we have all probably wondered about the man we will marry - what he looks like, what his voice sounds like, what color his eyes are etc. We have all watched Disney's fairy tale movies like "Cinderella," "The Little Mermaid" and "Sleeping Beauty." The love stories that Disney creates can be merely fiction. Knowing this leads many people to believe that kind of love does not exist. As a kid, I always wanted to be Ariel and find my Prince Eric. The older I got, I realized that that kind of man does not exist without God. The Disney love story only exists through God. God writes a love story that we can not imagine. That is why we should be confident in His will for our lives. We should be confident in the love story God is writing for us.

I woke up this morning thinking about relationships and how hard it is to be in one at the age of 20. I'm not looking for a husband or a significant other right now, but I am praying for that special someone that God has planned for my life. Whether God places this special man in my life next week or in 20 years, I am going to be praying for him. I pray for the man that seeks God and His guidance. I just can't imagine being with someone who doesn't love God as much as I do. Honestly, I've decided that from this point on, I am going to let God guide my footsteps. I refuse to worry about all that is wrong with me when I should just be praying for the man God has in store for me.

Girls my age have been blinded to what a good boyfriend is and what a potential husband really looks like. I pray for the man who prays before each meal and thanks God for his simple blessings. I don't want to end up settling for less-I know what I deserve and I know that God has a plan. The husband I pray for is the man I want my daughters looking up to and being proud to have as a father. I want my children to know that their father loves Jesus and is not ashamed of it. A man who is ashamed of Jesus or only loves Jesus on Sundays is not husband material. I want my husband to be the man people associate Jesus with.

I pray that my husband is humble. I pray that my husband makes strangers feel his loving presence and know that Jesus is present in his life. I pray that my husband wants the same things I do, like 15 children-- just kidding. But, I do pray that he has a sense of humor and that he understands my need for laughter and sunshine in my life. I pray that my husband seeks Jesus during hard times and understands when the answer to his prayers are no. I hope my husband understands that no matter what, God has a plan and an answer, even if it isn't what he wants. I want my husband to be understanding of my needs and what I want out of life. I want my husband to encourage me and my decisions. I want my husband to be the man that my children know is praying for them. I want my husband to be the man who cries the first time he sees me in my wedding dress walking down the aisle. I want my husband to be the man our kids can run to at 3:00 A.M because they had a bad dream and need him to hold them. I want my husband to have a loving and sincere heart. I pray that the man I am going to marry is praying for me, just like I'm praying for him.


Cover Image Credit: Alec Vanderboom

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Talking About Doubt As A Christian

Having a brave and confident faith.

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Doubts in the Christian life can come in a wide variety. There are intellectual doubts (lacking confidence in the historical reliability of Scripture, skepticism regarding certain doctrines of the faith), emotional doubts (lack of trust in God because of emotional wounds from others, questioning God's goodness because of suffering/unanswered prayers), and doubts regarding decision-making (lacking confidence in taking a step forward because of unanswered questions).

Before I delve into some of the nitty gritty details, let me preface a few things as I always do with most of my articles. First, I do not claim to be speaking as an authority on these issues because my thoughts are not based on any particular research or from reading lots of literature on it. I am a layman who cares very deeply about this.

Second, I hope that you do not stop looking into doubts for yourself after reading this. There is far more to consider about how doubt can affect your spiritual journey than what can be covered in a short piece.

And third, I hope that anything I say will serve to perhaps challenge your thinking and encourage your heart if you are one who struggles with doubts.

I like to think of doubt as the state of mind where there is a lack of confidence in whatever the person is considering. Doubting can sometimes serve as a middle way between believing and not believing something. It is almost like telling someone, "You know, I'm just not sure about that. I'm not saying that I don't believe he's innocent, but I am losing confidence in his testimony." You could say that you're in a situation where you have a hard time committing to one side of the fence versus the other.

As far as understanding the different kinds of doubts there are for different people, there are two important things to keep in mind. First, each kind of doubt is based on the aspect of the person it is directly concerned with, as well as the issue at hand. Second, even though all different doubts can be grouped into different categories, our entire being is affected by a particular doubt because of the ripple effect it has on every aspect of who we are.

Basically, if I were – as an example – to have doubts about certain passages in the Bible that seemed to horrify me, I could doubt whether they are historically accurate – but my doubts about those passages would also affect which aspect of God I relate to personally. Or suppose I come to accept the view that God unconditionally damns certain individuals from eternity and it troubles me – I could learn how to cope with it, or I could reject the Christian faith.

Because we are not fragmented beings, all different doubts affect the same person in different ways. I cannot entertain doubts about a view without it affecting how I feel and the kinds of decisions I make. Suppose I doubt that God answers prayer.

Even though that is something relational I might question about God, it might affect whether I think He is good. Whether He is good or not can be an intellectual and emotional doubt. But my doubts about prayer can also affect whether I will choose to attend a prayer group or participate in prayer with others. Or I might decide not to pray myself.

With that being said, I'd like to offer three suggestions for those who doubt and those who are wanting to help fellow Christians who have doubts.

First, for the believer who is doubting, recognize that God warmly, lovingly, and non-threateningly welcomes your doubts. God is never threatened by your doubts and concerns. What God desires most for you is your flourishing in His kingdom. Being vulnerable about our doubts to God is crucial for developing the closeness we need to trust in His good character.

Second, find someone trustworthy and qualified to help you identify and work through your specific doubt(s). I say trustworthy because you should primarily be vulnerable with those who know you well and have demonstrated their trustworthiness to you over time. I say qualified because not every child of God can help us through each kind of doubt.

If you are grieving over the loss of a loved one or close friend and are doubting God's goodness or closeness, I would not recommend someone who isn't skilled at relating emotionally to others and being emotionally aware.

On the other hand, if you are having doubts about whether there are good reasons to be opposed to abortion apart from what your pastor has taught – assuming you distrust your pastor – then you should consult someone who understands the abortion controversy.

Third, know how to rank your doubts in terms of their importance. Not all doubts are equally important because not every issue they touch on is of equal importance, despite the truth that Christianity is a holistically ordered way of life centered on Christ. Every teaching that the Church communicates and teaches from the Bible is somehow related to the others, even if they do not all directly intersect.

Finally, for those who help doubting believers, I have a few suggestions. Be gentle because you're potentially dealing with a wounded person. Be wise because you are the more mature believer. Be knowledgeable because you cannot offer a helpful answer or presence unless you have enough knowledge about their issue.

Be patient because finding a satisfying answer or overcoming emotional barriers can take a long time. Be pure because you could be ripe for Satan's attack in your private and internal life. Be prayerful because you cannot do this on your own and need God's empowerment. And lastly, be filled with the Holy Spirit because He knows what you need every day at every moment.

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