“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
This is a wonderful piece of scripture, an encouraging reminder that God is not surprised by our circumstances, a road map for faith in the midst of crisis. It’s also one of the most misused and misinterpreted passages when it comes to the Christian and anxiety.
I’ve struggled (suffered) with anxiety my entire life. Really, all of it. I wake up most mornings struggling to breathe because my body is so seized with panic. I require medication to be an effective mother, a functioning person. Even with the help of doctors and medication and therapy and my own counseling degree, sometimes it’s just too much, and I collapse in a heap of gasping and tears.
I have severe anxiety, but I also love Jesus.
I love Jesus with my whole heart, my whole mind, my whole body, my whole soul. I know and trust that He is good, able, holy. I have served in full-time ministry alongside my husband for every day of our 15-year marriage. I pray, I study my Bible, I worship God in earnest and praise all He is . . . and yet I still suffer, daily, with anxiety.
I make no secret of my struggles. I know I’m not alone, and I know anxiety is rampant, and if my own voice can help another suffering in silence, then I refuse to remain quiet. I will happily and honestly share my experiences and encouragement with anyone who needs it, which means I’m frequently sharing openly about it. I’m not ashamed, I’m not weak, and I’m no less of a Christian for it.
I said before that the verse “Be anxious for nothing . . .” is so often misused, and I meant it.
Even the most well-meaning person can twist this scripture into a dagger, a weapon meant to attack or shame the anxious Christian, rather than encourage them.
People point to this passage as proof that Christians shouldn’t deal with anxiety, even taking it a step further to question the suffering Christian’s faith. The belief stems from the interpretation that to be anxious for anything means to not have faith in God . . . and this belief is really, really wrong.
“Be anxious for nothing . . .” we’re instructed, telling us instead, how to bring our worries to God and trust in Him, find peace in Him. The belief that this rebukes the anxious Christian comes from a fundamental misunderstanding, a truly simple ignorance, of what anxiety actually is.
So many people who have never dealt with anxiety think it’s really just boiled down to worry. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been told that I’m too young to have anxiety, that I don’t really have anything to worry about, that with faith in God I shouldn’t have any anxiety.
Well, friend, anxiety is not simply worry.
Sure, there’s worry involved. Worst-case scenarios manifest in your mind with no trigger or control. OCD and social anxiety disorders carry with them a hefty amount of worry. There is absolutely worry within the experience of anxiety, but there is also so, so much more.
Anxiety is irritability. It’s a racing heart, shallow breaths, sometimes hallucinations. Anxiety is feeling your body leap into fight or flight mode with absolutely no reason. It’s shaking hands, bouncing legs, a tingling face from not getting enough oxygen as you hyperventilate. Anxiety is stomach aches, headaches, eye twitches. It’s vomiting, diarrhea, anger. Anxiety is a whole-body experience, something that can be triggered by anything or can appear out of nowhere.
Anxiety is not worrying, it’s a biological response. Anxiety is a neurological, biological difference. A hormonal imbalance, a misfiring brain.
It is a medical condition that is not born from lack of faith or reaped from seeds of worry.
Anxiety is not in defiance of God, and a Christian does not lose eligibility with Him because of it.
I can have anxiety and still love Jesus.
Because anxiety is not a lack of faith or a statement of my trust in Him.
Because anxiety is not always cured with fervent prayers.
Because anxiety is not simply worry.
It’s a condition, a chemical reaction, an overwhelm of the stress hormone, not a lack of faith prayers.
Still, I’m asked frequently by others who feel ashamed to struggle with anxiety how they can be Christians and struggle with this condition.
They feel guilty, often because of how misunderstanding scripture and mental health can result in shaming and harming our brothers and sisters who are already hurting. They feel isolated, singled out, made to question their faith because of this condition they did not cause and can not help. How can someone say they love and trust in Jesus while still carrying the burden of anxiety?
The same way the diabetic can. The same way the anemic can. The same way the arthritic, the cancer-stricken, the blind, the infertile, the sick, and the well can. Because this condition is not a result of lack of faith, and having more faith cannot alone heal it.
Yes, God can heal. Yes, God can deliver. Yes, we are to take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ. And someday I may see myself delivered from this anxiety. But in the meantime, the anxious Christian is no less of a Christian because their body is in a state of panic, and especially not because someone who is wholly misunderstanding of their condition says so.
I can have anxiety and still love Jesus.
I didn’t choose anxiety, and I’m not holding on to it, but I did choose God and cling to Him daily.
I am not filled with fear that weakens my faith, my body is in need while my soul trusts in Him. I have anxiety while serving God not because I have two masters, but because I have a medical condition and a Savior, and there is nothing in our Bible that tells me I can’t.