The Pharisees used to wear Scripture like a costume and wield it like a weapon. Sometimes we still do that. For example, the phrase, “Fear not,” has been referred to as the most common ‘command’ in the Bible. I’ve tried to strap this one on myself, pretending a courage I don’t feel. And when I fail to still my pounding heart I silence it with condemnation.
However, as we approach the Easter season, allow this idea from Scripture to startle you: Jesus experienced anxiety in the Garden of Gethsemane, so it cannot be a sin. The biological phenomenon known as hematohidrosis, or sweating blood, is a rare symptom of excessive stress and anxiety. In the midst of His anguish, Jesus called on God and His friends to be with Him and comfort Him, and we can do the same. God, at least, showed up.
If a loving parent gathered a small child into his arms and whispered, “Don’t be scared. Daddy’s here,” would you interpret that as a rebuke? On the contrary, “Do not fear” is meant to be a solace. In the midst of fear, there is protection. In the midst of distress there is a Comforter. There is help for us in our anxiety; we do not need to be consumed by it. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7.
God gives us all our emotions for good purposes. However, like other good gifts, emotions can be darkened and twisted. For example, anger is supposed to energize us to change things, to oppose injustice in the world. But anger can cause us to take vengeance, or it can turn inward and become depression. In the same way, fear and anxiety are supposed to protect us. They are supposed to motivate us to fight or flee a present danger. A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it. Proverbs 22:3. How might it change your experience of anxiety if you thought that God wanted to be with you in it, to comfort you rather than to condemn you?
Most people who experience anxiety regularly also struggle with secondary emotions. Some people become afraid of their fear and others are angry at themselves or at God. Reducing or eliminating these secondary emotions can be very freeing. Generally, that means accepting ourselves as God made us and being willing to walk the road He has given us, even when that includes a churning stomach or racing thoughts.
The Bible has its own treatment for anxiety. Like the other treatments you may have tried, it is not necessarily a permanent cure (at least not yet), but it is a soothing ointment which can be applied any time of the day or night: Perfect love casts out fear. I John 5:18. While we cannot hope to appropriate perfect love in this lifetime, we can grow in our ability to understand, connect with and live in God’s love for us. When you believe harder that “all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28) or that the Lord is with you at all times (Matt. 28:20) your fear begins to seem more manageable. I have a friend who clenches her right fist whenever she feels anxious to remind herself of God’s promise: I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. Ps. 73:23.
The best remedy for anxiety is cultivating a loving relationship with the King of Everything. If you are not fully convinced of His self-sacrificing love for you or His desire to spend every moment of every day in your company, tell a trusted friend about your doubts, enlist a prayer partner to pray for you, find a mentor or a small group and embark on a spiritual journey to ground your soul in Christ alone.
“Fear not.” Wrap it around you like a warm blanket. Pour it on your soul like a healing balm. It is meant to be a comfort.