It has been nearly two years since someone came to me and said, “I think you have a lot of anxiety and you don’t even know it.” I smiled and pridefully thought to myself: “What in the world is she talking about? I don’t have anxiety.” Nobody had ever suggested such a thing to me. I committed to prayerfully considering her concerns. About a month later, the elders of our church granted me an emergency sabbatical. She was right on both counts. I was indeed experiencing a significant amount of anxiety, and I didn’t even know it.
I discovered that my anxiety had not been affecting me only. Because it influenced the way I interacted with others, it had negatively affected members of our staff to varying degrees. I spent a lot of time apologizing to staff members and asking for forgiveness. Everyone was gracious. I’ll never forget that. As my sabbatical came to an end, I no longer questioned whether I had anxiety. Instead, I began to ask a very important question: “Where is my anxiety coming from?”
To be sure, I wanted to skip that question. Deep down, I knew Jesus was the ultimate solution to my anxiety. I believed He could wreck the anxiety that was wrecking me, and I wanted His wrecking ball to start swinging. But, swing at what? Things are very different today. I still wrestle with anxiety occasionally, but I’m aware of it when it happens and I’ve learned how to find relief through faith in Christ. For anyone hoping to address anxiety, understanding the source is an important part of the equation.
Anxiety is hard to define. It involves elements of worry, nervousness, apprehensiveness, and fear. Sometimes anxiety is experienced for no discernible reason. Often, it is connected to the anticipation of danger, misfortune, or loss. We see anxiety in the Bible quite a bit. The father of Saul became anxious when he didn’t know where Saul was (1 Sam. 10:2). The psalmist speaks metaphorically about “eating the bread of anxious toil” (Ps. 127:2). Isaiah has words for those with an “anxious heart” (Isa. 35:4). Daniel said his spirit was anxious within him (Dan. 7:15). Martha was “anxious and troubled about many things” (Luke 10:41). Even the Apostle Paul experienced anxiety (2 Cor. 11:28). It should not surprise us, then, that forty million Americans wrestle with anxiety on a regular basis. Everyone occasionally struggles with some level of anxiety. It’s inevitable.
Ultimately, the source of anxiety is the fall of mankind. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and plunged the world into sin and misery, the very next emotion they experienced was fear (Gen. 3:10). And fear, of course, is one of the elements of anxiety. Once the previously perfect relationship between God and man had been damaged, Adam and Eve’s sense of security and peace disappeared. They didn’t know what their future held. They didn’t know what God was going to do in response to their sin. He had promised they would die if they ate the forbidden fruit (2:17). Perhaps they didn’t fully know what that meant. Nonetheless, for the first time, they were afraid. They were anxious. The fall is the primary source of anxiety.