Amy can no longer remember a time when her mind was “at rest.” She really thinks she needs to get a job, because there are rumors that her husband’s construction company might have to lay off workers.
She used to work at a grocery store, but was glad when her husband wanted her to quit and be a stay-at-home mom. As a cashier, she often was flustered by customers with complaints or questions that she did not know how to answer.
She tried to avoid working the checkout lines as much as possible; stocking shelves was much “safer” to her. But now she might have to do it all over again, and she feels like it will be one hundred times harder! She wonders if you have any advice.
How would you counsel Amy?
- Remind Amy that God has not given us a “spirit of fear?”
- Tell Amy to replace her worrisome thoughts with whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, or commendable?
- Remind Amy that her nervousness just seems magnified because she’s been away from working outside the home for a few years? Or …
- Show Amy where Peter writes about casting all our cares on the Lord, because He cares for us?
As we’ve said before, there is rarely only one way to proceed with a counseling case. Each of the possibilities in this CareLeader Quiz may be used at some point with Amy. Let’s look at what we need to keep in mind about each approach. Then we’ll explore how to prioritize the counsel.
Amy can be reminded: God has not given her a “spirit of fear”
“God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” 2 Tim. 1:7 ESV.
Not all fear is inappropriate or wrong. Proverbs 27:12 (ESV) states, “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” However, when fear keeps us from fulfilling God-given responsibilities or if it results from a lack of trust in God, then it is wrong. As Paul writes to Timothy, he is concerned that Timothy not give in to the wrong kind of fear. Amy also faces this temptation. In addition, you can explain to Amy that “spirit of fear” might be better translated “spirit of cowardice” so that she understands Paul is not condemning hesitation; he is condemning wholesale defection from doing God’s will.
Don’t discourage her
If you remind Amy of Paul’s admonition to Timothy, you should present it with a degree of tenderness. Paul intended his comment to encourage Timothy, but for someone like Amy, it can be perceived as a criticism or indication of failure. She might think, “If God has not given us a spirit of fear, why isn’t it true of me?” If this happens, explain that Paul is simply reminding Timothy that if we step out in faith, God will enable us to do whatever will honor him.
The importance of sensitivity to people like Amy was highlighted by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 when he says to “warn the idle/disruptive” and “encourage the fainthearted.” Amy would fall into the second of Paul’s categories. You would need to monitor her emotional responsiveness closely to see if she starts to erect a wall with you. For this reason, telling her that her nervousness is only magnified by having been out of the workforce may be true, but it is unlikely to be received as helpful by her, especially early in counseling. Later, this observation might be raised, but it must not be a substitute for addressing what Amy’s anxiety reveals about her.
Amy can be reminded: Follow Jesus’ example in scary situations
Doing what honors God won’t always feel comfortable and easy, but it will be possible. Amy might be encouraged by remembering Jesus understands the challenge of honoring God in the face of suffering. Remember His experience in the Garden of Gethsemane?
Is it wrong to be nervous?
Jesus prayed about whether there might be any way other than going to the Cross. Clearly He was uncomfortable about facing this trial in His life. But He was ultimately willing to trust God and follow His will. Whenever we embark on a new, unusual, or particularly challenging task, there can be a nervousness that is uncomfortable. On the one hand, that is merely a result of our bodies gearing up for whatever we might face. This is not wrong. On the other hand, the problem that could emerge is that this nervous energy arises from a lack of trust in God.
Amy can be reminded: Fear of man will be a snare
Amy’s experience is typical of what Jesus called “worry,” which is a fear of what might happen in the future and is fueled by an inadequate trust in the Lord (Matt. 6:25–34). In part, her worry takes the form of the “fear of man” (Prov. 29:25). In Amy’s case, fear of man occurs when she feels like she is being negatively evaluated by others. She becomes too wrapped up in responding to what others say (or what she imagines they would say), and this interferes with her ability to function well. Thus, she gets caught in the “snare” of fearing man.
Help her shift her focus
Amy needs to learn how to shift her focus from what others might say or do to what the Lord says is true about her and the situations she faces. This will take time; you could begin the process by helping her identify what it is about others’ opinions that draws her attention. As she comes to realize what the “draw” is for her, then she can meditate on the value of what God says to her. One passage that addresses this is Philippians 4.
Amy can be reminded: Replace worry with “godly thinking”
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” Phil. 4:8 ESV.
This is a familiar verse for those of us who’ve been believers for a while. If this is true of Amy, once again you need to be sensitive to her receiving it as “a failed benchmark” in her life. Acknowledge the challenge, but also help her appreciate how Paul’s wording suggests that God really is at work in the world. Let me explain what I mean.
