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IDEMA: Do you suffer from anxiety?

• Dec 19, 2018 at 5:39 PM

The poet W.H. Auden called our age "the age of anxiety." Hard to argue with that observation. The stock market went down 800 points yesterday and tomorrow it will probably go back up, creating anxiety, especially among those of us who are retired.

Christmas is rapidly approaching and I am always worrying about the weather as my loved ones fly or drive to get back home. I even worry about whether the prime rib roast will come out OK.

I worry about our rapidly rising national debt, which is generational theft, and I am deeply concerned about rising health care costs for much of our population. How do you cope with such anxiety?

Some psychologists make a distinction between fear and anxiety — fear having a definite object, such as fear of flying, and anxiety being rather free floating with no real reason in your mind for the anxiety except that you simply feel anxious much of the time without knowing why.

For some people, anxiety switches from one fear to another, a condition Freud called displacement. You are anxious about something, but the real underlying cause is terror at something else that is too frightening to bubble up in the conscious mind, so the mind disguises its fears by being anxious about a lesser fear or even a fear which makes no sense to you rationally. The mind has many defenses against its deepest fears.

Anxiety is a feeling which is hard to get rid of, and most likely has deep roots in the psyche. This is why many people go to counseling agencies like TCM Counseling here on the lakeshore to find help. Most people cannot reason their way out of the spider web of anxiety. It takes something more powerful than our rationality.

The Bible offers two great insights, which can help anyone with an anxiety disorder or plain simple worrying.

1. Martin Luther said without faith he would tremble at the falling of a leaf. These words of Jesus are probably the most famous teaching in the New Testament on anxiety:

"I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?" (Matthew 6:25-27)

Faith and anxiety act like a teeter-totter: the greater weight of one lessens the power of the other. There is a general faith that most people share. If you did not have a certain amount of faith, you would never get on a plane. Some people don't have that faith and never fly.

Jesus is talking about faith in the power of God working throughout our lives, which is a matter of faith. Some people experience that power and trust in it, others don't. One's own experience of blessings, tragedies, coincidences and even miracles will affect your faith or non-faith. It cannot be argued convincingly one way or the other in a classroom or a bar or over dinner, or through letters to the editor or comments online.

Speaking personally, like Luther I would be terrorized by life without my religious faith helping me to cope; some days better than others, however.

2. The second great biblical insight about faith and fear/anxiety is this in I John: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (4:18) This also a matter of experience. I do not know if there is such a thing as perfect love, but most of us know when love is warm, secure, highly emotional and safe, not to speak of pure joy.

I had a high school classmate who would page through our yearbook and his emotional highs and lows were dependent on his relationship with this girl or that one. We all know that love can be cruel and create jealousy, loneliness and even violence. That kind of love does not even approach perfect love.

Love can be experienced within a family — love of parents, spouse and kids. Love can be wonderful among good friends, or people you are dating. One of the great purposes of religious communities is providing love, especially for those who are lonely and isolated. Even in therapy, part of the healing comes from the feelings shared between client and therapist.

Love can happen between people of all ages and all skin colors and all creeds, political parties and school rivalries. When those things divide us, love is not possible. And without love, like Pandora's box, all kinds of demons — hatred, envy, jealousy, violence, bullying, name calling, etc. — seep into our hearts and from there into our society. Which is what we are seeing far too much of today all around us, especially when those demons use guns to vent their hatreds.

Love and faith will not cure all fears, all anxieties, all worries, but love and faith can be your greatest allies as we head toward 2019 and beyond.

— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune community columnist

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