Anxiety is an opportunity: A conversation with Curtis Chang

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Anxiety is an opportunity: A conversation with Curtis Chang

May 22, 2023 -

The Denison Forum Podcast with Curtis Chang

The Denison Forum Podcast with Curtis Chang

The Denison Forum Podcast with Curtis Chang

Curtis Chang joins Dr. Mark Turman to talk about his book, The Anxiety Opportunity, how anxiety affected Chang’s life, why anxiety is not a sin but a chance for spiritual growth, how anxiety reflects a fear of loss, and how Jesus speaks into our worries.

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Show notes:

Curtis Chang begins by sharing a deeply personal story about struggling with his anxiety disorder as a senior pastor and how God helped him see anxiety as an opportunity for spiritual growth (3:04). Chang explains how some level of anxiety is natural and why we can’t just “pray it away” (8:04). They discuss how anxiety is the fear of future loss, and this should prompt us to ask: what are we afraid of losing (20:10)? Chang gives practical ways to overcome the symptoms of anxiety while warning that we must also address the deeper heart issues, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit (29:31). They consider the danger of avoiding loss at all costs, remembering that we will lose everything on this earth at some point, and how loss avoidance can end in a false version of the gospel (38:46). They close by talking about the importance of community to deal with anxiety, taking it first to God and then to others who love us (54:10).

Resources and further reading:

About the host

Mark Turman, DMin, is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.

About the guest

As a theologian, Curtis is on the faculty of Duke Divinity School and is a Senior Fellow at Fuller Theological Seminary. His ministry experience includes serving as a senior pastor of an Evangelical Covenant Church in California, a campus minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and engaging in racial reconciliation work in Soweto, South Africa. He has authored or contributed to numerous books, including Engaging Unbelief: A Captivating Strategy from Augustine and Aquinas (IVP).

Curtis is the founding Executive Director of Redeeming Babel, a nonprofit that produces content to promote a reformation in how Christians engage the wider world. He also co-hosts (with David French) the Good Faith podcast, where they discuss how Christian faith intersects with culture, law, and politics. His biblical insights are enriched by his own secular career, which includes founding a White House award-winning nonprofit consulting firm and teaching strategic planning as a faculty at American University’s School of International Service. Curtis graduated from Harvard University and is a former Rockefeller Fellow.

Transcript

Transcribed by Otter.ai

 

Mark Turman  00:10

Welcome to the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Turman, Executive Director of Denison Forum and host for today’s conversation. Thank you for being a part of this and we hope that is useful to you. Today we’re having another conversation with our friend Curtis Chang. Let me remind you of who Curtis is he lives on the West Coast. He is a theologian, and a consulting faculty member at Duke Divinity School, as well as being a senior fellow with the fuller Theological Seminary. He has written extensively for New York Times Christianity today and has appeared on CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC, PBS, and NPR, all things considered. He is also the host of a podcast that you may have heard of, or gotten to listen to called good faith, with his co host, David French, and others who appear on his podcast who are very, very insightful thought leaders and faith leaders in our culture today. And we welcome Curtis back to our conversation. Conversations here at the Denison forum podcasts that we hope are culturally relevant, and faith inspiring. We want to help you to understand the culture and to be equipped so that you as a follower of Christ can be a redeeming influence in our culture. And as our founder and cultural theologian, Dr. Jim Denison likes to say, if God couldn’t use us in this time in place, we wouldn’t be alive in this time in place. So be encouraged by that. And we hope that this conversation with Curtis Chang around his recent book, the anxiety, opportunity, how worry is the doorway to your best self and I would say your best influence for the kingdom of Christ. That’s our conversation today, welcome Curtis to the Denison forum, or welcome back, I should say to the Denison Forum Podcast. Curtis, welcome back to the Denison Forum Podcast, and congratulations that the book is finally in release form. So tell us how you’re feeling at this point about the new book The anxiety opportunity?

 

Curtis Chang  02:11

Should I say I’m feeling anxious? Would that be appropriate?

 

Mark Turman  02:14

That would be appropriate? Yeah, we’ll make you an example. real life example today. There you

 

Curtis Chang  02:23

I am feeling a little anxious because you do put in all of this work and time and it’s just you know, I don’t think people unless you’ve gone through it, you don’t realize how much work and time goes into birthing a book into the world. And because anxiety is the fear of some future loss, that’s what anxiety is, I would be I think not fully human if I felt like zero anxiety, that all that work will not produce the desired result or will be lost in terms of you know, lost attention, people not giving the book a chance, and so forth. So yeah, I have to confess I am feeling a little anxiety as the book goes out in the world.

 

Mark Turman  03:04

So help people that may not be as familiar with you and your work as I am framing a little bit of all the titles that we might put in front of your name in terms of Minister, speaker, Professor, even journalist podcaster author, where does author fall into that list? If somebody said, Hey, Curtis, you’re an author? Is that something that resonates with you immediately? Or do you consider yourself? Well, yeah, I have written a book or a few books. But that’s not the first thing I would say about myself. How do you frame that?

 

