“I am the one that raises the whip to your already racing heart … I’m the voice, you know the one, who’s always questioning, questioning, questioning everything you do, everything you think.”
This is the voice of Anxiety, from the Beyond Blue clip that is hitting social media by storm. This is the voice that one out of every four of us experience some time in our life. And it is not a new experience either. The ancients themselves asked, “What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labour under the sun?” (Ecclesiates 2:22) and cried “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” (Psalm 139:23) If you’ve ever woken in a panic in the dead of night you are not alone.
At the end of the clip, Anxiety asks, “So, now that we have become acquainted, what are you going to do about it?” Having suffered from anxiety myself, this is a question that interests me deeply. Now of course there are secular answers to this, and of course we should explore these options. But above and beyond this I am after spiritual help, so I have also sought guidance from scripture.
For instance, the apostle Paul counselled his communities with these words, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6). In this he followed Jesus, who said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes? (Matthew 6:25) and “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27)
However, taken in isolation, I find these words less than satisfying. For who of us can stop worrying simply by self-effort? Would you accept these words from your doctor? And who of us has not experienced unanswered prayer? What happens when you’re left in an anxious state despite prayer, even in your prayers?
This is where we need some gospel perspective. We need to remember that Jesus himself suffered from anxiety, not least in the garden of Gethsemane, on the night before his crucifixion. Mark tells us, “He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.” (Mark 14:33) God among us … he experienced anxiety!
Think about it. Meditate on the implications. If God experienced anxiety, then experiencing anxiety is not necessarily an imperfection in us. It cannot, at least not automatically, be attributed to sin, or idolatry, or a lack of faith. Moreover, remember that Jesus acted faithfully even in his anxiety and saved us through this act and subsequent resurrection. His experience of anxiety was transformative. So, I seek for his experience to be transformative for me also.