One of the most moving and hopeful books I have read recently is Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive, in one chapter he hauntingly describes the combination of anxiety and depression:
Adding anxiety to depression is a bit like adding cocaine to alcohol. It presses fast-forward on the whole experience. If you have depression on its own your mind sinks into a swamp and loses momentum, but with anxiety in the cocktail, the swamp is still a swamp but the swamp now has whirlpools in it. The monsters that are there, in the muddy water, continually move like modified alligators at their highest speed. You are continually on guard. You are on guard to the point of collapse every single moment, while desperately trying to keep afloat, to breathe the air that the people on the bank all around you are breathing as easily as anything.
You don’t have a second. You don’t have a single waking second outside of the fear. That is not an exaggeration. You crave a moment, a single second of not being terrified, but the moment never comes. The illness that you have isn’t the illness of a single body part, something you can think outside of. If you have a bad back you can say ‘my back is killing me’, and there will be a kind of separation between the pain and the self. The pain is something other. It attacks and annoys and even eats away at the self but it is still not the self. (Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig, p. 49)
Such a description is familiar, from the past, but still fear and worry is something that constantly afflicts me and many other people. One of the complexities of an issue such as worry, is the experience of anxiety and its causes cannot simply be explained. Just as your body can break and get ill so can your mind. Extreme forms and experiences of anxiety can be as much physical as spiritual. Anxiety and anxiety disorders are part of the brokenness which we all experience in life lived after the fall. Such brokenness will never be fully restored until the new creation. So when we see worry and anxiety in others our response should not be condemnation but acknowledging that a person may well be caught up in the brokenness of this world:
If someone else struggles with anxiety more or less than you do, that doesn’t immediately mean they are more or less godly of trusting than. How do you know for example, the way you would react if you had their background and their experience? (Heart Attitudes, Graham Beynon, p. 74)
Jesus, in his incarnation, stepped into the brokenness of this world. When he did, he not only shared in our experience of a broken world but he offered comfort. It is comfort that Jesus gives to those who worry: To those whose minds have broken, which in this fallen world in different ways is all of us, it may not reverse the effects of the fall but should give us comfort within this fallen world. It is comfort which is applied to us through the truth the our heavenly Father who loves us is in control of all things.
Therefore I tell you,do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food,and the body more important than clothes? (Matt. 6:25)
The reason we are not to worry is because of our value, our life and our body are worth more than the food and clothes which consume our worry, We have value, not only to ourselves, but more crucially, to our heavenly Father.
Look at the birds of the air;they do not sow or reap or store away in barns,and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matt. 5:26)
The God who cares for the natural world, after all is that not God’s job, that God is our heavenly Father. Speaking of God’s care for the birds, Jesus says “your heavenly Father”, God is not the Father of the birds he is our Father, if we are his people.So if our heavenly Father cares for the natural world, which he does, surely he will care for us.
Imagine a man who fed birds in his garden but didn’t feed his children. What kind of man would that be? He would be an awful man, do you really think God is like that? Do you think that is God, that he would feed birds and not his loved children, you? See God, the God of the universe, is your Father, so do not worry. Jesus says “Are you not more valuable than they?” Your heavenly Father cares for you.
We see that again in how God cares not just for the birds but also the lilies. The lilies don’t worry about what’s “in” this summer. They don’t worry about what the other lilies are wearing. And yet…
…See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these.(Matt. 6:28-29)
Not even the best dressed king in the whole of history, Solomon, can match the lilies.If that is how God cares for them, just a lily in the grass, then what of his children?
If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire,…(Matt. 6:30)
You just burn grass, it is here today and gone tomorrow. So if God your heavenly Father cares for the grass like this. If grass which burns in fire is beautifully decorated with lilies, then what of his children, whom he will love forever.
Again imagine a man who watered and looked after his pot plants, but then didn’t dress his children. What kind of man would that be, and yet if you think God doesn’t care for you, what kind of God do you think God is? Surely he will do more for you, than he does for lilies of the field, “will he not much more clothe you,O you of little faith?”
The faith there, is not have enough faith that God will do what you want, but have enough faith that God is your heavenly Father who loves you, and therefore what happens is God your heavenly Father caring for you. The picture of the grass and the birds are pictures of how God cares for the smallest things, and if he does that how much more will he care for his children.
How does this work out in practice? God willing a future post will follow…