In his message this weekend Pastor Joel said something attributed to Mother Teresa: “Worry is just a mild form of atheism.”
Well, yes and no. It was not hard to see where he was going with this. Obviously, the believer with great trust understands that God always has a plan and so our response in the most unsettled of situations should be, “I’m not worried, because He’s got my back in this.”
Yet, is there anyone out there who doesn’t worry? Me, I’m a worrier—and yet I feel that my trust is implicit—the trust described in Brennan Manning’s Ruthless Trust. It’s just that sometimes I forget. And it is habitual. My dance with worry goes way back before I became born again. So I’m not going to beat myself up over that tendency—and too, that type of negativity questioning one’s faith could well be satan’s voice in our thoughts. Anyway, I spent 23 years as an agnostic—plenty of time to cultivate bad thought patterns.
Being excessively prone to worry is, I believe, a form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). And OCD is rooted in our neurobiological response to perceived threats and stressors. OCD is one of psychiatry’s anxiety disorders, and broadly defined, anxiety is anticipatory fear, and worry, broadly defined, is anxiety.
The anxiety disorders like phobias, OCD and panic attacks can be successfully treated with antidepressants. Anxiety disorders and clinical depression go hand in hand. They are both underpinned by problems with the neurotransmitter serotonin. Most of the commonly prescribed antidepressants like Prozac, Zoloft and Lexapro increase levels of serotonin in the brain. Luvox is particularly favored as a medication for OCD. I’ve never taken antidepressants but I’ve sure thought about it, and I’ve recommend it for some of my clients.
I tell my OCD clients that obsessing, brooding or worrying—whatever one calls it—is a type of problem solving gone awry. Our brain is trying to process a solution to some dilemma but just keeps going down the same well-worn path in our thoughts.
At least the serious Christian has hope. There are a multitude of Bible verses (like the famous “Be anxious for nothing” from Philippians 4:6) that address anxiety or worry. Without an understanding that God has a plan in each and every circumstance the average anxiety-ridden worrier is toast.
I read Brennan Manning’s Ruthless Trust in 2002, and it made an enormous difference in my life. God selected the right book for me at the right time. I “discovered” it in a bookstore just a few days before I took my first flight in over three decades. Since then I’ve flown over twenty times—including four across the big pond, and now having a trip planned brings me joy instead of dread. So worry, more than mild atheism, is actually the point at which we can experience God—and, our biggest worry or fear, the field of our potential ministry.
For me, Manning’s key observation was an equation: Faith + Hope = Trust. I had a faith of sorts but because of a tendency toward chronic depression (dysthymic disorder) I lacked hope. When I began walking as though I trusted God my Hope returned—and consequently my depression eased. But I had to invest myself in Hope thru an action. I had to take the “leap” of trust and get on a plane. God doesn’t promise us a life without fear and worry—only that He will be with us in our fear.