Curtis Chang  03:40

No, that’s a great question. I think. Right now, I think a lot of people know me as a podcast host of the good faith podcast. That’s probably where I think most people have heard of me, or appearing on podcasts like this, this great podcast of yours. And, and that’s been great because the good faith podcast has built such a strong community of people that are gathered around to try to make sense of the world together. And I love having the being able to do that with guests like my regular guests, David, French, and others. So probably that’s how I’m most known for. But I have written a few books before written one book on apologetics before called Engaging unbelief. But I think this book is going to be probably the one that has the most potential anyways, for widespread relevance just because the topic is so relevant to people these days with with how widespread of an anxiety we have. But Mark, there is one part of my title that probably explains why I wrote the book, which is that I think you can call me, former pastor. So I used to be the lead pastor of an evangelical Covenant Church in California. And the reason why that former is there in that title explains why I wrote this book. Because as I write, as I described in the book, I am somebody who has suffered anxiety firsthand, I’m not writing about this as somebody who is outside the experience, but I’ve suffered it most of my life. And I’ve had really a couple of at least one particular catastrophic experience of anxiety. And that happened when I was a when I took over as the lead pastor of a church under a very stressful situation. And eventually, that anxiety kept building up within me, although it was unnamed and unrecognized, at the time, as anxiety, it was building up to me, and for me, where it shows up as in my sleep. And so I eventually was getting to this period where I was starting to sleep less and less, you know, five hours and four hours and good if I was getting three. And then I finally went through a two week period Mark, where I did not consciously fall asleep at all for two weeks straight. Wow. And I remember in the middle of that two weeks period, I screamed at God in prayer, just make it stop, just make it stop. And I suddenly had this moment of realization, like, Oh, this is how Guantanamo Bay works. And by that, I mean, this feels like torture. I mean, it’s not just you’re tired, when you when you are have this sort of two week period of anxiety driven insomnia, it is psychic torture. This is why sleep deprivation, it’s used, unfortunately, as a form of torture in parts of the world. Right. And, and so it was just a, it was an awful, awful experience, it destroyed my pastoral career, it sent me into a very dark place for, you know, a good number of, of time there. And so I am writing about anxiety as somebody who has suffered it. And yet mark the message, the title of the book, as your announced is called, the anxiety opportunity, how worry is the doorway to your best self. And I wrote that I wrote this book, because I can testify to the truth of that, that anxiety, while it does cause suffering, while there are absolutely problematic aspects of it. Ultimately, as followers of Jesus, we are invited to enter into anxiety, as an opportunity for spiritual growth, that it is the doorway to our best self. And that invitation is why I wrote the book and realizing that I wasn’t taught that that I wasn’t, I hadn’t recognized that, and seeing the biblical basis for that understanding of anxiety, that was actually what got me into trouble as a pastor that the fact that I was treating anxiety as just a problem, to either ignore or push away. That’s actually what caused, in many ways that break down. And so I wrote this book, because to try to save others from making the same mistake I made of treating anxiety as something to just push away, or make it go away solely as a problem, and invite people to engage with what I’ve also experienced, which is that anxiety is the one of the most powerful opportunities that God gives us for spiritual growth.

 

Mark Turman  08:04

Well, that’s a great way of framing it sounds sounds like it’s, in many ways parallel to what we see in the Bible about trials more broadly, in and as I hear you talk about that it’s, and I saw it, as I read through the book, as well is that anxiety is, is just a part of life as trials are simply a part of a life in in a broken world like ours. And we can get in and I want to get into the conversation about the definition that you give of anxiety as a fear of future loss, and our sense of avoidance about it. And that in many ways, in some ways, we’re drawn to Christ, we’re drawn to faith in Christ as an avoidance strategy, right? Not as an overcoming strategy, but more as an avoidance strategy. But but it’s I love the way you frame that in it, the fact that it’s an invitation, but it helps us to start down a conversation of realizing that anxiety is par for the course it is simply a fact of life. Let’s go back a little bit to your story about when you were a pastor, give us a sense of the of the frame, the timeframe of that build up from when you stepped in as a pastor to this time where you know, and likes it. I love the vulnerability of hey, I not only have suffered anxiety, it’s cost me a lot it. It not only cost me personal pain, but it cost me a professional reality in terms of a ministry career. And so there’s a lot of credibility, obviously, that comes with that instead of speaking from to this from a theoretical standpoint. But give us a sense of the framework of the timeline of that build up. Of I’m sure there was thoughts in your mind going through this of well, this is just what it’s like to lead a church. This is just what it takes to lead a church. You just have to do deal with this kind of stuff. And you just have to man up, because this is just what the job requires. But what was the timeframe? And and can you look back on that now and say, Okay, well, there was there were the yellow flags, and then there was the red flags. And then, you know, I tell people all, you know, I read years ago that you can die quicker from a lack of sleep than you can from a lack of food, which is, which is why they use it as a torture tactic. But give us that framework a little bit how shadows play out over, I won,

 

Curtis Chang  10:31

I would say probably over a year, of course of a year, my first year as a pastor, if I look back with Now the lens that I do have, I would have seen all the signs of building anxiety that shows up in our thoughts, the ways in which I kept ruminating and turning a thought, you know, turning worries over and over my head. It turns up in my relationships, how I was relating to my other staff members, with and ways in which our anxiety shows up in our relationship, and then in my body. And as I said that, especially in how I was sleeping, less and less. Now, the curious thing was that I kept narrating it exactly like you just said, as this is part of the job, I have a lot of workload, I have a lot of stress. still adjusting, I never quite named it as I am suffering from anxiety, which is at the heart is what it was happening. And the real question that is why why could I not admit why could I not name and recognize that this was anxiety. And I think this gets to the fact that the dominant narrative explanation around anxiety in the Christian world, is really problematic or problematic in two ways. It’s problematic because it defines it as a problem. It defines anxiety solely as a problem to make go away. And there’s really two ways we treat it as a problem. One, as the one I call, pray it away, as a spiritual problem that we pray away, or as a mental health problem that we prescribe away, we pray it away, or prescribe it away. So in the prayed away, this is where anxiety is viewed as a lack of faith, as a lack of trust in God as something that you know, you just need to pray harder, memorize more scriptures meditate more, or in some other way, get make it go away. And I think I was really operating with that. Either subconsciously, or maybe in some ways, even consciously, because once you think of anxiety as a sin, or at least as a lack of faith, then there’s a lot of shame, attached to the experience of anxiety, and especially as a senior pastor, a new senior pastor, Wow, your new senior pastor lacks faith, your new pastor, you know, doesn’t trust God, that’s a pretty hard admission to make either to yourself and certainly to others. And so this is why I think I just kept pushing it away, thinking it’s something else other than this anxiety within me. Now, there are other churches that I think maybe less make more room for anxiety, in terms of not being necessarily a sin, but they still treat it as a problem to make go away. They just outsource it to secular mental health to prescribe away, either through therapy, or medication. And let me be clear, in my own experience, I have benefited from therapy. And from medication, I’ve done it. And it’s helpful to bring the sort of physiological symptoms of anxiety back down to manageable levels, so that you can sleep a little more and so forth. However, that approach of prescribing it away does not open up the doorway to spiritual transformative growth. It’s just meant to treat the symptoms. That’s what secular mental health does with its prescribe it away. And so both of those prayed away or prescribe it away. They missed the spiritual opportunity for growth. And that’s what I missed. And that’s why I, like I said, he kept just trying to push it away. And that’s it came back to actually it came back in ever greater levels, precisely because I was trying to push away something that you cannot push away, you’re trying to do something that is impossible. You’re trying to avoid the unavoidable when you solely engage with anxiety as a problem.

