The word “anxiety” is derived from another word meaning “to choke” or “to cause pain by squeezing.” One of the Greek words for anxiety was used to describe the yokes that would be put on the necks of slaves in the ancient world. The Hebrew word associated with anxiety is often translated as “narrow space.” So these ideas help us understand how anxiety works in our lives:
- Chronic anxiety can choke the life out of us. It can feel like something heavy sitting on your chest.
- Chronic anxiety will enslave us. It gives a sense of claustrophobia, of being in a “narrow space.”
- And chronic anxiety leads to catastrophizing, which is when we allow our minds to be controlled by “what-if” worst-case-scenario thinking.
And often times our anxiety is compounded by shame. We find ourselves feeling anxious about something and then we’ll immediately feel ashamed for our anxiety. We’ll tell ourselves that we ought to pull ourselves together. We’ll talk down to ourselves, saying, “If I was a better Christian, I wouldn’t be worrying about this.” And so we have all this anxiety on our plate and then we add a big side dish of shame — which, of course, produces even more anxiety. And then we’re caught in this destructive loop.
If you can relate to that, I just want you to know that you’re not alone. For starters, if the anxiety numbers have TRIPLED in the last few months (as we noted in the last post), then we most certainly shouldn’t feel alone. We’re all feeling the strain of the last few months right now. But we should also acknowledge the foolishness of spiritual self-deprecation. There’s just no room for that right now.
It really helped de-stigmatize all of this for me when I realized that experiencing anxiety doesn’t somehow make me “less spiritual” or a “lesser Christian.” It simply puts me in the company of someone like the Apostle Paul.
If you read 2 Corinthians, you’ll see that Paul had to deal with plenty of anxiety and stress in his life. He says in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 that he and his missionary companions were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. Paul says he was in this dark place where his burdens had surpassed his strength and despair had set in. That probably sounds really familiar to some of us. Paul is in that “narrow space” of anxiety where stress threatens to press in. So Paul is a trustworthy guide for us because he knows what it’s like to be anxious.
This is why we should listen to him when he says, Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God (Phil. 4:6). Paul has learned that prayerful gratitude helps us forge a way out of our anxieties. If anxiety is that claustrophobic, narrow feeling, gratitude pushes those anxieties back a bit. I like the way the author Robert Morgan states it: “Gratitude is to worry what antibiotics are to an infection.”
Paul has learned that there is tremendous healing power in thankfulness. That’s why he can say, Give thanks in all circumstances.
Perhaps now more than ever we need a season of thanksgiving to help us overcome our anxieties.