Years ago I interviewed Dr. Edward Welch and Dr. Michael Emlet on how to help single parents and people going through divorce to deal with fears and anxiety. Here are just a few of their insights on what fear is, the relationship between fear and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and how the Bible richly speaks to those dealing with fear and anxiety.
Dr. Emlet pointed out that there’s a link between obsessive-compulsive disorder and fear. He explained that while those diagnosed with OCD may seem odd or their compulsions may be bizarre, the behavior is often driven by underlying anxieties. Here’s how Dr. Emlet explained it, using an example of a child who struggles with OCD.
Our people can and do experience fear and anxiety at times; it’s part of living in a broken world. But we can help them by sharing the many examples of how God delivered His people from the fear that plagued them. Dr. Welch explains how God helped the people of Israel and demonstrates how he would use this passage to help someone dealing with fear.
Additional application points:
Faith extinguishes fear. Encourage people to act like the psalmists and look back upon the ways in which God has been faithful. This is a good antidote for fear. This can be a combination of ways God has been faithful to them, and ways in which He has been faithful to others. In addition to encouraging people to read Scripture to see how God has been faithful to His people, connect your members with others in your church who’ve struggled with fear and have grown in their ability to trust in the faithfulness of God. Hearing their stories will help them realize that they aren’t the only ones who deal with fear, and it gives those who have struggled in the past the opportunity to use their experiences to help and encourage others.
We still have something to say. Just because a person is having panic attacks or has been diagnosed with OCD doesn’t mean that the Scriptures don’t apply to him. It’s not as if medication is the only way to help. As Dr. Emlet pointed out, “Psychiatric problems sit at the intersection of spirit and body.” And medications don’t treat the soul. That said, medications can be of great comfort and help to those suffering with psychiatric problems. They can often help a person stabilize to the point that he is able to respond better to soul care. If we recognize the spiritual roots of the issues that people are dealing with—as Dr. Emlet pointed out regarding OCD—we have a better understanding of how we can help those who struggle with psychiatric problems.
Sometimes people need to listen to their fears. Our fears can warn us of legitimate danger. An example? A wife of an abusive husband. A parent of a child on drugs. Helping them make this distinction keeps them from feeling unnecessary guilt and helps them know how to differentiate from faithless fear and legitimate fears or concerns.