 

Mark Turman  14:12

And that’s where, you know, particularly a lot of the aspects of our faith as Christians really lead us down this, this inadequate path of pray it away, because when you say pray it away, that sounds like a spiritual pathway. It sounds like a spiritual solution. And then, in some ways, you know, the, the most familiar readings of Scripture seem like direct imperatives from Jesus, do not worry. Fear not. Paul’s. Paul’s admonition to the Philippians that you reference in your book. All of those seem to be very, in some ways, simple and definitive. Don’t do this. Do that. Um, and obviously, and you you make much of prayer in your book as a part of this, that that is a part of the spiritual journey we’re invited into, but just simply making it too simplistic as a pray it away. And if you have enough faith, it’ll go away, like we do with a number of other sins, and another a number of other challenges that we face. It’s like saying to a person who’s grieving the loss of a loved one, well, if you, if you just pray deep enough, then God will comfort you. And this won’t be a problem for you anymore. It doesn’t did that just doesn’t it’s an inadequate answer, right? It’s

 

Curtis Chang  15:43

an adequate it’s an adequate for anybody who’s tried it. And it’s a inaccurate reading of Scripture. And so this is where I won’t go into all the detail invite readers listeners to get my book, if they want the exegesis of key passages like Philippians, four, six, you know, do not be anxious verse that often is quoted. But just real quick, to give you some examples, you know, Philippians, four, six, you can’t read that, as Paul saying, Do not be anxious because it’s a sin. Because in Philippians, 228, just a couple of paragraphs before Paul talks about how anxious he is feeling about Pafford itis not being there. He’s He’s saying I’m anxious. Right? So it would be very strange if having just confessed how anxious he is to flip and he turns around and says, and by the way, anxiety is a sin. So don’t you even dare think about it, you know, experiencing it. So and then I think that the central claim that I make to folks, if they’re at all mistaken, their belief that anxiety is a sin. As I say, Look at Jesus, look at Jesus in Gethsemane all the gospels in the pathway to the cross for Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it’s good because some of the passage for John it’s a John 12. But it’s all when they’re, they’re depicting Jesus facing his ultimate trial, his ultimate loss that he is going to experience in the imminent future. All of the Gospels go out of their way to describe Jesus as having the classic human symptoms of anxiety, the stress troubled and soul, you know, almost sweating is almost like they’re bleeding, and it’s

 

Mark Turman  17:22

unable to sleep. Yeah. And even though the disciples are sleeping, but he’s not.

 

Curtis Chang  17:27

That’s right. So so clearly, Jesus is experiencing anxiety. And so that shouldn’t be the definitive rebuttal to any notion that anxiety is sin. But that rather, anxiety is the natural human reaction to impending trial to impending loss that we face in the future is so natural that Jesus, in taking on our full humanity took on for himself, human anxiety. So Jesus himself experienced it. So we should know we have a lord and savior that is deeply empathetic, that is not wagging his finger saying just do not fear, you know, do not fair. It’s simple, just don’t fair. It’s that you can’t read Scripture that way. Because it’s coming, the all those encouragement and their encouragement, they’re not admissions or condemnations are coming from somebody who has experience who knows anxiety from the inside. And here’s the final thing that I want to say about why we just cannot treat anxiety as something that is that we can just make go away. Because again, anxiety equals loss. This is the formula that I depict in my book, anxiety is the natural human reaction to some impending potential loss in the future anxiety equals loss. So Mark, if we are saying we can just make anxiety go away, we can just pray anxiety away. What we are saying is that we can pray loss away, that we can just make loss go away. Now, anybody who has lived knows that is just not true that we that we can just pray loss away if you if you’re honest with your life, we all have experienced loss no matter how much we might have prayed to avoid that loss, we’ve nevertheless gone through it. Because the scriptures never promise that God exists to make law loss go away. God is not some insure cosmic insurance broker in the sky, insuring us against all potential loss. Quite the contrary. The life of Jesus shows that the truly human life is destined for loss. This is Jesus goes to the cross the the his death, which is the loss of all losses for all of us. That’s when we lose everything right so so that that is immediately should show us that anxiety is not something that we make go away that we try to avoid, but rather something we go through. And we go through with Jesus holding on to Jesus with a promise, a remarkable promise on the other side of loss, but that promise we get to that promise which we can talk about Not by avoiding it, not by avoiding loss, not by going around it, but only by going through loss. It’s why I depict loss as a doorway or anxiety as a doorway that we have to go through.

 

Mark Turman  20:11

And I think this is really one of the key parts of where the book is so helpful in is in the, the reframing both of, of the terminology and understanding of both anxiety and loss. Because so much about our lives is about that, you know, we talk about in our organization, a lot that people typically interpret change as loss, whatever the change is there. If you announced a change, in some ways, kind of the normal human knee jerk reaction is that that’s going to mean a loss in some way. Because it represents a change and, and, you know, as my pastor used to say, nobody likes change, or the only one that does is a wet baby is even they don’t like the experience a lot of times change. Yeah. But talk about that, from the standpoint of your definition is really fundamental to getting the message of this book, which is anxiety equals loss, or, in this particular case, the fear of future loss, talk about that aspect of what you mean by fear that not the actual, there may be no actual loss in the way that we initially think about it when we get anxious. But this idea of the fear of a future loss and how anxiety is rooted in something that hasn’t even usually happened yet. Yeah,

 

