Anxiety, Empathy and Church Planting

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Chronic anxiety can ruin your life! I know because it nearly ruined mine.

Over thirty percent of the population lives with ongoing anxiety issues. I would bet that the ratio is higher among pastors, especially those stressed out planting new churches.

As a young church planter I learned that you can worry over church finances and controlling people. You can fear that you offended someone because they didn’t show up in church for a couple of weeks. There are lots of opportunities for a pastor to ‘invest’ their anxious feelings.

In first couple of years I got so good at worrying that I would spend most of my days off from work quoting scriptures, or singing reassuring spiritual songs in an attempt to unearth a measure of peace. Prayer, scripture and spiritual songs are fundamental to our lives, but sometimes we need something more. I eventually discovered that I needed medical help.

Chronic vs. Acute Anxiety

When chronic anxiety flowers it blossoms into acute anxiety. At this point you can’t sweep it under the rug because it has you by the throat and won’t let go.

Anxiety has become acute when you can’t sleep, become extremely short tempered or find yourself unable to concentrate well enough to keep your job. I don’t know how bad it gets for you. I do know this—there are things you can do to manage your anxiety. They include a deeper walk with God, some practical tools and the medicines that doctors prescribe. It is the medications that cause some people to struggle.

If you suffer from anxiety or depression, and work with a doctor, you probably carry some scars inflicted by people who love you. There is a good chance that some well-meaning individual, or group, has condemned you for seeking help from medicine instead of God.

The reason I believe this is true is because of my own miserable track record. Until I hit the wall of acute anxiety I wasn’t exactly famous for empathy.

Before my breakdown, a decade ago, I regularly piled guilt onto people if they were on medication for psychological illnesses. My opinion boiled down to my perception of a lack of spiritual discipline on the part of the hurting individual. It would take a walk on the dark side for me to understand what others suffered.

Chronic anxiety swelled over several months until sleep finally became impossible. I suffered a complete panic attack for three days. My wife was finishing chemotherapy, I had lost a bundle in the stock market and I had an insurmountable problem with another Christian leader. When I finally lost all control I was forced to see a doctor—and was helped immensely.

Pray And Take The Medicine

Whenever both prayer and medicine are available, is it really a matter of either/or? Can’t we seek help from two sources at the same time?

I once heard a wise man say that if you have a headache, “You should pray and take an aspirin.” Actually, he said, “If you think it is God’s will for you to have a headache after you pray then do nothing. But if you think it is not God’s desire for you to have a headache, you should pray and take an aspirin.” That is good advice. I think the same wisdom holds for stress related problems. You pray and you take the medicine.

I recently spoke with a person who lives with a chronic physical ailment—it is one that, left untreated, will eventually kill him. When he discovered that I am on long-term medication he scolded me. He bragged that he is holding out for healing and quit taking the drugs, which the doctor had said would save his life. He says he believes healing comes from Jesus, and only from Jesus. Therefore he quit the medicine. The problem is, he’s still sick and growing sicker by the day.

There is a place for medication and it is a valid place…even in the life of a committed spiritual leader such as yourself.

Adapted from Defeating Anxiety by Ralph Moore