Author: Stacey G Benson

Mother of four, wife of one. Eager follower of Jesus.

Anxiety (among other things) is a choice

I realize my next statement is not terribly popular these days. But there are a lot of people copping out on the phrase, “I can’t help it, I was born this way.” 

I know. Me, too. 

And??

I was born into sin just like everyone, since the first mom and dad started populating the earth. I have plenty of things that I could just lay on the fact that “I was born this way”… but it always has been, and always will be, the excuse of the self-centered whiner. 

Harsh? Sure. Absolutely. But it’s true. It’s true when you say it, and it is true when I say it. 

There are many different issues I could talk about here, but I want to talk about anxiety. That’s a pretty politically and socially safe, non-polarizing issue, isn’t it? I mean, who isn’t anxious every now and again? There are entire chapters in psychology books devoted to the subject of anxiety. I know… I’ve been studying human behavior on a master’s level for the last several years and I have discovered some very interesting truths. 

First… science is finally catching up with theology, and I find that super cool. Psychologists are learning that if we simply change the way we think about certain things we can get past many of the phycological disorders that people deal with. It’s called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I find that really interesting. Especially when you find that very thing in the lines of scripture. 

We are instructed, much like patients receiving CBT counseling, to capture every thought… that just because we think a thought, does not make it true. But the Bible goes a bit further and tells us not only to capture the thought, but to set it against the measure of Christ and see if it rings true. If it does, we keep it. If it does not… we march it at spear point (take it captive) right out of our minds. Psychology is also teaching us that we actually CAN control what we think about, and neuropsychology tells us that what we think about really does change the physical construction in our brains. We are hard wiring our own brains with the thoughts we choose to keep. 

So back to anxiety. Anxiety is not a condition, it is a choice. How can I be so sure? Well, the Bible tells us in Philippians, “Do not be anxious…”. Why would it tell us not to be something we have no control over? When we find ourselves anxious, it is because we are choosing to hold onto the thoughts that are making us anxious. (That’s an oversimplification, but you get my drift.) The Bible tells us that we cannot add one day to our lives by worrying about things. Research backs this up by saying that eighty-five percent of the things that cause us worry or anxiety never happen. Eighty-five percent. Those odds aren’t bad. 

Did you know that we were born with only two fears? The fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. We learn or convince ourselves of all the others. The Bible bears this out. “For God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.” He gave us power. He gave us love. He gave us, what? A sound mind. Not fear. Not anxiety. Not PTSD. Not depression. Not identity confusion. Not a whole host of other things either. Those things have come upon us because we have chosen not to take our thoughts captive. We have just allowed whatever thoughts running through our brains be welcomed with open arms.

And that mistake is quite literally destroying us. 

Don’t mess with the Sacred

The gap between where we are and where we want to be is real. Most of us look at our lives and can find at least one thing that just doesn’t line up to the ideal self-image we have in our minds. Maybe it’s our job. Our weight. Our relationships. The list is long and can get really heavy. It is easy to feel less than, or not fully fulfilled, in this life. Take a look, everyone has something… some longing for something to be different. But maybe the gap over which we gaze is about something more.

In any society, people are born into an already clearly defined world. We slide into this world not really having to decide much on our own. People, plenty of people, are there already telling us stuff about the world around us. They tell us that the sloppy dog licking our face is man’s best friend, and we are to love them. They tell us that sticking a fork into a light socket is a bad idea. We learn what things are good and what things are bad by the people who have gone before us and are there to make sure we get it right. “This is a cup, you drink from this. That is spaghetti, it goes in your mouth, not on the ceiling.” Not too much left for us to figure out.

Because of this, change comes to society with great difficulty, and currently, there are a lot of things changing in our society that make many of us uncomfortable. We are being made to feel less than because of standards that we try to uphold. I mean people wear pajamas to Walmart! But I’m not really talking about that. I’m not talking about hem lines or what we really mean by business casual either. There are things that have been established norms since creation. Because there are some who feel uncomfortable in their skin, who find the gap between where they are and where they want to be seemingly unreachable, we are being asked to extend them tolerance and acceptance in whatever they need to do to feel better.

So… now if I stand for traditional marriage, then I am intolerant. If I insist that “God made them male and female. Male and female he made them”, then I am being closed minded and ignorant. If I accept people not based on “the color of their skin but by the content of their character” then I stop elevating my own skin color and realize that race is a social construct and nothing in reality. Oh wait… that one’s okay. If I support the pro-life stance and denounce abortion as murder, then I am being insensitive and stealing away a woman’s right to choose.

For non-believers, and even some believers who haven’t thoroughly thought these things through… there is a reason why Christians just cannot give in to the current societal pressure for changes in these areas.

Sacredness.

It has to do with sacredness. A person’s gender is sacred. We are designed male and female, down to the genes that make up the DNA in every cell of our bodies. Our design is sacred. Our skin color is sacred. The space inside a woman’s womb is sacred. It is the very place designed to bring forth the Savior of the world. Marriage is sacred, also. A piece of paper does not make a marriage. A piece of paper makes it legal, but God made marriage. He defined it as a relationship between a man and a woman, entered into it, and made it sacred. We. Do. Not. Mess. With. The. Sacred.

So what about the person who feels uncomfortable in their skin? Isn’t the prevailing statement these days, “You do you”? What is the right answer for those who struggle with their identity? The answer was, is, and will always be Jesus. I think Jesus had to struggle with His identity some, too, don’t you? I mean He was God, after all, and He was limited in His earthly body during His stay on the planet. I think it stands to reason there were times when He gazed across a similar identity gap. But He never did forsake the sacred. He knew in due time, all would be made right again.

