I spoke at a church group this weekend on the topic of anxiety and tried to wrestle with this verse in Philippians: “do not worry about anything….”. Guilt isn’t unusual with my clients who come from a Christian background. “If I just trusted God enough, I wouldn’t worry like this. After all, the Bible says DO NOT WORRY!!”
Wonder if the writer of this verse was looking for ways to heap impossible commands on folks so they would feel like turds? That is a possibility. But it is also possible that the writer was addressing an emotional state that he knew was a present reality for his audience. The folks reading this letter were undoubtedly worried and anxious about the writer’s welfare—he was in prison and facing possible execution!—along with all the stress of being in a fledgling religious start-up; worry was most certainly among them!
Following the “do not worry” phrase there are three interesting suggestions:
- Present your requests to God—the practical reality of doing this would encourage the worried to isolate their spinning thoughts to specific requests. This mirrors anxiety treatment in it asks whether worry is productive or nonproductive. In productive worry, there is an answer to the question, “can I do anything about this?” Taking this suggestion seriously might mean that the answer is “yes, I can ask God about specific concerns”.
- Practice thanksgiving—The practice of gratitude can be good for ANYONE who is tempted to over-focus on negatives and what ifs.
- Figure out which thoughts to lock onto (and defuse the others)—Perhaps most fascinating to me is the long list of things that are listed as things to “think about”. “Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, worthy of praise…”. This mirrors anxiety treatment in that we teach clients which thoughts to fuse with and with thoughts to defuse. If a thought is helpful towards living one’s values, then, by all means, lock on (fuse) to it! If it is unhelpful, defuse it! This is the work I often do with worriers.
Speaking to this group this weekend helped me ponder the ways this Biblical writer tried to work out what to do with worry, and I appreciate that thoughts are taken seriously in the suggestions. As I find both personally and in doing treatment with many worriers, OUR BRAINS ARE NOT OUR FRIEND……sometimes!
So, is worry a sin? Worry is so varied and textured that I think it is difficult to say. The question I prefer to ask is, “what is the spiritual invitation in the midst of this text?” If we don’t perceive suggestions like these as invitations to something good, I believe we are missing the point.