I read an article yesterday about Christians who struggle with anxiety. As I was reading it, one thought came to mind: anxiety is a shameful thing. Those of us who suffer with anxiety face a lot of shame when we act out of anxiety instead of rational thought.
I know what the Bible says about anxiety, what I’m supposed to do. But sorry to say it, sometimes my body does what my mind and soul know it shouldn’t. Didn’t Paul struggle with that in Romans 7? I’m not talking about sin. I’m talking about the fact that when I have a panic attack, I can’t move. I can’t trust. I can’t do anything.
I know I’ll be fine when I go on a plane. I graduated number 12 in my high school class, and I graduated with a 3.9 GPA in college. I’m not stupid. I don’t need statistical facts to get over my anxiety. No matter what I do in my mind, anxiety still comes. Every time I get on that plane, my muscles shake uncontrollably and I start to cry. I don’t need people telling me to stop crying and get over it. All I need in that moment is to be validated, and to feel safe.
From the time I was in high school until I was out of college (approximately 2010-2015), I couldn’t watch any movies that contained any form of sexual contact. Even kissing was out of the question. My friends would roll their eyes as I would hum and cover my face to avoid hearing or seeing anything. When I was alone, any time someone outside of marriage got physical, I would cry hysterically and turn off whatever I was watching. Although it looked like I was just judging premarital sex on the outside, on the inside, I was terrified. Only recently did I discover why I was so disgusted and horrified by people willingly or unwillingly giving up their virginity on the big screen, but at the time, I needed people to love me instead of judge me.
In a situation like that, it would be easy for anyone to shame me. “They’re just kissing, get over it.” “Why do you have to ruin the movie?” “Why can’t you just grow up?” “What are you so afraid of?” I’m thankful none of my friends actually said that, but it was what I was feeling. The voices in my head said it enough.
If you know people who suffer from anxiety, your job is not to fix them. Your job is not to point out the obvious and show them how wrong it is to have anxiety. Your job, if you have one at all, is to walk alongside them. Love them through the pain. Help them to see that they are not alone, because anxiety can truly make you feel like you’re alone.
Anxiety is irrational. Anyone with anxiety can tell you that. Every time I have a panic attack I get so angry at myself because I honestly should have seen it coming. The last thing I need is someone telling me that what I’m thinking makes sense. The worst thing about anxiety is that you know it’s irrational, you know it’s stupid, but your body does what your mind says not to do.
Paul talks about how foolish it was for new believers to think that food sacrificed to idols was unclean. There were people who couldn’t eat food sacrificed to false gods. Instead of condemning those people, Paul encourages the believers who didn’t have this problem to not be a stumbling block. People with a “weak conscience” in this passage were those who used to sacrifice food to idols before they became followers of Jesus. God was working on them, but for those who had already “possessed the knowledge” that God is the only true God and no other god exists, they were charged not to cause their brothers to stumble (1 Corinthians 8).
I believe the same is true for those who suffer from anxiety. Anxiety does not come from God, but it comes from circumstances of our past, before we knew God. While I do not believe anxiety is a sin, I believe that God can heal us from anxiety over time. Until then, we cannot shame people who still struggle with anxiety. If anything triggers anxiety in your friend, from talking on the phone to getting on an airplane, do not shame her. I’ve heard of people being afraid of buttons. Why? It doesn’t matter; my job is to love them. When someone is acting out of anxiety, do not give him statistical evidence. Do not tell her to get over it. Do not roll your eyes.
If you really care, then love your friend enough to help him, not to fix him.