Our kids are not yet old enough to not get out of bed every now and again and creep their way downstairs. They’re not coming down to hang out with mom and dad; they are coming down because they feel some measure of anxiety. They’re anxious about the weather. Or about the homework assignment they didn’t remember. Or the proverbial ghost that’s in the closet.
They come down because they’re worried for one reason or another. And though I’d like to say I respond consistently with compassion and grace, more times than not I’m pretty dismissive of their concerns.
“Nothing to worry about,” I say, and send them back up the stairs. But perhaps there’s a better way, for anxiety reveals something about those little hearts that live up the stairs. It reveals that there is something off in the reality of their faith, or their values, or something else – and if I took the time, perhaps I could actually dig to a deeper root of their worry problem through simply asking a few questions.
If that’s true of our children, it’s probably also true of ourselves. That is to say, when I feel a measure of anxiety, something is going on in my heart at a deeper level than just worry. There’s something off about my own value system or my own theology or my own perception of reality that needs to be addressed. The answer isn’t really just to tell myself, “Don’t worry”; that doesn’t address the deeper place from where the anxiety comes. In taking the same approach, then, I think there are at least three diagnostic questions I can ask myself when worry and anxiety starts to creep in:
1. What am I looking at?
The writer of Hebrews tells us to “run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). This is but one of the many commands in Scripture that tell us about our eyes and vision, all of which remind us that what we are looking at has great power over our souls. When I am worried, it’s an opportunity to ask myself what that thing is which has come to dominate my field of vision. Is it success in work? Is it a relational difficulty? Is it money? What is it? And then, having identified what I’m looking at, there’s an opportunity to obey this command from Hebrews, and refocus my vision on Jesus and Him alone.
2. What am I treasuring?
Jesus preached about anxiety in the sermon on the mount, commanding us to not “worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear” (Matt. 6:25). This section of teaching flows straight from His teaching about money and possessions, in which Jesus says that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). Put those things together and you see that we worry about that which we are treasuring. And if we are concerned about God and His kingdom, then we should have little worry for the things in the world which are so temporary and disposable. When I feel anxiety, then, I should do a double check on my own heart, asking myself what I am truly treasuring.
3. What is my identity?
All of us define ourselves with something. Our source of self-definition is that which makes us, in our own minds, who we are. It’s what makes us valuable. Unique. Special. Worthwhile. It could be that our identity is wrapped up in our vocation, or our talents, or our finances, or our families. But the problem with all those things is they will eventually be crushed under the weight of our expectations. The only secure place for us to wrap our identities is in the fact that we are, now and forever more, the children of God: “For he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him. He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he lavished on us in the Beloved One” (Eph. 1:4-6).
We are secure in Christ, for we are in Christ. No matter what happens to our jobs, our money, our families, or our reputation, we are the children of God in Christ. One of the reasons we might be feeling a sense of worry is because we have wrapped our identities into something less than the Son of God – something that is ultimately on shaky ground.
So when you worry – and you will worry – don’t be afraid to dig a little. Have a conversation with yourself. Ask yourself what you’re looking at, what you’re treasuring, and where you have placed your identity. Then close the conversation by reminding your soul who Jesus is, and who you are in Him.