Curtis Chang  21:37

that’s right. Anxiety is like this is this hijacker, I call it his mental hijacker, that hijacks us into the future, where it then threatens us with some potential future loss. And that’s, that’s true of every anxiety, right? When we feel sad, that’s because something actually present is happening that we’ve lost anxiety is when we are anticipating some future loss that hasn’t happened yet. But could happen if for any of your listeners, if you are feeling anxious about anything, just do this exercise, and see if you can name first of all the loss, that the underlying loss that’s driving this anxiety is finances, relationships, some self image, some experience that we fear losing, and that that timeframe around that loss is in the future. We think it’s possible it’s impending. And the reason why it’s crucial to recognize this is because that explains the second half of the anxiety formula, which is anxiety equals loss, times avoidance, times avoidance, avoidance is the multiplier effect. We can’t avoid loss, actually, because like I said, loss is built baked into human life. We’re all destined for loss. But if we somehow think that we can avoid future loss, we can do something now to avoid and guarantee loss avoidance. That’s where the multiplier effect comes in. That’s when we engage into avoidance moves. And this is this can happen mentally, physically, behaviorally, even spiritually, things that we do, that we engage in, really, with the underlying motivation of, I just want to avoid this loss. That’s the most important thing. So the illustration I use for this is a rumination, because that’s my most powerful avoidance move, is when I am facing some potential loss in the future. So this happened for me when I was a pastor, right? When I was fearing the loss of our congregation, our congregational numbers, our Congregational Giving, and all that I’m afraid of some loss in the future, when I got into was rumination, which is when I’m turning a thought, and turning that scenario and situation over and over in my mind. And the motivation there is I think, if I just turn over this, these thoughts over enough, I will make this one final turn that will reveal, aha, this is the path. This is the approach. This is the thing that guarantees I will not avoid that loss. The silver bullet, I call it it’s a silver bullet. It’s the magic turn. Final turn.

 

Mark Turman  24:06

Yeah, and let me just let me just interject here for a second because I’ve heard you talk about this, the symptom of rumination, a number of weeks in Miami a number of months ago, on your good faith podcast as as you were reflecting a part of the book and a conversation that you were having. And you talked about this and I thought, okay, somebody now understands me, because this is what I Okay, this, this process of rumination and this symptom of rumination is characteristic of me and I want to get to that but let me pause for a second and make an aside which is this is where when I hear you talking and defining anxiety in this way, it draws a distinction between anxiety and what I would call simple fear. We do have a natural God given fear instinct, like if we’re walking in the woods on a hike and we meet Bear, we’re supposed to be afraid. And, and that’s a normal natural reaction to a real, immediate physical threat. And that’s normal natural fear that’s different from anxiety, anxiety, that is that is rooted in a fear of future loss and is multiplied by avoidance. So there’s, you know, not all fears are the same. And so we have to make that distinction. But then this symptom of rumination. And I wonder if it’s not just indicative of the way you and I react Curtis, but is perhaps very widespread of it, there’s just something I’m not getting. There’s, there’s, there’s an idea, there’s a secret trapdoor in this scenario in this situation that I’m facing. And that is making me enormously afraid about what’s coming in the next hour or the next day or the next month. And if I can just turn it over, think about it, pray about it long enough, deep enough, or get to the right person who has the wisdom that I need. And it we’re saying the right thing. Yeah, it will unlock it will unlock this conundrum, and I will be set free, right?

 

Curtis Chang  26:22

Yes, exactly. You’ve described it exactly right. And so the way I liken it to, it becomes this thought that you’re like a ball that you’re turning over and over thinking one final turn, there is the solution for loss. It’s the

 

Mark Turman  26:35

Rubik’s Cubes, what I call the anxiety reorder Rubik’s Cube. Yeah,

 

Curtis Chang  26:38

yeah. But because loss is ultimately unavoidable like that, that magical. This guarantees me from any possibility of loss that that final turn does not exist, we then keep having to turn, turn, turn, turn. And so it’s like we’re the it’s or another vision, visual of it is it’s the hamster wheel. We’re turning it over mentally, and I hamster wheel because, and we can’t get anywhere because we can’t actually get to the place that we want to get to, which is guaranteed loss avoidance. It doesn’t exist. So instead, we’re turning it over and over in our heads. And yes, I think some people are wired more that way, I think sounds like you and I are wired more that way. Interestingly, not everybody is wired that way. Other people are more so because this is like the turning around and around. Other people are wired to flee to get away from a fossil there, they engage into avoidance, by not wanting to talk about that subject by like, avoiding that experience or avoiding that scenario. This is where a lot of phobias come in is when people are like, they can’t come into contact with that feared loss. And so they flee away from any possible exposure to it. What’s so interesting for me is I used to think my rumination was that I was like, not fleeing away from my, my problems, my anxiety, what I’ve had to realize is no, it’s just kind of a more subtle, devious way of trying to avoid losses, I just think I kind of, you know, think my way out of it, rather than mentally flee away from it. And it’s interesting, it maps on to the fact that our like you said, our, our natural born nervous systems is wired by what is often called the fight or flight system, which is meant for our protection, it’s meant for our good when facing an immediate actual concrete threat. But when anxiety hijacks our nervous system into this anxiety around some future loss, that’s when we get all haywire because then that fight or flight mechanism gets translated into rumination if you’re a fight person, because that’s really what rumination is, it’s a fight with a problem that we can never win. Right? So and or you flee, which is the people who are like, you know, don’t don’t talk to me about money. I don’t want to talk about money, you just deny that. Right? Yeah, exactly. Or try to run away from it as much as possible. And it’s important recognize these are all avoidance moves, right. So this is why this is what actually ratchets up anxiety from this is the anxiety goes loss, times avoidance, this is what turns natural, new, normal anxiety that we all experience that we all will experience. This is what turns natural anxiety into anxiety disorders. This is what causes dysfunctional disorders breakdowns in our mental health, our relationships, and our spiritual well being is when we engage in these avoidance moves that ratchets up anxiety into into dysfunctional disorders.

