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Handling Anxiety God's Way (Part 2 of 2)

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly
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May 9, 2024 2:19 am

Handling Anxiety God's Way (Part 2 of 2)

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly

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May 9, 2024 2:19 am

Curtis Chang dealt with anxiety for a long time before the pressure became too much and he experienced a mental breakdown that led him to change his mentality. He learned that anxiety is not just a problem to solve. Although it can be difficult and painful, it can also lead to powerful spiritual growth. (Part 2 of 2)


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What's happening in anxiety is we are facing some loss, but what's happening is rather than realizing it's a future loss, we think it's happening right now. Well, that's Curtis Chang and he's our guest again today on Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. Thanks for joining us.

I'm John Fuller. You know, John, I hate to use everyone and everybody, but I would think most people experience anxiety in some way. It may be episodic, you know, there's a situation that the anxiety rises up, loss of a job, difficulty in your marriage, a pending divorce, whatever it might be. Those are situations that anxiety is created. Then there's other times when anxiety is a day by day thing and we're thinking as we learned last time with our guests that we don't live in the present, we look to the future and then we get anxiety about it. What could happen, the catastrophe of what might be there and just the need to seek the Lord to get that under control, to manage it, not to do away with it.

Anxiety is present. We talked last time about how Jesus himself in the garden was anxious about the pending crucifixion and his death and he said, not my will be done, but thy will be done. It's the same kind of attitude that we need to give it over to the Lord and trust in him.

And we so appreciate our guest. He's been very transparent and very accessible in terms of his own struggles and he's brought a great overview of scripture and just good mental health practice to the table. He's written a great book.

It's called The Anxiety Opportunity. How Worry is the Doorway to Your Best Self. And we'll invite you to learn more about Curtis Chang and about that book at our website and the link is in the show notes. Curtis, welcome back to Focus. So appreciate it.

It's great to be here. You know, last time we talked about your management and dealing with anxiety as a boy, as a latchkey kid and coming home full of anxiety. And I can relate to that. I, too, was a latchkey kid before probably the term was latchkey. Would it be that it's so old?

Yes. It's the dungeon door that was locked. But, you know, I think in my way, when I was thinking about that for you, you know, being from a poor family, which I was, that caused me anxiety.

I never really thought of naming it that way. But I would make excuses for why I didn't get the new baseball med or why I didn't have the football uniform. And, you know, well, yeah, my dad's looking for you just hasn't picked out the right one. That's you know, that line of embarrassment versus anxiety. Speak to that understanding. You know, when are we anxious and when are we just embarrassed about our surroundings or our circumstances? I think it's important to recognize how much shame there is over anxiety. There's a sense that, especially if it's been spiritualized as a sin or a lack of faith, there's a lot of shame. But just generally you feel weak.

You feel not in control. And so invariably we are tempted to be ashamed about that. And when Scripture tells us, one of the ways we cope with shame is by hiding.

This was the first reaction from Adam and Eve, right? And so we can hide our anxiety by pushing it away, re-narrating it, pretending it's something else. I tell the story in this book of the time where I was pitching in Little League as a, I think it was a 10 or 12 year old. Everybody has a bad Little League story. Highly traumatic.

Why do we do this? In my case, I was being brought in to pitch for the first time and I just could not throw a pitch anywhere near the strike zone. And it was because I was anxious. Because I was anxious. And when you get anxious, your body reacts a certain way. It tenses up. It clenches.

The fluid motion you need to pitch completely departs from you. But I couldn't, right there on the pitching mound, name the reality that I was feeling anxious. Just like later in my adulthood, as a pastor standing on the stage, I could not name the reality that I was feeling anxious. And so you come up with cover stories. You come up with ways to actually make it something that it's not. And that particular story was, I was trying to indicate that the real reason I was having trouble pitching wasn't because I was anxious.

Right. Because the sun was in my eyes. And so I would do this very elaborate, like, you know, like, oh my gosh, I'm just being blinded. I'm pulling my cap down, throwing my glove up to shield. And that worked enough until I somehow managed to get three outs through some miraculous intervention of God.

And then I walked off and I broke down in tears as soon as I hit the sidelines because I couldn't keep up the cover story anymore. And so what that illustrates is we all have cover stories that we are prone to hiding our anxiety. And that actually gives anxiety more power. The things that we keep hidden actually have more power in our lives. And more power precisely because we're not looking at them.