Why Philippians matters to Amy
The Philippians were experiencing opposition from their neighbors—probably with the support of the Roman officials. In addition, the Philippians were dealing with unrest within their fellowship. Two prominent women—Euodia and Syntyche—were at odds with each other. Finally, the people had heard that Epaphroditus, the man they sent to deliver supplies to Paul, had fallen gravely ill.
Help Amy see God working in His world
Within this confusing mix of conflict, persecution, and uncertainty, Paul tells the Philippians to “reckon” or “take into consideration” whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, or commendable. He does not want them to narrowly focus on opposition from outside the church or on the imperfections inside the church. Instead, he encourages them to look around, because if they do, they will see the Lord at work, somewhere, in some way.
What Amy tends to see
People, like Amy, who tend to be fearful and worried are also masters at spotting potential problems. Their “inner radar” picks up even the slightest possible threats around them. But along with that, they fail to notice what is positive around them. If Amy takes Philippians 4:8 to heart, she will be able to bring much-needed balance into her perceptions about the world around her. God is still in charge of His world!
Help Amy see all that is positive
If Amy is familiar with this verse, you should make sure she understands that Paul’s choice of words includes both “religiously” significant terms and more broadly recognized terms of approval. Meditating on a psalm or a favorite hymn could be described by the terms in Philippians 4:8. And so could a colorful sunset, a Monet painting, or a walk in the park.
Thus, “taking into consideration” whatever is true, honorable, just, etc., might also involve other sorts of engrossing, worthwhile activities. For example, Amy might plan out her meals for the week and then her grocery list to make those meals. She might call her church to see how she can volunteer. Or she might write letters of encouragement to people she knows. There are probably unlimited profitable activities she can plan and do.
Homework for Amy
So, you could recommend Amy create a “Think and Do” card. On one side of an index card, she can write this verse. On the flip side of the card she might list ten to fifteen items or activities that would fit the adjectives Paul uses in Philippians 4:8. When she is particularly tempted to worry or fret, then she can use the card as a prod to broaden her perspective and look for how God is always up to something good. For that, she can rejoice and be thankful.
Amy can be reminded: Cast all your cares on the Lord
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” 1 Pet. 5:7.
If you were to quote this verse to Amy, she might respond with something like, “Yeah, I’ve done that” (with the implication, “What else you got for me?”). Don’t let her dismiss Peter’s counsel so quickly. Talk with her about the context within which this counsel was first given. When Peter wrote his first letter, he also set out to encourage believers who were experiencing “fiery trials.”
Why 1 Peter matters to Amy
Peter refers to his readers as “exiles,” and it may well have been the case that these believers had been expelled from Rome. If so, not only were they feeling the effects of persecution, but they were also facing the numerous challenges of reestablishing their lives in a foreign land. For readers in these difficult situations, Peter writes, “cast all your anxiety on the Lord; he cares for you.” If Peter thought this counsel was appropriate for people experiencing such intense suffering, then it is not appropriate for us to lightly dismiss it.
Throughout his letter, Peter wanted to encourage his readers to persevere through their trials, like Jesus had. Jesus walked the kind of path they walked; He also walked the kind of path Amy might walk: a path that includes people’s negative opinions or reactions toward her. Jesus trusted His heavenly Father with his life—and death. So must Amy. She needs to meditate on the fact that the Lord cares for her. She is not alone. He will not forsake her.
Wrapping up: An action plan for Amy
Fear, worry, and other “heart sins” can be very difficult to work with. They are not as noticeable as behavioral sins, and they can be hidden for a while. They are also insidious: they can creep up on us and cause trouble before being recognized for what they are. Working with these counselees will involve coaching them on monitoring and replacing unbiblical thoughts and desires.
In Amy’s case, I might use the following approach:
- Share reflections on 1 Peter 5:7 and its larger context. This would give me opportunities to reflect on God’s character as well as give me opportunity to put Amy’s trials into a broader perspective.
- Use the Philippians 4:8 passage to create an ongoing homework assignment: the “Think and Do” card mentioned above.
- Finally, if needed, 2 Timothy 1:7 might be used to help motivate her toward godliness as she thinks about the future—a future that will unfold according to the plan of her heavenly Father.
Questions and comments
There are many ways you could initially respond to someone like Amy. This is simply a suggested approach. You’ll have to determine what is the wisest first step to helping people like her who reach out to you for help.
Before you leave, if you have suggestions on how to help someone who struggles with anxiety, we’d love for you to share them in the comment section.