This weekend in church I am going to be talking about one of the most personal topics in my life: anxiety. Anxiety is something (I’m learning) that impacts so many people throughout the world. The Anxiety Disorder Association of America estimates that over 40 million people suffer from an anxiety disorder, and who knows how many countless more suffer from occasional anxiety.
In my own life, 2016 has been a year of anxiety. On December 31, 2015, I got a call that another member of our church family had passed away, making it the fifteenth funeral I had done in just over a year at Centerville UMC. I got off the phone and I almost cried. Death felt real to me. For the first time in my life I started to come to the realization that I am going to die, and then the anxiety kicked in to hyper-drive.
I began to fantasize that I was going to die sooner rather than later. And in that moment the only thing I could think about was the fact that I might not get to walk Shiloh (my four-year-old daughter) down the aisle on her wedding day. I didn’t fear death, but I did fear leaving my family. I could feel my heart pounding harder and harder in my chest. I started to breathe a little heavier, and I began to sweat.
I thought I might be self-inducing myself into a heart attack.
I called my wife and I called my mom, and both of those wise women recommended that I call my family doctor. Now, keep in mind it was New Year’s Eve and the office was closed, but he forwarded calls to his cell and he took my call. Luckily, I have an incredible doctor and he let me come to his house to get checked out.
It was the perfect storm of anxiety and heartburn. I was fine, but the anxiety was real. Since that day I have been dealing with this crazy anxiety of dying prematurely. Through it all, I have learned something very important:
Anxiety is oppressive fear.
So many people are just like me, and anxiety is incredibly real to them. In the moment of that oppressive fear it becomes so easy to see a distorted reality. It is also easy to feel embarrassed by this type of feeling. That is part of what makes it so oppressive, because it changes the way people operate. I am also learning this:
The only way to deal with anxiety is to bring it into the light.
That means sharing what’s going on inside with other people on the outside. Bringing anxiety into the light means sharing it with people and sharing it with God. I know that the idea of bringing it into the light sounds cheesy, but the more I have wrestled with it in my own life the more I know it to be true. Brene Brown (social scientist and researcher – not to mention genius) suggests that feelings like anxiety live off of secrecy, silence, and judgment.
In other words, the more we don’t talk about it, the strong the feelings become.
I am still wrestling with mortality; my anxiety hasn’t gone away completely. However, I am talking to a lot of people about it, and through this process of bringing it into the light I am becoming better. As I was discussing this topic with my clergy accountability group, one of them asked the question: What is God trying to tell me through this?
Funny, in the midst of my anxiety I never thought that this might be an opportunity for a God moment. Turns out, God is teaching how to be a better pastor through celebrating life. I am also learning to savor each moment with my family, as if it were my last. More than anything, I am learning that the best way to deal with the weight of oppressive fear is to ask the people in my life to help me carry the weight.
Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
Want to hear the sermon on anxiety? Click here to watch online at 9 or 11, or check out the sermon replay.