 

Mark Turman  29:30

Yeah, so So talk a little bit, Curtis about how this moves forward in us and some of the symptoms that that we can talk a little bit about the symptoms that that you indicate how they can show up physically how they can show up relationally how they can show up mentally. And then so much of what I put so much of the good direction from your book under this idea of Okay, we have to take this thing that we all experience. And that sometimes becomes, as you said, a disorder and can even create a scenario where we just simply can’t function. But yeah, how do we how do we bring this anxiety out of the darkness and into the light as the Bible seems to indicate so many things, that the things that are in the dark places of our lives are the things that are evil in that, in that grow bigger? If we let them stay there? How do we drag this this reality? I started to say, problem? How do we drag this reality of anxiety? And the way we sometimes ruminate or deny it? How do we drag it into the light and talk a little bit particularly about what you mean by naming what it is that is making you anxious and learning to differentiate that, that, hey, this, this has a reality of its own. And it is not the full essence of who you are as a person? Well,

 

Curtis Chang  31:00

yeah. So this is what I call naming I have a whole chapter in the book about naming our anxiety, which is what I didn’t do as a pastor, right, I was Miss naming it I was it has something as everything else other than anxiety. And why naming is so powerful Mark, is that it is it establishes two things. It establishes differentiation, and authority. And this is really what I think why the first human command that God gives in Genesis two to the human to Adam and Eve is to name the beasts. It’s their way of as a human to differentiate themselves from the other animals. Right? When we, when we give birth to a baby, we name that baby as a way to say, Oh, this baby is no longer part of the fused within the mother, it is a separate being. And that’s when we give it a name. And then, and then the other thing that it naming does is it gives authority, the Bible is very clear that naming is always attached to the fact that somebody is exercising authority. This is why Jesus gave nicknames to all of his disciples like Peter, right. And so so we’re saying, I know you, I know who you are, and I have the authority to name you to describe the to name your actual reality. Well, we can practice those same moves of naming, exercising, differentiation and authority with our anxious mental beasts that are tormenting us in our heads, right? And you can do this. So the way I did this, as I described this in my book, but I started naming streams of thought in my head, as radio stations, I gave them actual radio stations. So I named the anxiety channel, K fear. For those of us on the west coast radio stations are the K. Right? designation, right, so and so that my ability to then was then so when that rumination started kicking in, I would then say, oh, okay, what’s happening is K fear is playing let me tune in to K fear, rather than engage it rather than like start give me give myself and let me be hijacked by I sort of differentiated myself and just say, let me tell you in what is K fear, saying what songs are at playing, right. So it was my way of being able to name and then that was enabled me to recognize, oh, this is what’s really going on this is the underlying fear that I have. So there was like this redness, and then I can differentiate myself from it was like, oh, that’s, that’s a thought that’s an anxious thought, that’s an anxious rumination, that’s a pattern, I wasn’t always able to break free from the rumination, but that was always the first steps to breaking, it’s sort of hijacking hold over me was by naming and then I could exercise a little bit of increasing authority over it. Because once I could picture it as Oh, this is not me, I’m not, I am not fused with my anxious thoughts, I am different from my thoughts in some way so that I can observe it. And then I can start exercising some some authority over it, I could, I could maybe, sometimes even change the channel, like, I’m going to think about something else now. or distract myself with with an actual radio station, like a baseball game or something like that. So I could actually differentiate, or I could start turning the volume down, like if I couldn’t change the channel. And this thoughts just threw me out. Because like, you know what, I’m going to just turn the volume down a little bit on that. It takes practice and it takes work and it takes the spiritual assistance of the Holy Spirit, to exercise that differentiation and authority, but we have that God given power to name that is really intrinsic to us as as bearers of God’s image. And we can exercise that with our anxious thoughts as well.

 

Mark Turman  34:32

Curtis, I imagine if somebody might be listening to us, if in particularly, maybe, depending upon what part of the Christian tradition they would be coming from or a part of, would you go down the road just a little bit around the idea of, okay, it’s, it’s, it’s Satan or the Devil suggesting these things to me or in some way implanting them in my mind how it In terms of the spiritual realities between good and evil, you talked in just a moment ago about the Holy Spirit teaching us and encouraging us to say, Hey, this is this is not my identity. This is not simply, I’m a weak, pitiful Christian. And I just can’t trust God like I’m supposed to. And that’s why I’m having these thoughts. The differentiation and authority really helps us to start getting a framework around that. But how would How would you say if somebody said, Well, that’s just the devil trying to get in my head? Is? Is that the best way? Is that a good way to say?

 

Curtis Chang  35:35

I think I would be careful about over jumping to that interpretation, I wouldn’t rule it out either. So I think these are the things are that this is why again, I read my book about how do we cultivate our ability to hear the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, in our anxiety, because actually, anxiety is a great opportunity for us to develop our sort of vocal repertoire of our spiritual vocal recognition skills of what is, what this voice what this thought is coming from God, is it coming from myself? And my fear? Is it coming from the evil one? So I mean, I think those are all possibilities. So I won’t, I don’t feel like it’s my place to prescribe a, you know, cookie cutter, one size fits all interpretation for everyone, I think it’s going to differ in different situations, I would say it’s most important, I think, to learn to tune into, and recognize that so much like is this from, you know, what is the ultimate spiritual origin? But to recognize the nature of it? Like, what is the what is what is the loss that’s really happening? I mean, it may be coming from you and your childhood experiences it may be coming from, from the active presence of the same, it’s less important we name it, and more that we recognize, hey, what is the what is my underlying feared loss here? And then how do I actually think about and respond to that loss? In Jesus, right, like, we should be paying more attention to Jesus than we are to this to Satan? Even if it is from Satan? The our response to, to voice of Satan isn’t so much Oh, let me really, clearly identify this is a it’s more like, well, let me turn my attention to Jesus, what is what does he have to say about this fear loss? And this is where we have to be really, really kind of, well read or be paying attention to Jesus words in Scripture, because I think one of the temptations is to project onto Jesus, the answer that we think he should give. But Christians do this all the time, right? Like this is where even you know in some spiritual traditions that I value scripture traditions that are like to hear a word of knowledge or hear from God directly. But yeah, those traditions are also very vulnerable to where people project onto that experience, something that they want God to say that what God is actually saying, and we have to recognize we have this very strong impulse in us to avoid loss. And so we want to hear from God some word that says, Oh, it’s okay. You will not experience that loss. But if you actually read Scripture and read, especially Jesus as the model of human life, we have to be really careful about claiming that God promises loss avoidance, because that is just not true. In Scripture. There’s never any blanket promise that says, Well, yeah, to my followers, you will never experience trials, you will never experience loss. Quite the contrary, we are actually promised, we will experience trials, we will experience loss, and therefore the ultimate Jesus answer to loss has to be something other than you will avoid it in your life. And maybe that’s where we want to go next. Mark, I don’t know. I’ll let you guys train here. Yeah,

