Anxiety can feel paralyzing. Sometimes it’s agonizingly frustrating—sometimes just hopeless. “Well, you should cast your cares upon the Lord,” says the Jesus juker. Gee, thanks (eye roll).
In my experience, staring at or memorizing a verse (1 Peter 5:7, for example) doesn’t seem to rid my mind of anxiety. “Casting cares” has always been an easier-said-than-done concept. However, I believe a complete alteration of thought life, or what God calls renewal of the mind, can help alleviate anxiety. It’s not a one-and-done quick fix, but I’ve found the effectiveness far outweighs simple verse recitation.
God’s Word: Behavior Modifier or Mind Transformer?
God gives us His Word so we can know Him, learn about His character, see evidence of His love for us and align our thoughts with His. He tells us to meditate on His words (Joshua 1:8), to take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5), and to prepare our minds (1 Peter 1:13). His word contains numerous reminders to stimulate wholesome thinking (2 Peter 3:1); He reminds us and refreshes our memories to keep our thoughts on Him (2 Peter 1: 12-15).
Pastors and spiritual leaders have always stressed the importance of reading God’s Word on a regular basis, but I never fully understood scripture’s power on my thought life until recently.
As a new believer, I mostly read the bible to learn how I could “become a good person.” I saw reading and memorizing verses as tasks I could check off my spiritual to-dos each day, never pondering God’s purpose for giving me His word. All the verses pointing to renewal of thought life slipped right by as I searched the pages for behavior modification tactics. Now, I’m finding that true belief and trust in Christ will modify behavior, but it does so through transformed hearts and minds.
The concept of thoughts > emotions > behavior comes up in the world of psychology and helps counselors walk their clients through emotional and behavioral challenges. In the case of anxiety, a counselor will usually ask about the troublesome symptoms and behaviors resulting from anxiety (the emotion), and then work into the root cause: destructive thought life.
God’s Word counsels us in a similar way—He is the original Counselor who authored this transformative process. He encourages us to fill our minds with His hope and promises, helping to shift our thoughts toward His Big Picture, and allowing our minds to operate in a spiritual realm rather than ruminating on the worldly. Aligning our minds with His can transform our thoughts from unhealthy worry, stress, guilt, shame, panic, fear and remorse to mind-settling peace, joy, patience, relief and comfort. Then, when our thought life reaches renewal, our emotions and behaviors begin to transform as well.
Positive Thinking & True Purpose
Most psychology books about battling anxiety will discuss, in some shape or form, the power of positive thinking. This usually involves dwelling on good scenarios rather than “what if-ing” about all the possible negative outcomes.
From either an atheistic or works-based religious mindset, I’m not entirely sure how to practice realistic positive thinking; these views, at their core, indicate our lives either mean nothing at all, or are evaluated based on our performance. Both mindsets produce more anxiety, causing me to ponder whether anything I’m doing matters, or if I’m even doing enough.
When my brain begins spinning with anxiety, contemplating and “what if-ing” about all that could go wrong, shifting my thoughts to life’s lack of purpose or its dependence upon my performance does not help in the slightest. These mindsets only increase fear and eventually lead me down a depressing road. Humans need a purpose, a real purpose, and one that does not depend upon their own feeble (and ultimately unsustainable) efforts.
However, God gives us truth that can help our brains function healthfully when focusing on what He promises. Only through God’s Word can we truly “think positive;” He ensures us that the best is yet to come, that His plan for us is good, and that His promise-keeping does not depend on us. All other endpoints—those involving purposelessness or self-created purpose (aka make believe), or those based on our own efforts—lead to utter hopelessness when lived out in sincerity.
A Daily Process
I do acknowledge that people may experience anxiety for various reasons, such as certain physical health issues (e.g., some MS patients feel anxious when exposed to sunlight for long periods of time). An interesting post published on “Inkblots of Hope” further discusses physical causes, as well as the emotional and spiritual aspects of anxiety.
Personally, I can never tell how much of my anxiety comes from hormonal issues, lack of sleep, my worried mind, other possible factors. I imagine most people require a multi-faceted approach to battling anxiety based on individual needs (such is the case for me).
However, I 100-percent believe that God has used my anxiety and insomnia to transform my mindset from self-reliance to God-reliance. The mind renewal process still needs to happen daily—sometimes hourly or by the minute—but only through His promises and aligning my thoughts with His can I experience true hope. It’s a long journey, but it’s SO much better than a Jesus juke.
Peace and blessings,
Kat, (semi-professional) insomniac