Anxiety and worry are challenging enough to work with as a care minister. When it becomes chronic and persists for weeks and months and even years, it can become wearisome. Worry has a ripple effect on care providers if we aren’t prepared and grounded in God’s truth ahead of time. Sufferers of worry need us to bring the light and truth of God to their troubled minds and hearts.
As care ministry leaders, how do we support and shepherd worriers in a healthy and helpful way?
Worriers have a tendency to alienate themselves. This only adds to the challenge because it runs against our nature. We are made in the image of our Trinitarian God who, by His very nature, exists in community.
Connection with only God is not enough. John Ortberg, author and senior pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, asks, “Ever console or scold people hurt in human relationships that satisfaction comes from God alone?” If so, he says we should stop. He points out that “Adam’s fellowship with God was perfect, and God Himself declared Adam needed other humans.” It is vital to coach worriers in developing healthy community around them.
Ecclesiastes 4:9–10 sums up the major benefit of community when it says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” Your congregation members who suffer from anxiety will relate to the final part of that verse. Odds are they are familiar with falling down with no one to help them up.
There exists a danger that an anxious person might develop a relationship with you, but with no one else. If you have a lot of experience in ministry, you’ll know to look out for this. If not, keep in mind you only have capacity for very few relationships like that. The same is true of your volunteers. Develop a culture of community that distributes care beyond the context of our care workshops and conversations with pastors and counselors.
Practically speaking, expression is a major challenge area for anxious people. The socially anxious person expresses little and rarely speaks about his or her true experience. The anxious talker never stops talking, but seldom drills down to vulnerable and important material.
We see honest, searching expression modeled by so many figures in the Bible. The most prominent example is the book of Psalms. There are more lament Psalms than any other type in the book of Psalms. These prayers consist of the authors pouring out their guts and leaving nothing unsaid. Most of these laments have a turn where the author shifts the lament and pain into hope and an expression of faith.
How much more grounded would we all be if we engaged in a truly honest expression of how we’re feeling, followed by a truly honest expression of faith? Psalm 55:22 says, “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.” The greater the pain we are experiencing, the more we stand to benefit from being fully honest with God.
If you combine our first point, community, with this practice, expression, things are taken to the next level. We are called to serve one another in our communities, but we are also called to receive help when we are in need. Galatians 6:2 tells us, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” When our congregation members are in physical or emotional need, we often need to coach them to be open to others helping and caring. Most of us are far more comfortable with being the helper than being helped by someone else. It is only when we learn to express need and help others that the church will “fulfill the law of Christ.”
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Famed psychologist Rollo May once wrote, “A person can meet anxiety to the extent that his values are stronger than the threat.” Only by clinging to something greater than worry can we hope to combat it.
There is nothing of greater value than Jesus Christ. He says in Matthew 11:28–30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” God is well aware of the anxieties and worries that live inside us. He created us, and He searches us. We need to turn to Him, surrender, and teach others to do the same.
The more we focus on our reliable Savior, the less we are able to focus on the worries of this world. Consider Peter’s short walk on water. It is when he took his eyes off of Jesus and focused instead on the source of his fear—the winds and waves—that he began to sink. As you counsel someone battling chronic worry, you need to teach that person the practice of faith. We all need to change our gaze away from worries and toward Jesus.