 

Mark Turman  38:46

yeah, I think so. But it just, it just makes me think that this, this tremendous passion that we have to avoid loss in what you’re describing right now, if you take it to a foreign of extreme, you start warping the gospel into something that we might call the prosperity gospel, that that is a departure and a twisting of what biblical teaching is really all about that. If if you do have enough faith, if you just trust God enough, you will not experience any loss. Well, that’s, that’s prosperity gospel by definition. Yeah, is

 

Curtis Chang  39:22

and that could sneak in, in all sorts of ways, right? Without being the full blown version of that. But I tell the story in my book, you know, I have chronic back pain. And when I was in college, we that my Christian fellowship and school mobilized this prayer time for me, that got built up with all this expectation and all of this sort of belief that God was going to heal me. And we had brought in this charismatic healing preacher that was, you know, had the healing gifts attached to his name and all of this and then, like, it didn’t happen. Yeah, I wasn’t healed. That and that expired. I mean, it’s, it was a real spiritual challenge for me like I had, it really messed me up and I had to really figure out how to make sense of it. And I ultimately realized, wow, I think we were all anxious. I was anxious, my friends were anxious for me and so forth. And we ended up projecting onto God our anxieties and and, and the way we did that was like, oh, yeah, God’s gonna definitely make this loss go, you know, go away. And, Mark, I still suffer from chronic back pain like this at this very moment. So that has not gone away. And I’ve had to Linstead actually endure it, experience it go through it. Just like we have to endure experience, go through our anxiety.

 

Mark Turman  40:36

Yeah. So let’s, before we go a little bit further in conversation, I want you to take a moment if you could, and just talk about how, whether it’s in our journey with anxiety or our journey with other trials, which I think all of them have some element of anxiety attached to them. Yeah. But you know, again, I keep going back to what my some of the things that my pastor instilled in me early on, you know, I can remember him preaching very clearly from Psalm 23. That, you know, one things you learn out of Psalm 23 Is, is God doesn’t ever promise you a route around the valley of the shadow of death, he promised, He promises you a pathway through it with him. Right? But it’s but when I when I would hear those things. And when I hear you talking about anxiety, it’s like, look, it’s unavoidable and loss is unavoidable. I just, I gotta tell you, my reaction to that is I just don’t like it. You know, when I, when I hear other biblical teachers, when I hear Dr. Denison talk about, you know what, there’s just certain things in this broken world with our broken lives and all the broken lives around us. There are certain things that are unavoidable. And we have to come to terms with that, and I just don’t like it. I just don’t like the conversation.

 

Curtis Chang  41:54

No, I think that’s right. It’s very honest and genuine.

 

Mark Turman  41:58

So helped me Come, help me come to terms help our listeners come to terms with that in some way. As a perhaps a necessary step of okay. I now this is part of the game, I have to now ask and accept God’s invitation into the journey through this valley called anxiety. Yeah, where did that occurred? Where did that come for you? Because what if I’m framing this Curtis, I’m sitting here going, Okay. Well, the crisis of what happened to you while I was while you were a pastor, created the the immediate necessity of some interventions, such as medication, counseling, those types of things, just to kind of get the immediate crisis of symptoms under control, but then it it catalyzed a larger journey that has resulted in this book. Tell us a little bit more about the coming to terms with all of them?

 

Curtis Chang  43:00

It’s a great question. So I think in my catastrophic breakdown as a pastor or in like the my, my backpack chronic back pain, when I was a college student, after I sort of, like you said, was able to get some basic equilibrium, I realized the fundamental question was really, and I’m, this is gonna sound McCobb. But it’s true was death was death. Because I felt like I was like I said, I was dying, I was being tortured to death in that, you know, sort of insomnia. And with my back, I just felt like my body was breaking down. And I realized, wait a minute. In the end, we are all headed for that loss of all losses. Every single one of us, that’s, that’s unavoidable. You, we may not like it, and I don’t like it any more than you like Mr. But it’s unavoidable, we are headed for loss for death. So the question has got to be not how do I avoid loss? And even all of our efforts to postpone it are just that they’re just postponing it a little bit further. Right, right. That it’s not ultimate loss avoidance. I had to learn realize, Wait, what then really, the real answer to anxiety is anxiety equals loss. And it’s not avoidance, it’s not the right way, then the real answer to anxiety for a Christian is what is the answer to death? What is the answer to the loss of all losses? And that’s when I sort of finally had to dive more deeply into Wait a minute. The Christian Gospel, Jesus centered, cross centric answer to death is not avoidance. It is not avoidance. It is resurrection, right? And resurrection and avoidance are two totally different things. Resurrection only happens when you go through death. When you go through loss. It’s what is on the other side of that loss. It’s not avoiding it, it’s not postponing it. It’s not running away from it. It is on the other side of loss, and resurrection is the restoration of all loss of our bodies, of our relationships of things we treasure and value in the world. That is, it’s returning to us in, in glorified in perishable form, in a form that we cannot lose evermore in the future. That’s what resurrection is, and is when all of those things are restored to us. And that’s when I suddenly clicked for me, he’s like, Oh, resurrection is the actual heart of the Christian response to anxiety. That’s what that’s the linkage we have to connect is resurrection to anxiety, because, again, that’s the only true answer to loss. And so the invitation the my book is to ultimately leading Christians to go through their anxiety, knowing that in the middle of their anxiety, they are held by Jesus in that in that very moment. But it’s like Jesus is holding us in the moment of anxiety, but also leading us to keep going forward through that doorway. Because ultimately, on the other side of that doorway is resurrection, our best selves, our glorified self. And so when we can, when we can get not hijacked by anxiety into our into its fear loss, but actually held by Jesus, into the future resurrection, that’s when, like, the most profound spiritual growth happens for us, because then we are being present with Jesus in the moment of our anxiety, and we are placing our hope in the future for our Jesus destiny, which is our resurrected selves.

