Test your knowledge. Put your hand over the screen and guess the three most common mental disorders in the US. They are, in order, with lifetime prevalence rates: Anxiety disorders (about 18%), mood disorders (about 10%), and ADHD (about 5%).
It might come as a surprise to you, but anxiety rates significantly higher than depression. Actually, in the Diagnostic Manual put out by the American Psychiatric Association, anxiety diagnoses seem to be multiplying like rabbits. Here are the primary ones:
· Acute stress disorder (‘shellshocked,’ ‘gunshy,’ ‘once-burned, twice shy’)
· Agoraphobia (fear of being trapped)
· Panic disorder (panic attacks)
· Social phobia (extreme shyness)
· Specific phobia (such as fear of snakes)
· Obsessive-compulsive disorder (using rituals to stave off fear)
· Post-traumatic stress disorder (trauma-induced flashbacks and nightmares, etc.)
· Generalized anxiety disorder (fear of everything).
Sum up these diagnoses and you have the staggering near 20 percent lifetime prevalence rate.
Make a fearful face for a moment. Notice your eyes—they’re wide open. Notice the ‘o’ of your lips and your flared nostrils. Fear literally opens up the orifices of the face so that we can take in more information about the potential threat. This way we can see, smell and taste it better, process the information, and scream if necessary. In other words, when afraid we pay extremely close attention to the object of our fear. Fear engages our focus.
Focusing on a car barreling down your lane enables you to make a life-saving swerve. Noticing a snarling Doberman, cues you to pick up a rock. In situations like this, fear can be a good, protective thing. But pathological fear leads us to focus exclusively on non-threats, often causing us to miss actual threats. Post-traumatic stress possesses this tragic feature, leading victims into dissociative hypervigilance. We can be so afraid of thugs in dark alleys that we miss the white-collar criminal at the front door. In addition, long-term, unabated stress causes a plethora of health complications.
The Bible contains a very simple formula for anxiety management. It involves redirecting our fear to a place where it can be ultimately resolved. Recall Jesus’ words: “Fear not those who can kill the body but not the soul, but fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell,” Matthew 10:28. Here Jesus redirects our fear from ‘them’–human threats, to ‘Him,’ God. The reason? God is actually more threatening than ‘them’. He can do more damage. He, “Is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Don’t fear the house cat, fear the lion. Don’t fear the bb gun, fear the assault rifle. Don’t fear the common cold, fear cancer. If you’re going to fear, fear intelligently.
The problem is, this hardly puts God in a flattering light. One might think God is encouraging us to view him with some kind of mindless terror, simply because He is all-powerful. But remember that this fear serves the valid purpose of arresting our attention. And remember that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” Proverbs 9:10.
Once God has our attention, He can speak to us. He can pour in new information. He can tell us things like: ‘I laid aside my divine power so I could suffer alongside you as a human. I lived a life of self-sacrifice and compassion and touched people from all walks of life. I submitted myself to hate and persecution, and ultimately carried your sins to a rough, lonely cross where they crushed Me. My eyes grew wide with terror as I felt God’s wrath. My nostrils flared with the fear of separation from Him. My mouth froze into a woeful circle, never to smile again in this life. I finally yielded up My spirit and lay in a grave where I kept Adonai’s Sabbath. When the sun rose I burst forth, carrying with me a new, glorified humanity, sealing you to everlasting life. I am love. Far from wanting to destroy you, I was willing to be destroyed in order to save.’
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear,” 1 John 4:18. Fear intelligently and God will put your fears to rest in the warm embrace of His everlasting love. He’ll turn your fears to tears of repentance for ever doubting His goodness. Go to Him now, submit to His Word, surrender yourself, “And you will find rest to your souls,” Matthew 11:29.
Jennifer Jill Schwirzer is a counselor, author, seminar presenter, and singer/songwriter. To learn more about her work, visit jenniferjill.org.