Anxiety: An Invitation to Experience God’s Love

Scriptures about anxiety make me anxious.  Even as I am reading through the Bible I know certain anxiety verses are coming up.  I can almost feel myself gearing up for what I am about to read.  For instance, I know when reading through the Bible I will come across texts like the following:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25).

“Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts” (Psalm 139:23).

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

I feel anxious just having typed those verses! Why?—because I am one anxious puppy.  I know these verses on anxiety will trigger my own awareness of my anxious heart.  Then once I am aware of my anxiety I feel guilty because these anxiety passages say I should not be anxious! I feel like I am caught up in some kind of anxiety loop with guilt increasing with every revolution around the anxiety circle. 

What I am to do?  How can I not feel what I feel?  Feelings just seem to have a power all their own.  But is anxiety a feeling like sadness or joy?  Or would we have better understanding of anxiety if we make a distinction between feelings and emotions?  For example, I person might feel sick, but we would not say sickness is an emotion.  So I might feel anxious, but be emotionally afraid?  In other words, anxiety is not an independent emotion, but is a feeling prompted by an emotion like fear? 

Consider one example.  My employer might say to me, “Terry, we need to talk.”  I now feel anxious.  This anxiety is experienced in my gut.  I feel “butterflies” in my stomach.  I might feel my pulse increase and start to perspire.  I feel anxiety but what emotions are triggering this feeling? 

Just how many emotions are there?  The psychologist Paul Eckman has studied expensively the facial muscles along with head and eye movements involved in expressing human emotions.  He concluded that there are roughly seven universal human emotions:  happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, anger, disgust, and contempt.  Other researchers have suggested there are just four basic irreducible emotions (happiness, sadness, anger, and fear) that combine to form all others. 

What emotions and thoughts combine together to give me the feeling of anxiety?  For me, I think anxiety is a signal that I fear failing and do not trust in God to care for me.  So fear and mistrust prompt the feeling of anxiety.  I need to learn to not feel bad that I feel anxious, but read my anxiety as a signal that my emotions are telling me I need to seek God’s love.  As John says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears punishment has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18).  The feeling of anxiety is a gift from God.  God designed us to feel anxious so we would pay attention to our emotions that reveal what we believe about our relationship to God.  Read correctly, anxiety is not something to feel guilty about, but is a “nudge” from God saying, “I love you. Trust in me!”  So brothers and sisters do not allow your anxiety to trap you in a guilty loop!  Rather, let anxiety be an invitation to experience God’s love. 

–Terry


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