Writers often suffer from “imposter syndrome.” Self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence override feelings of competence, despite external proofs otherwise. Christians often suffer from imposter syndromes, too. A particularly damaging one is “anxious-for-nothing syndrome.”
To be clear, I’m NOT talking about a clinical anxiety disorder. Nor do I minimize the pain that causes. I’ve worked in mental health and have a master’s degree in counseling.
Many Christians labor under the notion that they should be eternally serene. Never worried. Everything sorted. Friends, that’s simply not scriptural.
Was Elijah anxious when he ran for his life from Jezebel? I think so.
In Psalm 31, people were hunting David and falsely accusing him. But he expressed “alarm” (some translations say “panic”) only when he felt cut off from God’s sight (vs 22). David was in anxiety overdrive.
Wait, you say. Jesus told us to be anxious for nothing. So did Paul.
When we know what that really means, we can stop guilt-tripping ourselves about it.
Here’s what they said.
- Jesus, in Matthew 6:34 (ESV): “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
- Paul, in Philippians 4:6 (ESV): “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
In both verses, “anxious” is the Greek word merimnáō, which literally means drawn in opposite directions and divided in parts.
Have your thoughts ever been divided? Your heart pulled in opposite directions?
Divided versus whole
At the end of The Return of the King, Sam is distraught when he realizes Frodo won’t live in the shire anymore. Frodo replies, “You cannot always be torn in two. You will have to be one and whole.”
Merimnáō is the opposite of “one and whole.” Merimnáō can lead to devastating decisions. Like Lot’s wife. She believed the angel, yet her divided heart yearned more for what she’d enjoyed in the past than God’s promises in an uncertain future. (See Genesis 19:26.)
Jesus referenced Lot’s wife as a warning: “Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to save his life will lose it” (Luke 17:31-33). In other words, don’t be split in two about anything.
Concerns vs their control
How can anyone remain “one and whole” amid today’s uncertainties?
Is it wrong to worry that I lost my job, my spouse, my retirement fund? What about my family getting sick?
Life comes with legitimate concerns. Caring comes with cares. And Christians don’t get a hall pass from hardship.
Christ’s message is this: don’t let those concerns get so big that they split you in half. A divided heart creates space for Satan to occupy with ease. He is single-minded in his intent to separate you from God, and he’ll use your guilt about being anxious to enlarge that distance.
The antagonist of anxiety
How can we keep our hearts whole and undivided?
I think Alexander MacLaren, a 19th-century Bible commentator, said it best. I truly hope this sets you free from anxious-for-nothing syndrome:
“The heart is never empty. If not full of God, it will be full of the world, and of worldly care.”
“If a thing is great enough to threaten to make me anxious, it is great enough for me to talk to God about.”
“If a man does not pray about everything, he will be worried about most things. If he does pray about everything, he will not be troubled beyond what is good for him, about anything … We have to make up our minds which of the two [alternatives] we are going to take.”
“The victorious antagonist of anxiety is trust, and the only way to turn gnawing care out of my heart and life is to usher God into it, and to keep him resolutely in it.”
The antagonist is the antidote
Figuratively, merimnáō means “go to pieces” (from being pulled apart in different directions). Prayer gathers loose thoughts that threaten to fly out of control, ties them together like a sheaf of wheat, and presents it to the Lord as a thank offering. It’s not about praying more or harder. It’s about focus, trust, and thanks.
C.S. Lewis says don’t think less of yourself; think of yourself less. Instead of focusing on what you don’t feel or don’t think you’re doing victoriously in your life, focus on the Lord. Cling to Him. Pray His promises back to Him; believe and claim them for yourself. I’m joining with you in that prayer.
A deeper dive
John Piper talks about “fighting words” he turns to when he’s anxious:
TweetablesCaring comes with cares. And Christians don’t get a hall pass from hardship. Click To Tweet “The heart is never empty. If not full of God, it will be full of the world, and of worldly care.” — Alexander MacLaren Click To Tweet “If a thing is great enough to threaten to make me anxious, it is great enough for me to talk to God about.” — Alexander MacLaren Click To Tweet