Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I worry a lot. My friends and family call me a "worry wart." I have to agree with them. My worrying makes me miserable. Yesterday, our pastor preached about the time that the disciples almost drowned in a terrific storm on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus asked them, "Where’s your faith?"
I work on the church staff and today some of us were discussing worry and anxiety. We all agreed that worry is a sin and that if we just had more faith and belief in Jesus that we wouldn't have this problem.
I've tried all sorts of tricks and coping mechanisms to get victory; however, I'm not having much success.
I've read on "Ask Roger," where you've mentioned your struggles with worry. Do you still worry a lot? Can you help me overcome my anxieties so that I'm not so miserable?
Anxiety and worry are two of my besetting sins.
I'll give you an example of how I can worry. Driving down the street I hit a bump and 100 yards later think that maybe I ran over somebody. My rational mind is telling me of course that's not true. But my worrying mind says that I'd better go back and check to be sure. Can you believe it? I'll go around the block and drive back to the bump just to be sure I haven't hit somebody. Talk about miserable!
I try to gain victory by casting all my cares on Jesus. I think about Matthew 6 and how the birds of the air have no cares because God carefully cares for them. So, I should be free from worry like the birds; unfortunately, that approach doesn't seem to work very well. I've worked hard to learn contentment as Paul described it in Philippians 4. I've tried to meditate on passages like, "Whatsoever is right, pure, lovely, clean, holy, righteous,… think on these things" (Philippians 4:6). I gained some relief but not much. I needed more help.
About 20 years ago I began to get some victory when I went to my doctor and mentioned, in passing, my problem. He said, "Roger, I'm so sorry that you suffer like this. When did it all begin?"
"About my junior year in high school."
"Let's try to help that," he said, as he gave me a little white pill.
"What is this?" I asked.
"It's an anti-anxiety, anti-depression medicine. Try it for month or so and let's see how you do."
My, how things have changed! Today, I figure that at least 80% of my worry and anxiety have dissipated. Now, for the first time I am able to use the passages above in a helpful and significant way. I found that I was beginning to control my worry and anxiety instead of them over-controlling me. The anti-anxiety medicine was adjusting my brain chemistry to lessen the impact of my besetting sins.
It breaks my heart that so many Christians are adverse to using anti-anxiety, anti-depression medicines when they are so miserable. Christians who have high blood pressure and/or heart rhythm problems seem to have no qualms about taking medicines to help care for their hearts. Christians with thyroid problems seem to have no qualms about taking thyroid medicine to straighten out their endocrine system.
Well, in the same way, there is nothing wrong with taking medicine to help mediate the negative effects of brain chemistry issues.
I remember a man who came to me for counseling regarding his depression. He mentioned that he'd been going monthly to counselors for over 15 years. I listened to his tale and thought of all the money that he had spent. I thought of the suffering he endured for so many years. So I said, "Go talk to your doctor about an anti-depressant and let's see how you do. Two months later he sat back in my office relating the dramatic change in his outlook on life. What 15 years of counseling could not accomplish, a simple anti-depressant did.
Please don't misunderstand; I still struggle with worry and anxiety. At times, it gets the best of me. But, at least I feel that I am on an even playing field.
It may help if I describe in simple terms the brain processes concerning worry and anxiety. Three "brain modules," as I call them, are involved in the process.
The first module is the "alert-module." It monitors the negative things going on around us to warn us of any dangers lurking nearby.
The second module is to "fix-it module." When something needs our attention the alert module communicates with the fix it module and the fix it module starts to fix the problem.
The third module is the "all-clear module." This module tells us that the danger is alleviated and we need be anxious no more. All is well. We can stop worrying.
Any combination of the three going off can cause us to be filled with worry and anxiety.
Imagine that you have an over reacting "alert-module" that is relentlessly telling you things are going wrong when in fact everything is fine. You will tend to struggle more with anxiety those whose "alert-modules" are more "normal."
