If you grew up in the 80s and 90s as I did, you’re familiar with the idea of mixtapes.
Mixtapes were a way of creating a compilation of music that could be played in any Walkman, car stereo, or boombox. Mixtapes back then were what playlists are to us today, except they took about one hundred times as much effort (and about a one-one hundredth the capacity). If you liked a girl and wanted to give her some music that expressed your deepest feelings, you might have created a mixtape full of Amy Grant songs, maybe a little Backstreet Boys, and some Alanis Morissette (or was that just me?).
To me, anxiety can feel like a mixtape of sorts—like someone created tracks of my worst feelings and thoughts, jammed them into the stereo of my mind, cranked the volume to eleven, and snapped off all the control buttons. I can’t turn them down or stop hearing the negative tracks no matter what I do.
Anxiety is a condition that stems from our sin nature.
In order to deal with a real or perceived threat, we often behave in a manner that is contrary to our convictions. We may know that God is in control and trustworthy, but we start to give in to our fears and have feelings that are inconsistent with trusting God. While legitimate concern prompts a person to be responsible (yet not sinful), illegitimate concern prompts a person to be irresponsible (or sinful). The feelings of anxiety convince us to resort to any means necessary to experience relief, even thoughts, motives or actions that are contrary to our core convictions of trusting Christ.
When feelings of worry or concern lead to a response such as excessive drinking or overconsumption of caffeine or nicotine, or perpetual worry, then it is likely that anxiety has prompted an irresponsible response. (Conversely, not touching a hot surface because you’re worried about getting burned would be considered a responsible response.)
Considering our safety seems harmless. Having our feelings validated might provide comfort. Yet, we must pause and consider what our anxiety is really communicating to us, and the best course of action to take in dealing with it.
Our anxiety is almost always misleading. The threat we believe we are experiencing and the feelings that accompany it can cause more damage than good. Proceeding with caution helps us not to overemphasize our control and to be responsible (yet not sinful) in our response.
Taking matters into our own hands— and out of God’s hands— leads us to harmful coping mechanisms for temporal relief.
When we experience anxiety, we can tend to go at it alone instead of inviting others to sit in it with us. We’d much rather exterminate our anxiety in isolation instead of trying to understand its usefulness in our lives with other brothers or sisters in Christ. It may even feel offensive to suggest that it can be useful. God can use our temptation and doubt to grasp for something other than Him as a catalyst to calling us back to a firm faith founded on His secure character.
Anxiety is a worry that grows out of proportion, which will time and again lead to sinful doubting. Through ungodly thoughts, motives, and behaviors, anxiety makes itself known. This behavior is inconsistent with Christians’ call to trust God.
When we cater to our feelings of anxiety, fear, or worry, they will make their home in our minds.
The hang-up then becomes the recurrent thoughts or perpetual worry we feed as we attempt to gain control over our situation.
Let’s say that I get into a car and become anxious over my safety. Though I have been in a car thousands of times before and arrived at my destination safely every time, this time I am more concerned than normal. While I may feel “anxious”—meaning that I am experiencing a level of worry or fear—it is only temporary. But if I begin to entertain doubts that I could ever be safe in my vehicle, then I may begin to experience sinful anxiety. I have heard Biblical Counselor Randy Patten explain that perpetual worry (or anxiety) is like trying to go somewhere in a rocking chair— you rock back and forth, back and forth, without ever gaining any ground.
Anxiety is inconsistent with trusting God.
Perpetual worry keeps us stuck in unhealthy patterns that result in sinful distrust of God. Ruminating thoughts—or ongoing “tracks”—that take up residence in our minds can only be overcome through a faith response to a Sovereign God. When we acknowledge our inability to help ourselves and the limited ability of others to take away our experiences of anxiety, we invite God to sustain us through the peace and comfort experienced in His Son.
The truth is that you cannot stop some of these “tracks” on your own. You must welcome the power of God to record over them with healthy, fulfilling tracks of love, compassion, grace, and beauty. The Bible implores us to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). We can only do this by the power of Christ dwelling in us. My mind must be renewed for my motives to be rewired and my actions to change. I must “put on” Christ, Paul writes in Romans 13:14, to stop the desires of my flesh that drive me to sin and emotional suffering.