An Anxious Pastor’s Thoughts on Anxiety

It’s taken me years to admit to myself that I struggle with anxiety. After all, when you’ve been a professional counselor and a pastor, you should have this stuff figured out, right? But I don’t. (At least, not all the way).

Yes, I think I’ve gotten a little better over time. The small things that go sideways don’t stress me out nearly as much. (Like yesterday as I sat for three hours on the side of the freeway waiting for a tow truck because the clutch went out in my car in the middle of bumper-to-bumper traffic.)

But the big stuff… that’s the stuff that still keeps me up at night.

That’s the stuff my brain continues to wake me up at 2:36 in the morning because it thinks I need to be reminded of all the catastrophic things that will go wrong unless I figure something out right NOW.

And yes, I’ve tried all the calming techniques.

I’ve identified all the cognitive distortions. I’ve read Philippians 4:6-7 over and over and over again until I can quote it (Be anxious for nothing… blah, blah, blah). But my brain still thinks panic and worry is the best way to deal with the big problem.

It wasn’t until several years ago when I discovered the “THING” that’s helped me the most with my anxiety. I call it being “honest outloud”.

After one particularly bad episode, when I hadn’t slept all night because I was pacing the floors for hours, I decided to do something radical and tell my wife all of the irrational and embarrassing things I was obsessing over.

And I mean everything.

The big overwhelming stuff. The tiny ridiculous stuff. The stuff I totally made up in my head (because that’s what happens when you’re stuck in an anxiety loop). Everything.

It wasn’t pretty. It didn’t feel great. But it did help.

It helped because (1) I wasn’t alone in all the crappy feelings, and (2) saying the things out loud to another person meant I wasn’t allowing shame to dictate my behaviors.

As you know, struggling with anxiety can be embarrassing.

Our irrational brains (and our sinful natures) tell us to keep all the things we don’t like about ourselves hidden and secret. We believe no one will love or accept us if we admit we’re anxious and freaked out over the things in our lives.

So we isolate. We avoid. And we make things worse.

Here’s where I’ve ended up in my own journey with anxiety.

Worry, insecurity, and fear of the unknown are all normal human emotions. Nowhere does scripture promise us that Christ will take away things that make us uncomfortable.

Instead, scripture is really clear that Christ knows and understands our normal human experiences. Christ has been through what we’ve been through... YES, even anxiety. He came down in human form to experience (and model how to deal with) the FULL range of human emotion.

And how did Christ deal with his worry and anxiety? He started by being honest out loud.

“Jesus took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled [ that’s the anxiety part . Then he said to them , “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” [ and this is the honest out loud with someone else part .

To paraphrase the rest of the story… “Father, if there’s any way this cup could be taken from me, I’d be okay with it. But, I get it. Not my will, but yours be done.

Honest. Out loud. With people. That’s the way to start dealing with anxiety.

This Sunday, August 20th, Mark Miller’s going to join us at BCC to talk openly and honestly about anxiety. If you struggle with anxiety, this is your personal invitation to try something new—to be honest out loud with someone else—to be part of the conversation and experience the relief of sharing and connecting with others. To no longer carry your fear and worry alone.


Paul Elmore
WCC Care Pastor