Our culture suffers profoundly from anxiety, and Christians aren’t exempt. Some battle it with medicine, long walks, or breathing techniques. More often, we cope in a legion of unhealthy ways, like alcohol, anger, stubbornness, overeating, denial, or sexual sin.
What if we tame the monster instead of battling it head-on? Curtis Chang suggests something counterintuitive for our anxiety-riddled world: Anxiety is an opportunity, and worry is “the doorway to your best self.”
He explains this eloquently in The Anxiety Opportunity: How Worry is the Doorway to Your Best Self, which is now available everywhere books are sold.
Anxiety is an opportunity
Curtis Chang is a theologian and consulting faculty member of Duke Divinity School, host of the Good Faith podcast, and a prolific writer and speaker. He’s also a two-time guest of The Denison Forum Podcast, first discussing Americans’ eroding trust in institutions and secondly in an episode discussing anxiety and this book.
Chang is no stranger to anxiety. In fact, he’s been diagnosed with high-functioning anxiety and recalls vivid stories of a worry-riddled childhood. Later in life, he lost his job as a head pastor because of unchecked anxiety that led to depression. Now, more and more, he experiences freedom.
With his firsthand journey of wrestling with anxiety, he unpacks how it can act as a pivot to turn toward Jesus.
We need to reframe anxiety as an opportunity for growth rather than a problem to deny or ignore. Typically, Christians either view anxiety as an obstacle to growth or as irrelevant to spirituality.
Both approaches fail.
Is anxiety a sin?
Consider that anxiety is never labeled as a sin in the Bible.
Although in Philippians Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything,” Paul readily admits to his own anxiety just verses before. Anxious thoughts stem from brokenness, certainly, but it’s our mind’s reaction to the fallen nature of the world. This is why we can use it as an opportunity. As Chang writes, anxiety is an expression “of our bodies still longing for the Not Yet. We were created for something better, and we are called to look forward to that future.”
Chang gives practical advice for those struggling with anxiety that hijacks their minds into crippling fear or panic attacks. He tenderly deals with people avoiding their anxiety due to shame. He writes, “A senior pastor is not supposed to be gripped by anxiety. A senior pastor is supposed to trust God.” This shame kept him from addressing the problem that became unbearable for a time.
So, what’s the best way to think about anxiety’s source?
The anxiety equation
Chang construes anxiety as an equation: “Anxiety = loss x avoidance.” What are the implications of this truth?
We will experience loss. Fear of losing money, status, health, beauty, children, parents, popularity, or yes, pastorship, combined with avoiding the fear, will produce anxiety.
Christians often miss this blindingly apparent dual reality:
- First, we will lose everything on earth, guaranteed. We will get wrinkles, lose money, loved ones will pass, and our status will fade upon death.
- Second, Jesus will restore the lost tenfold in the new creation, heaven on earth. Here, with hope in the resurrection, we find the “throughline to our best self” through Christ and freedom from anxiety.
How to accept (and rein in) anxiety
Chang encourages us to accept anxiety and view it as a voice, a voice that we can turn the volume down on. We must bring our internal voices, including anxiety, to Jesus rather than letting them rule us. How do we do this? And what does the Bible have to say about this?
Chang outlines several practical techniques and expertly unpacks the relevant biblical texts. We recommend you read The Anxiety Opportunity to access those truths.
Paradoxically, by accepting anxiety and using it to cast our gaze toward Jesus, we can find freedom from its clutches.
“We can and should treat anxiety disorders, which stem from dysfunctional ways people respond to the experience of anxiety. But it is delusional to expect that we can or should eliminate anxiety itself. This delusion permeates Christians who treat anxiety as ‘sin.’”
“We need to examine anxiety for the presence of underlying idolatry because idols rely on anxiety to gain allegiance from humans. An idol preys on our human vulnerability to uncertainty. It promises avoidance of uncertainty and loss in order to woo people away from God.”
“The key to facing major loss is holding on to Jesus’ promise of resurrection: in the end, we will get back what we lose in death.”
“Because loss is inevitable, anxiety is inevitable. Therefore, our attempts to avoid loss will backfire.”
“When that day looms and my anxieties increase, I need to hang on through loss. To hang on through loss, I need to hang on to a throughline [to eternity].”