We're not naming them. And so they end up actually causing a lot of damage, not just on the field of Little League, but actually in the field of our marriages, our parenting, our jobs. Where unrecognized and unnamed anxiety actually are in control, but we just don't know it. Well, and what you're describing is that we learn these things in childhood.

I mean, that's what you're saying. We learn to cover up. We learn the ways of Adam and Eve, in essence, to cover up and to make excuses for things. And then we just carry that into teenhood, adulthood, et cetera, if we don't deal with them. In that context, some of the terminology that you're using sounds very rooted in psychology, but these are biblical things.

I mean, in the Christian community, we'll talk about, does the Lord have access to that closed closet door? That's what you're relating to, these things that we don't want the Lord to see, these hidden things about our behavior, our attitudes, et cetera. Right, and it's not just an issue that prevents us from managing anxiety. At some level, we do need to manage our anxiety so that it doesn't control us.

Right. But the real opportunity, why I wrote the book titled it, The Anxiety Opportunity and not The Anxiety Management, right, is because actually the deepest invitation of God is to actually go through our anxiety as an opportunity, as an opportunity for spiritual growth, to get at the parts of our heart that we ourselves don't want to look at or actually have some cover story around. Anxiety, if we're willing to actually follow its path and go through it, actually it's like the breadcrumbs that lead us to the actual state of our soul, that if we can follow that Psalm 139 injunction to say, search me, O God, know my anxious thoughts, know my innermost being, we will find actually deep, deep realities that are actually like the keyhole to profound spiritual growth.

And so we all say, how do we get there? Well, we get there, again, by recognizing that anxiety is the fear of some future loss. So one of the ways in which anxiety then becomes this opportunity, it becomes an opportunity to have God examine how do we actually think and feel about loss. Because this is, again, I think one of the most important things for Christians to recognize is that Christianity, the life of following Jesus, is not a life of loss avoidance. We are so tempted to think that when we follow Jesus, what he promises us is a life devoid of loss, right? Which is why the anxiety becomes a problem because we're like, wait a minute, what's going on? I'm feeling anxious.

Well, you're feeling anxious because you are contemplating the possibility of loss. And if your only response to loss is Jesus, make that loss go away, we will be disappointed and we will have a crisis of faith because God actually never promises us a life devoid of loss. Quite the contrary, Jesus says, if you want to follow me, you must lose your life, right? You must actually experience loss because the real promise of the gospel is not loss avoidance or loss prevention or loss insurance. The real promise of the gospel is loss restoration. It's resurrection, right? It's resurrection. And resurrection, you only get to resurrection through death. You only get to the restoration of life through the loss of life, right?

So this is fundamental to the Christian life is we have to go through loss to get life. In that context, in the book, you say there's two main types of habits that people fall into. Psychology would say this is right out of your brain stem, fight or flight. So discuss that. What is that mechanism and why is it there for everybody and what does it do for us?

Sure. So this is a helpful way to understand what's happening in anxiety. What's happening in anxiety is we are facing some loss, but what's happening is rather than realizing it's a future loss, we think it's happening right now because we've been hijacked into the future, right?

So the job loss, the loss of this relationship, wondering what's going to happen to our kids. We think it's happening right now and so our body is reacting with the same mechanisms that God gave us to handle threats in the present, right? So if there was a fire breaking down, if there was a wolf before us, our bodies are wired to respond with a fight or flight response. Psychologists have added more like freeze and other things, but let's stick with the basics of fight or flight. So fight is I'm going to rally my body's resources and my mind's resources to fight the thing ahead of, in front of me.

I'm going to deal with it, okay? Flight is, oh my gosh, it's too big, I'm going to run away from it. And this pattern of fight or flight really characterizes I think a lot of people's different responses to anxiety is because different people are fight or flight people. So I, for example, I'm a fight person. If I have a problem before me, if my daughters are struggling in school, I'm going to go into consultant dad mode. I'm going to be like, how do we get you more tutoring?

How do we solve what, you know, get you into a better class? And my way of then getting anxious is what I call rumination or not what I, it's what is called rumination. This is where your mind just turns over and over and over because you're fighting to get to a solution, right? To that will make this loss go away. You're going, turning it over and over around and around.

That's, you're fighting with it. Other people like my wife, they're more flight people. They want to avoid the issue. So they want to change the topic. They don't want to talk about money if money makes them anxious or they, and they just want to distract themselves.