 

Mark Turman  46:35

Yeah, which is the great hope of the book really, and because it’s the great hope of the gospel. And the uniqueness of the Christian gospel is this idea of resurrection, through through pain, through loss through anxiety, is that ultimately, that is the that is God redeeming all things, and making all things new, as you said, and in that journey, some some real practical steps, obviously, naming and authority being a part of that. But one things I wanted to touch on here, as a part of the learning of resurrection experience, you know, as in recent years, God has really brought me into an ongoing conversation with him about what Paul says in the flippin letter as well where he says, I want to know him and the power of his resurrection, and I want there to be a period right there. But the rest of the sentence is, and the fellowship of His sufferings. And it’s, it’s like, these two things are a couple of them, like, I’ll take the first part, I don’t really want the second part, I’m going to avoid that. But But Paul also says, In this letter, you know, I, that he has, we would say willingly and by faith suffered the loss of all things that he had had counted as valuable and important to him, because he had learned the greater value of Christ and that, in some ways, all of these other things were getting in the way of him getting to a true and personal relationship in depth with Christ. But but one thing is, we, we really do experience because of technology and social media, a lack of simply being present and talk about that part of your book for a moment about what it means to learn the resurrection reality of being present with God. Dr. Denison likes to say to us around here at Denison forum, you know, we need to remember regularly that all there is of God is in this moment. Yeah. And how does that address this phenomenon, the formula of anxiety being rooted in the law in a future loss, the fear of future loss, talk about presence as a learned skill?

 

Curtis Chang  48:54

Yeah, I love that verse that you’ve quoted in Philippians, of the fellowship of His suffering, right, and fellowship of His sufferings. Um, so how do we have that? How do we, how do we grow in that fellowship of His suffering as a way we respond to anxiety. So one way that I tried to summarize this is to say, with the resurrection, we have a different formula. If the formula that we’re trapped in when we are trapped in anxiety disorder, is anxiety equals loss, times avoidance, then the resurrection formula is anxiety equals loss, divided by holding divided by holding and you can always visually picture loss as the numerator as holding as the denominator as the figure below, right? It’s like holding how do we hold that loss and bear its weight on top of us? And I think resurrection we can we can hold our resurrection promise in a number of different ways. Well, one, of course is in in prayer, and in fellowship with Jesus is in prayer that we allow him to hold us and comfort us as we are suffering that loss as we’re going through it, and then also hold on to the resurrection promise to so that we can endure this loss, knowing this loss is not the Final Ward, this loss is not final, there comes a day when Jesus returns to this earth to bring to resurrect all who have died, and to restore all the losses we’ve experienced. So that that loss we can hold it knowing it’s not final, right. So there’s a way in which we are, we have fellowship with Jesus, such that that holding capacity can bear the weight of loss as the numerator as the figure on top of us. But But Paul, when he talks about fellowship, always talks about fellowship, not just in a individual, one on one with Jesus in this privatized fashion. Fellowship for him is always Koinonia. Right? It is always about fellowship with others as well. And we see in Paul, that the fellowship of sufferings is both with Jesus, but also with others. And this is why community is so so important to anxiety because anxiety isolates us, especially when we believe that it is a sin or a lack of faith. And we have that extra layer of shame on top of that anxiety, then we really get isolated. It’s why I couldn’t admit, as a pastor to anybody else, that I was deeply, deeply anxious, right. And so we withdrawal as individuals, and we were just never meant to hold loss by ourselves. It is not good for any human being to be alone,

 

Mark Turman  51:32

which is again, modeled by your your earlier reference to Kissimmee right? He, he could have gone to get 70 by himself, but he could have left them in the upper room, he could have walked down the Kidron Valley and indica 70 all by himself, but he chose to take the 12. And then he chose to take three even further into the gardens with him. And he’s frustrated when he comes back. And they’re not able to the holder with him. Right. Yeah. And the whole with him in his experience, right.

 

Curtis Chang  51:59

Yes. I mean, that’s Think about that for a moment that’s that, like Jesus as he faced his loss. What did he most want will certainly to be held by the father. That’s why he was in prayer. But then he wanted to be held by his closest friends. That, again, is is exactly right, is the most profound declaration that we were not meant to go through our losses, and not meant to experience our things are related anxieties, by ourselves were meant to be held by others. And this is the great challenge, because the flesh part of ourselves, wants to withdraw, wants to be isolated, doesn’t want to be held by others. In the moment of anxiety, you know, that key that that key phrase, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, that gets used for a lot of different contexts, that was used in the 70, precisely when Jesus was diagnosing the the inability of his friends to hold him in his anxiety, right. So that the idea that, yeah, there’s willingness, but the flesh is weak. And this is true, I think, in Christian circles that we have, we have the possibility of holding each other in our losses in our anxiety, because we meet in communities we meet in small groups, and Bible studies in prayer groups, and men’s accountability groups, and so forth, that potential is there. And I think the spiritual willingness there, but the flesh is weak, like we as human beings do not are not very good at holding each other in our anxiety. And there’s all sorts of ways in which our flesh leanness gets weak, we can avoid it, it makes us uncomfortable, we can not be nervous, because we don’t know what to do when somebody tells us and shares about their anxiety or their loss. It can make us uncomfortable, we can get we people’s anxieties, other people’s anxiety can make us anxious. And so one thing that I know I do, that’s my fleshly weakness is I want to solve their problem for them. As this is especially true in my parenting, I want to just like, solve their problem for them, because they’re making me anxious, my kids are making me anxious with their problem. I want to solve their problem. So that I don’t feel anxious, right? That’s really, really what’s going on for me, if you

 

