Faith and Anxiety
I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. Philippians 2:28
I wrote yesterday that as Christians, we occasionally tell others how they should, or should not feel when it comes to hurt and loss. Today’s passage mentions anxiety, which is yet another emotion that we often try to eliminate in others. We may quote Jesus, Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life (Matthew 5:26). Or we may quote Paul, Do not be anxious about anything (Philippians 4:6). Since the Bible tells us not to be anxious, then simply experiencing anxiety is a sin, right?
In today’s passage though, Paul mentioned his own anxiety over a specific situation. It could be that he was confessing a failure – which he did elsewhere (Romans 7:15) – but this doesn’t read that way. It seems he was just being honest about a situation that caused him to worry. Once he saw that it was going to be resolved, he felt great relief.
Those verses that tell us not to be anxious don’t explicitly say it’s a sin. Rather, they teach us what to do with our anxiety. Anxiety is a natural impulse. As such, we may have little control over its initial existence. We may however respond appropriately or inappropriately.
In my addiction, I caused myself tremendous anxiety. I lived in continual conflict with myself and was constantly afraid of getting caught. Anxiety was a normal response. In my anxiety, I had a choice to address the problem that was causing it or to simply ignore it. I could make it better or worse.
Not all anxiety is self-inflicted of course, but we still have the responsibility to respond appropriately. In our distress, we can do things that indulge the anxiety, making it worse: We can attempt to drink it away with alcohol. We can turn it into rage at others. We can isolate. Or, we can choose to do the difficult things that help: We can talk to others who struggle as we do. We can seek counseling and medical care. We can eliminate the self-destructive behaviors that make it worse.
When we’re suffering with anxiety, just like with any struggle, we must daily take it to God asking him what he wants us to do with it. For some of us, this may need to be done every day for the rest of our lives. Our anxiety may or may not be self-inflicted, but we always have the responsibility to respond appropriately to it. We may follow our own nature, making things worse, or in faith, we can daily follow God, dealing constructively with our struggle.