They want to watch a movie. They want to go on social media. Frankly, a lot of addictive behaviors, almost all addictive behaviors, frankly, often are people are dealing with some underlying anxiety by trying to distract themselves away from it through some other stimuli. A coping mechanism. Pornography, gambling, you know. Drinking. Drinking and so forth. And so what, what's helpful is for us, each of us, and this is another of the opportunity for spiritual growth that anxiety presents us, is it helps us to identify, wait, am I a fight or flight person?

And what's going on there and how can I actually, one, get back to the present and then in the present ask the Holy Spirit to give me some different responses rather than the fight or flight response. You know, I've never thought about this, but in marriage connection, I mean, typically, not always, and I get this, but typically we marry people that are generally opposite, extrovert with introvert. I've never applied it to the fight or flight mechanism. Like a fight person, I would put myself in that category. Let's take it on.

Let's go. So marrying a flight person, what kind of conflict can that create in a relationship? Oh, it creates enormous conflict because what happens if we don't realize that what's going on for both parties is anxiety, we then attach moral judgments to these different responses. So this happens all the time in my marriage where I want to deal with something and my wife will be like, you're being obsessive. You're being, you know, or anxious or you're being compulsive and stuff like that. And that feels like a moral judgment on my anxiety, but I don't realize what's going on, whereas I will judge her and say, you're being avoidant. You're being, you know, delaying. You're procrastinating and so forth. And so we're actually judging each other for these sort of surface level reactions when underneath we're actually both anxious about the same thing, but we're just responding to it very differently and now we're judging each other because of it.

How do you manage that? Well, this is where, again, if we invite God to actually come investigate, to name our anxiety, we can actually bring it to the surface and realize, oh, this is what's going on. So now we have a shortcut in my marriage with Jodie where we just say, oh, wait, I'm doing the fight thing. And she will oftentimes will just do a running motion like this to signal. So you're playful with it. We're playful with it. We name it. We realize what's going on and realize, let's get to the underlying anxiety rather than our response.

Well, and it's good to know those mechanisms are at work in you and most of the time you're not even going to know it until you stop and name it, like you said. Yeah, this is really good and I might try this at home. This is Focus on the Family with Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller. Our guest today is Curtis Chang. Love hearing his heart and so appreciate his honesty. His book is called The Anxiety Opportunity, How Worry is the Doorway to Your Best Self. We have so much good practical information here. Get a copy from us at Focus on the Family. Our number is 800, the letter A in the word family.

We're stopped by the show notes for more. Curtis, let me ask you, even in that title, How Worry is the Doorway to Your Best Self, some are hearing that going, oh, my goodness, I can't believe that. But when we're talking about best self, we're talking about it in a Christian context, right? So what does that describe the characteristics of the best self in a God context? I think the best self is one who is willing to face loss with faith, loss with faith in God. Not the right faith, not faith that God has promised me that I can avoid all loss, but that any loss is bearable in Christ because one, I am with Christ and two, Christ will raise me up from all of my losses in the end.

Your best self is your resurrection self. So it sounds like what we really have the problem with is trust. Yeah, trust in the true answer, right? Not the superficial wrong trust that God will never let me suffer or God will never let me experience loss, but the deep trust of a resurrection people that says no loss is final, no loss cannot be reversed in the end in the resurrection.

Yeah, we've got a little bit of time. How do we stop avoiding loss and start holding it like you describe? And what does that mean to hold your loss? One way to think about holding loss is to imagine loss as a rubber ball, right? Just imagine the thing you fear losing in your life.

Again, your children, your job, your self image and so forth. If you imagine it as a ball in your hand, think of the avoidance moves as you're pushing it away or you're turning it over and over in your head. This is the rumination, the around, right? You're getting stuck with it thinking with one more turn, I will come up to this scenario where this loss goes away. Think then and imagine holding loss as just holding that loss in your hand, feeling the full weight of it. Another biblical term for this is grieving. Grieving is holding loss. Grieving is actually just not pushing it away or trying to come up with a scenario where it won't happen.

It's just saying, it happened, it is happening or it could happen. And if it does happen, it will be grievous. I will grieve it. And when we can actually grieve losses, we recognize, oh, you can endure it. You can actually hold loss.

It's not something we have to run away from or turn around it to make go away. Grieving teaches us that actually loss is holdable. And that's what Jesus did. Jesus grieved in the Garden of Gethsemane. And then I would say the second thing that Jesus did in Gethsemane is he didn't grieve alone. He wanted to grieve with his friends, his disciples.