I do not doubt the real gaps that exist in the world today where identity is involved, and neither am I insensitive to them. But when we stop finding our identity in Christ, we are left to finding it in the world, and the world is a harsh, disappointing, unfaithful, misleading place. There are so many people who are bouncing from here to there looking for an identity that makes them feel comfortable when their identity was established before the foundation of the earth. It is the great lie of the age, and a gap that only Jesus can bridge.

The Wages of Sin, Post Salvation

Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death. I know that most who read that passage understand it to mean that without salvation through Christ, left to our own sinful devices, we will suffer not eternal life, but eternal death. In our fallen state, we alone, cannot atone for the sins we have committed. God’s standard requires more than we, on our own, can provide. God’s standard was set forth in the Ten Commandments and through the Mosaic Law. But alas, who could keep up? And even those who made the claims that they had, would fall to the truth put forth by Jesus (the very fulfillment of the Law). Jesus took the law to a higher plane… He said to the religious leaders that while the law said no one should commit adultery, that even the man who looks lustfully at a woman has committed adultery in his heart (Matthew 5). Why? Because while man looks on outward appearance… God looks at the heart. For as a man (or woman) thinks in his (or her) heart, so is he (sh…I mean, you get it)(Proverbs 23:7).

So as a “sinner saved by grace through faith”, how do I look at Romans 6:23 now? Well, in grateful humbleness, of course. I have been saved from myself… from those fleshly desires that seem to keep me knocked off focus and from being all I can be. To know that God, in His infinite wisdom, looked upon the humanity that He loved and could not bear the separation that sin caused, made a way where there seemed to be no way, and paid the price for our sin through the sacrifice of His son, Jesus, is just more than my mind can really process.

I don’t believe that lets us completely off the hook, however. I think that there is another way to see Romans 6:23, post salvation. Jesus is the atonement for all of my sin. All of it. My past sin, the sins I will bow to today, and the sins I will commit in the future. The bill is paid in full for it all. But… the wages (or product) of my sin, our sin, still brings death. Maybe not eternal death, but death in the here and now.  

Sins we commit can mean the death of a relationship. The death of trust. The death of hope. I am forgiven of my sin, but I am still responsible for my actions as they affect those around me. A husband addicted to pornography will watch the death of desire for his wife. A wife in an adulterous affair can see the death of her marriage. The thief or liar watches the trust others placed in them die. When we choose righteousness we choose life. When we choose sin, we offer up death. There has never been an instance when sin brought life to a situation. Our enemy loves to offer up cold, empty substitutes for the life God makes available to us. The devil entices with promises of freedom and uninhibited expression of desire. But even as we reach for the promised carrot dangled before us, the light of life fades, and we fall to the bondage and death that sin always brings.

The wages of sin is death, and thanks be to God that those who follow Jesus no longer have to settle their own accounts. But that does not absolve us of the effects that our sin has on those around us. It still brings death. Look around. It won’t take you too long to find those who are suffering at the hand of someone else’s sin. Salvation does not give us license to sin, it gives us freedom from our sin… for us as well as for those close to us.

The Truth of the Matter

In any situation, there’s our side, there’s their side, and then standing off somewhere to the side, waiving, is the truth. Most of us never really get past our side. We tell our side, we defend our side, we embellish our side, and we stand on our side because in our minds, it is the only side that really matters. We say that the truth is what matters, but in our hearts and minds, honestly, we are only interested in our side. If we can just get someone, or lots of someones, to support us on our side then we feel validated. We can stand taller, with our supporters cheering us on. The supporters who only heard our side.

I’m no lawyer, but I watch a lot of lawyer shows on television. I have never once seen a trial on television that, in its desire for truth, limited the evidence to only one side of the story. But we, in our zeal to join bandwagons, jump on them after reading or hearing just the one side of someone’s story. We cheer, we defend, but we never ask… so what about the other person? How did they feel about what happened? What was their perspective?

Unfortunately, in our world today, most of us just want supporters. We need those social media likes from people we barely know to encourage us to keep up the good fight. To help validate our position. We aren’t really interested in resolving anything. We need validation for what we are doing so much that we just seek out those who will give it to us without seeking out the truth of the matter.

We never tell the story or conflict we are sharing from the other person’s side. If I were to tell the story of the last fight I had with my husband from his perspective, it would go something like this.

He asked me to consider an option that I had not considered, and I immediately got on the defensive. I didn’t care to consider his point of view because I had already made up my mind on the subject. I held my defensive position and would not admit to my unwillingness to consider other options.

I’m not looking too good right now, am I? But if I had told that story from my perspective, he would have been the one who looked bad. I mean, really, arguments rarely ever make anyone involved look very good. But it takes at least two sides of a story to get anywhere near understanding the truth of the matter.

In our world today, we get offended and we defend. We draw lines in the sand and force others to choose an ill-informed side. We take stories we read at face value and make pronouncements about situations that we cannot possibly understand. But what if we told our stories from the other person’s point of view? What if the story we posted about the rude grocery store cashier on Facebook was told from the perspective of the cashier? It might go something like this:

I was really in a hurry when I stopped at the grocery store. Usually, I am pretty nice to the cashiers, but today I was distracted with all I had to do and I just needed her to hurry it up. I didn’t bother to ask how her day was going, like I said I was in a hurry. I huffed several times and looked at my watch when she messed up and had to go back and delete a wrong charge. Can you believe she told me I just needed to be patient when I told her I was really in a rush?

Like I said, there’s our side, their side, and the truth is standing somewhere to the side. Getting to the truth in our stories means we have to be willing to consider the other person’s story, too. We can’t stop at gathering our supporters to make us feel better about ourselves. The truth transcends all of that plotting and scheming. To get to it, so must we.