Imagine that your "fix-it module" is malfunctioning. It receives the alert that something is wrong but it doesn't fix anything or even try to. You're still filled with anxiety.
Imagine that the first two modules are functioning normally but your "all-clear module" is not doing its job. You will still struggle with worry even though the danger issues are eradicated.
Of course, there are many combinations and levels of intensity accompanying all three modules. For example, the "alert-module" may not be sensitive enough which brings in a whole new set of issues for us to consider.
God's design is for the "alert-module" to work at the right level; for the "fix-it module" to prompt us to take the necessary steps to alleviate the worrisome problem; and for the " all-clear module" to remove any need for worry or anxiety.
By the way, our brain chemistry is capable of initiating an anxiety attack when there is no reason for any threat or worry. In other words, we are not always at liberty to overcome a worry or anxiety episode started by our brain chemistry and not by our own conscious thinking.
Now, let me share with you some more ways that I find victory over worry and anxiety.
1. I stay in close contact with my medical doctor to keep my brain chemistry as balanced as possible.
If you sense that your worry-anxiety system is causing you problems, then I suggest that the first thing you do is ask your doctor for diagnosis and some help.
2. I sing a lot.
The Bible has numerous references to the positive impact of changing sour attitudes by consciously updating our countenance to look happy, and act happy, even if we don’t feel that way at all (Song of Solomon 2:14; Proverbs 15:13).
3. I try to cultivate an awareness of God’s presence and care.
4. I refuse to imagine the worst that can happen.
I capture my "run away" thoughts by saying, “Stop It" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
My daughter taught me this one; although I could have learned from Paul, but I didn't. Whenever I catch my imagination running wild, I firmly say to my mind, "Stop it!" Both Jesus and Paul talked about the significance of thinking sweet-positive thoughts. So, I consciously change my thinking. Usually I do this by beginning to sing.
My mother was a living victim of worry and anxiety. When Julie and I brought the children for a visit, the first thing she did was have a fire drill so we all knew which window to exit depending on where we were in the house. This was not a one-time thing. We had our drill every time we visited’
She only had two locks on the outside doors but when my dad died she added four more for a total of six locks to keep the house secure. She was always afraid that lightning was going to strike the house and burn it down.
Her advice for me as I grew older was to handle my worry and anxiety by taking time to think of the most terrible thing that might happen. Then, pull back and realize that it probably won't. That was supposed to make me feel better.
She was not helpful. I want to keep the worst things that might happen as far away from my mind as possible.
By the way, she soon got lonely with my father gone so she sold the house she had lived in for 55 years and moved into a retirement facility. Can you believe it? Three weeks after she moved a lightning bolt hit the house and burned it to the ground. The fire marshal told her at the initial bold hit in her bedroom where she used to sleep every night.
5. I work hard to avoid borrowing, which is bringing concerns of the future or of the past into the present.
6. I'm not good at compartmentalizing, I keep opening the lid to look inside. So, I find victory by cremating my problem and placing the ashes in a mental casket and burying the ashes deep underground.
If ever I am tempted again to worry about that problem, I look at the cremated ashes scattered over the bottom of the casket. My problem is dead and gone.
7. I replace worry with prayer (Philippians 4:6).
8. Finally, Psalm 131 is my “go to” principle for handling best my worry issues.
As you read the Psalm it quickly strikes you that David has full control over whether or not he lets worry and anxiety infect his life and behaviors. He has the choice of living in worry and anxiety or of calming and quieting his soul. The same choice is ours.
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a child quieted at its mother’s breast;
like a child that is quieted is my soul.
Susan, thanks for bringing up this subject. You are not alone in your struggles. I hope that my thoughts are helpful to you and many others.
May God give you a peaceful and grace-filled life.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Publication date: April 22, 2015
Read our guide for How to Stop Worrying: 13 Practical Steps and start taking small steps today toward living fully free from anxieties.