Mark Turman  54:10

can solve it, if you can solve it for them, you can solve it for all of you. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. But what I what I tell people is, this is where vulnerability is just a learned and necessity for us as believers. And, and, and pursuing safe environments with people where we can learn to do this at increasingly deeper, deeper levels. But it’s also something I have learned to do in some of my own journeys of anxiety is to be counterintuitive. Because when when we’re hurting or when we’re fearing a potential hurt, we have what I call the turtle effect, we want to withdraw. And that’s, that’s initially initially there’s something probably good and healthy about that. But we tend to stay in the shell too long. I remember I had it Lady in my church one time and her and her family had gone through a horrific, terrible situation. And she withdrew into her shell and didn’t come to church didn’t come to community. And, and I remember there was this one friend of hers who after waiting a long number of weeks, finally just went and had a cup of coffee in her hand, knocked on her door and said, I’m coming after you. And, and she was like, You know what, I need you to do that. Because I don’t think I’ve got the I don’t have the gumption to open this door on my own and step out and I need you to step in, so I can eventually step out. And, and if we can help Christians sometimes realize you have to think with the Holy Spirit to help counter intuitive to step out and to let yourself be vulnerable and to let yourself be confessional. And I’ve even seen people do this in group settings where they just say, I don’t need you to fix this. If there was an easy fix it I would have already found out what if, yes, right, I would have found it. But we you know, we talked about bringing things into the light, when when you’re willing to step into an environment with other believers and to share your anxiety, you’re actually bringing it into the light, where where the shared light of that community can hold it with you. Because there are some things that just too overwhelmingly big for you to be able to hold, including your anxiety. But then you also you talk about not only being healed by the Father through things like prayer and scripture, and then also community but I want to touch on this last one before we run out of time, which is the idea of grief. The idea of, of holding on some of our anxiety and our fear of loss. In this, this big bucket called grief, or what I’ve now started to get somewhat more comfortable with is the terminology of lament. Can you unpack that a little bit while we have a few minutes left?

 

Curtis Chang  56:51

Sure. So I think this is where as also a part of the whole community piece that we’re talking about is how do we grieve together because what grieving is, is simply saying, rather than running away from it emotionally or in other ways, from the experience of loss, I’m going to actually experience it, I’m going to experience it and not experience it alone, but even experience it with others where we grieve together, that’s what grieving is. It’s a It’s recognizing, naming, actually experiencing the pain of a loss. And when we do that, it builds our holding capacity we can hold, we find out we can hold lots, because once we’re willing to actually experience it, and feel it with others and realize, oh, wait a minute, oh, that was that was that was hard. That was painful. But I could do it, I made it through, I could actually experience it. I don’t I don’t, this is not something I have to run away from, I have to avoid. And so that’s why grieving builds our capacity to hold. Now the key again, is that we’re not meant to do it alone, we’re meant to grieve with others. And that, again, is hard because of exactly like you said, the turtling impulse for us is to not share our grief, not share our losses with others. And so this is a great invitation for us and why anxiety is an opportunity because when you are experiencing anxiety, it means you are you know, fearing some impending loss and the ability to bring that to others with others and be able to if that loss happens, to actually go through it, experience it, grieve it, and then recognize, oh, we were able to be held, held ultimately by our Father, and then by secondarily by each other, that builds our confidence and our capacity to face other future losses in the future. Because we have a track record now to look back on and say, I went through that I grieved, but I made it through. And that’s really I think how we gross one of the key ways we grow spiritually, Mark.

 

Mark Turman  58:46

Yeah. And I think you know, and that’s, that’s where God is kind of maybe, I might say expanded my understanding of grief in all that you said, but also in this idea of lamenting, which is the idea of holding something that simply cannot be fixed until resurrection. That’s until resurrection redeems it,

 

Curtis Chang  59:08

lamenting is just giving voice to our grief, that’s maintained grief I equate very similarly and the I think that the invitation for us is to really develop shared ways of lamenting so it is not just a privatize experience. So all reasons why I wrote the book mark was just to give a give a resource so that that people and I hope something, I hope I certainly hope individuals will read this book, but I also hope groups will use this book in a book study in a Bible study a small group or whatever. Because it’s an I wrote the book with a lot of my own personal experiences embedded in this book because I want to model for people. This is how you actually share with others, your anxiety and your loss. And that in reading the book together that people can can actually have a model and have something they respond to that then structures, their own community experience their own community conversation about talking about their own versions of anxiety and loss.

 

Mark Turman  1:00:10

Right and really, really, I think, give some really good handles and, and steps and practices for living out what, you know, we hear this phrase use some times, I think you and David French may have had a conversation where this this, this maxim was used, which is, you know, a joy shared is a joy doubled and a grief shared is a grief have your book really actually get some very real plans and practices for where that can actually come true. Because if we’re if we are really called to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep with to learn how to do that we don’t just automatically do that. In fact, we do the opposite, right? And that’s right. And, and that’s why we’re suffering as a culture, so much anxiety, and so much disorder around extreme versions of anxiety. Curtis, thank you for the book. Thank you. Thank you for the hard, hard work of putting this together and opening up your own life to share out of your own experience. And thanks for the conversation today. It’s been so so enriching.

 

Curtis Chang  1:01:21

Mark, it’s always so much fun to come and talk with you. And so it’s a privilege to talk about the book with you and with your listeners. So that’s my pleasure.

 

Mark Turman  1:01:31

All right. Well, the book is by Curtis Chang, the anxiety opportunity, how worry is the doorway to your best self. We didn’t get a chance to have time to talk about this, but you can also find out more about Curtis’s work at redeeming babel.com or.org Which one is it? curtis.org yeah.org

 

Curtis Chang  1:01:47

Yeah, yeah, Randy. Joy. Join the conversation with us on the good faith podcast that absolutely

 

Mark Turman  1:01:53

one of the one of the best podcasts we can recommend to you for sure. And we hope well, good faith podcast as well as the Denison Forum Podcast. You can find those on all of your podcast providers, and both with Curtis’s and with our podcast, we’d encourage you to rate review us share it with others so that they can be assisted by these conversations. And Curtis we look forward to the next time we get to talk. And again, thank you for this good work. And thanks to our audience for listening to us today. You’ve been a part of the Denison Forum Podcast. God bless you

 

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