Worry comes from the English word to strangle, anxiety from the idea of tightening of the throat and chest - pretty graphic and vivid images, all too familiar to many of us right now. Worry comes in all shapes and sizes. You may even find it hard to read this whole blog, maybe take it a bit at a time and hopefully you’ll find something helpful.
In Matthew 6:19-34 Jesus makes it clear that there is much that causes concern in our world, whether we will have enough food, water, have clothes to keep us warm. We are powerless to keep our treasure safe from moth, rust and thieves. Feelings of fear, alarm or concern are normal, in fact an important bodily response to situations of stress, pressure or danger, alerting us to our need to act, physically preparing us to do so.
The problem comes when our solution to feeling powerless is to worry. What we fail to realise – what Jesus points out to us with the therefore in Matthew 6:25 - is that we are supposed to feel powerless! We are children. The power lies with our Father, not with ourselves. What a relief when I can’t. When I’m overwhelmed. When this is too hard. When I’m scared. Children are supposed to feel like this.
We see powerlessness as a problem. Jesus sees it as our identity.
Worry is an opportunity to dig deeper into who we are and who our Father is. When you feel the familiar strangling fear gripping you, Jesus commands us: ‘Do not run towards the worry spiral, run to your heavenly Father.’ A really practical way of doing that is to simply chew on these four wonderful words in Matthew 6:32: your heavenly Father knows.
Your heavenly Father knows. He is your Father if you are trusting Christ, you are not excluded because you worry - he came for sinners not those who are righteous!
Your heavenly Father knows. Seated in the place of all power, he longs for us to be honest about our worries with him because he is able and willing to help.
Your heavenly Father knows. You are his valuable child. Children are supposed to be powerless - feeling powerless is a good thing in if it causes us to depend on him as we are created to.
Your heavenly Father knows. He knows the hairs on our head, he has numbered all our days. We can rest in the fact that we don’t need to be in control, he knows what we need.
As we lift our eyes from ourselves, our fears, our struggles to our heavenly Father who knows, we see that this feeling of powerlessness is good, right and proper. He knows. He is powerful. We are children and can rest in that identity.
If it becomes disproportionate, dominating, debilitating
In a pandemic, when we are cut off from our main sources of support, fun distractions and normalising interactions with others (“what a relief to know I’m not the only one…”), where death, fear and isolation are a very real part of our everyday experience and news feed, it would be weird if we weren’t feeling concerned, fearful, alarmed!
For some of us though, the worry moves beyond that good opportunity to depend on God and starts to take over our life.
How do we know when we (or those we love) are crossing a line from reasonable levels of concern to clinical anxiety? I find it helpful to think of three Ds: disproportionate, dominating, debilitating.
Is this worry disproportionate to my circumstances? If someone experienced tragedy you would expect the following months to be very dark and difficult. If years later the grief was still completely all-consuming it would be right to seek medical help.
Is this worry dominating? When they were young one of our kids developed a phobia of the dark. It got to the point where we couldn’t leave the house ‘in case it got dark.’ It starts to impact all your decisions and your life begins to revolve around it.
Is this worry debilitating? Is it starting to impair your sleep, health, wellbeing and relationships?
The problem with anxiety is that it is an invisible problem. If you broke your leg, you wouldn’t tell yourself to get over it, cover it up, distract yourself from the pain and pray it would go away. You would seek medical help. You would do what the doctor said. You would make changes to rest and promote recovery. Mental health should be no different.
There are some great resources available, just a click away. A good starting point is this NHS website. The other links on that page are also helpful, for example promoting your mental wellbeing, and the self-assessment quiz to help you understand how much its impacting you and to help you know whether you would benefit from medical help.
Some people at The Globe Church have used the online tool Living Life To The Full with God and found it really helpful.
Life is really tough right now, and the most important thing is don’t suffer in silence. Reach out to someone and be honest about how you are feeling. If you have suicidal thoughts or plans always seek help urgently, you can contact 111 or Samaritans on 116 123 (both available 24 hours).
Your heavenly Father knows. He knows what you need and perhaps this post may be his way of encouraging you to share your struggles with someone and get the support you need to help you through this difficult time.