Now it turns out his disciples could not stay awake and be with him, but Jesus wanted that. He recognized that grief, loss, was not meant to be endured alone. It was meant to be endured with others, with our friends, with our family, but ultimately with God, such that even if we are abandoned and all our friends fall asleep at the wheel, like Jesus' experience, we still have the Father. But the best design that Jesus was signaling was do this with others, do this with friends. And then, of course, we learned the practices of prayer, where we are reminded that this loss is not final. This loss is held in the resurrection promise of the gospel.

Wow, there is so much in here. When does anxiety point to underlying idolatry? Oh, that's a great question. I would not say that every anxiety that people experience is evidence that there is underlying idolatry.

Only that it could be. And this is why Psalm 139 says, search me and know me, see if there is any offensive way within me. Another translation says, is there any idolatrous way within me? Because what idols are, idols are false promises that have been created by the world or by ourselves that promise you can avoid loss. If you worship me, you can avoid loss. If you obey me, you can avoid loss.

This is from the very beginning in the biblical times before travelers would go on a journey of uncertainty or a child would be sick. They would sacrifice to an idol because idols pray on our anxieties because they make a false promise. If you obey and worship me, you can avoid loss. And this is why anxiety is a profound opportunity for spiritual growth because it's an opportunity for God through the Spirit to investigate our anxieties and see, as Psalm 139 says, is there any idolatrous way within me?

Am I clinging on to some idol here to deal with my fear of loss rather than the resurrection promise? Yeah, that is so profound. Since I was a kid, I've always scratched my head why people knock on wood, you know, to not be injured, to not be hurt, you know.

That's never happened to me. And then they knock on wood. I remember being eight years old going, why are they knocking on wood? Well, you know, human beings deep down hate loss. We want to avoid loss. So we will go to superstition.

We will go to idols. We will distort the gospel even to make it to be a loss avoidance scheme. That's powerful. And I think we need to be mindful of it that somehow deep-rooted in our human nature is this desire. Totally. And it's kind of getting to the core issue, isn't it? Yeah, and the desire is natural.

The question is, are we able to actually bring that to God and submit our fear of loss to God's promises? Putting that in the parenting context, I mean, for Gene and I, this has always been, you know, the mountain in the Mohill. You know, hun, that's a Mohill. No, it's not.

It's a mountain. And I could see that anxiety in the parenting picture bright and clear. And usually one of the husband-wife team is not as worried and the other one's hyper worried. But generally we, again, we kind of catastrophize, whatever that word is, the idea of what our future children are going to be like.

Totally. I write about this a lot in my book because that is a paramount anxiety I suffer from. I think it's such a great and important point because, again, with so many of American teenagers, again, over 60 percent almost, suffering from anxiety, it means behind every anxious teenager are anxious parents. And I think listeners out there probably know what I'm talking about is when your kids are anxious, you are anxious. And so this then is actually an opportunity for spiritual growth for the parents, for the parents.

The parents have to do their own work. So this isn't a teaching opportunity per se for the child. It's really for me. Exactly.

It's both, right? But the temptation is to externalize all of it and say, you get fixed, not realizing actually I have my own anxiety. I'm bringing into this whole equation. And even my desire to fix my child is deeply bathed often in my own anxiety that they're not going to be okay. I've got to get them okay and so forth. So anxiety of our kids is an opportunity for spiritual growth to deal with the anxiety of the parents. And for all of our own sort of coping mechanisms that are in play, all of our own false beliefs, for me the anxiety of my children was a recognition through this search me, know my anxious heart process with God, was recognizing that I had an idol in my own parenting. My idol was the cultural idol that I grew up with as a Chinese American where my kids are a reflection of me. They're an extension of my identity.

So how they are in the world is an expression of how I am in the world. And that's, I'm making them a little idol, right, to say they've got to be okay for me to be okay. And that's, parenting is done poorly when you are living with that kind of idolatry of your children. I don't think that's an Asian American thing.

I think it's everybody's thing. Right, it's especially intense in Asian Americans, right, because our face, our reputation in the community is so attached to how our children do it. The behavior.

The behavior, their performance, what schools they get into and so forth. And this was my opportunity for spiritual growth was to realize, oh, the anxiety of my kids is triggering my own anxiety. And that anxiety, if I actually ask God to investigate it, is there is an idolatry underneath all that.

Now, and that's so powerful. And, you know, the key is how can parents help their kids who are dealing with that anxiety? And in practical ways, what can we do to help our children if they're tipping toward not just managing or mismanaging anxiety, but they're becoming compulsive with anxiety? Well, I think, obviously, get them the help they need, and that's going to be on a very individual basis, whether it is counseling, medication, therapy, group support, whatever.

So there's no one-size-fits-all prescription here. So get them the help they need. But I also think, as we've been talking about, is also recognize that you have your own anxiety in play and do the spiritual work of actually growing through that anxiety. And I think if they do that, this will enable them to actually apply the most powerful parental intervention that a parent can apply to their child, which is actually more powerful than even get them to see the right therapist or get them on the right medication, which is acceptance, which is deep, deep acceptance. Because that is the one thing that actually parents can deliver more than anybody else, more than any professional can, is that they are accepted.

And that is a deeply reassuring truth and reality for any anxious person to experience. And I really want to punch this, because on the other side of that, we also have the power to communicate not being accepted. Disapproval, right. I mean, that's as high as the other.

And we've got to be very mindful as a parent to make sure that we are showing our children acceptance and love versus pushing them toward groups that will also offer acceptance, but it's unhealthy. That's right. Right? Right at the end, again, let's hit it. How can Christians tangibly remember the promise of the resurrection? You mentioned it. I'd love to end there.

Why not? This is what it's all about, is the resurrection of Jesus and what he sees in us. So the importance of that once again. Well, this is a larger topic, but I think anxiety actually offers an opportunity because it actually says, okay, if I can actually name the loss that I'm feeling that is triggering this anxiety, I can imagine that loss? And then can you imagine going through that loss and having the resurrection on the other side where that loss is restored to us? So if I'm fearing the loss of a job and the economic insecurity, can I imagine going through that and the resurrection day when the feast is laid out on the Mount Zion where there's no want, there's no need anymore? So I think there is actually something here to cultivate the Christian imagination for what happens on the other side of loss, which is a beautiful picture of bodily resurrection and the restoration of all things. Well, and frankly, the answer is hope, the hope for that. This is only the dry run down here and we're going to hit obstacles and the Lord said that. And they're going to persecute you because they first persecuted me.

How about that one? And I think in that context, that's why I'm so excited, Curtis, to have you on the program and to talk about this great resource, the anxiety opportunity. It's a different approach about how we see anxiety and especially in a culture that anxiety is growing exponentially for the Christian community to go deeper and better understand the tool that God provides us here to get closer to him. This is brilliant. So thank you for being with us.

It's been a pleasure to be with you guys. And I want you to get a copy. You know, John, we talk a lot about marriage intervention and those are all important things.

And how to become a better parent? Well, let's start with ourselves. I think this is one of those resources that everybody can benefit from because it's putting a magnifying glass on our own attitudes, our own, you know, inabilities, our own insecurities, our own loss.

And then how does God see them? So this is a resource I think you should get, the anxiety opportunity. And if you can make a gift of any amount, we'll send it to you as our way of saying thank you. If you can't afford it, we'll get it to you and trust others.

We'll cover the cost of that. And of course, Jim, we also have a free phone consultation available to those who are struggling. Let me just add that we'd be happy to take your number and give you a call back and one of our trusted caring counselors can kind of walk you through some first steps toward restoration and to dealing with the... You can't beat that deal.

I mean, it's free. Give us a call for that free phone consultation or to get a copy of this excellent book. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word family, 800-232-6459. You can also learn more and I'd add, make a donation as you can to support the work that Focus on the Family is doing through programs like this. Donate generously if you're able when you call that number or you can do so online.

We've got all the details in the show notes. Well, join us next time as we hear from Kirsten Watson, encouraging moms to take a breath and trust God. God's like, listen, I am firm. I am true. I do not lie. I am holy. I am all the things that God says He is.

He's like, this is why I want your identity to be in me and in nothing else because I do not change. On behalf of the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I'm John Fuller inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ. As a parent, it's easy to find myself sitting backseat to my kids in the backseat. It's tough to be a step ahead and full honesty, I'm pretty hard on myself when that happens. But I've found Practice Makes Parent, a podcast from Focus on the Family hosted by Dr. Danny Huerta and Rebecca St. James. It helps me be more intentional and not feel alone when things get tough. Everything they share is practical and well practiced, and I can use it right away. Listen to Practice Makes Parent wherever you get your podcasts.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-05-09 05:34:13 / 2024-05-09 05:46:03 / 12

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