What’s the difference between God’s calling and anxious guilt? God will never condemn you.
“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.” -Charles Spurgeon
Anxiety isn't easy for anyone to battle. But for those of us who grew up with a religious background, it can get a little extra complicated. See, anxiety disorders can create irrational feelings of guilt. And sometimes, those of us who follow Jesus think any guilt at all must be a message from God. That's where the problem happens. Anxiety creates guilt for no reason; we believe God must be sending us that guilt; and then anxiety and religion get all tangled up in a messy downward spiral of confusion. The more anxious we feel, the more we worry that we aren't good enough for God. We try harder to be good enough, but that makes us worry more. And the more anxious we become, the guiltier we feel.
Finally, if the spiral goes unchecked, we can end up cutting more and more things out of our lives until there's nothing we can do, and nothing we can eat, drink, or think about that doesn't make us feel guilty. But we don't feel better. We feel even worse. So now what? How can we separate our own anxious feelings from God's promptings on our hearts? Here's a thought that might help as we each learn to listen for God's gentle voice:
God calls us toward things, while anxiety condemns us.
When the Pharisees brought Jesus a woman caught in adultery, she probably felt guilty. And she had a reason. She'd broken Jewish law, and she knew that according to the rules of her time, she wouldn't live much longer. But after Jesus chased the hypocrite Pharisees away, he turned to the guilty woman and asked her a question:
"Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
"No one, sir," she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin" (John 8:10-11, NIV).
Jesus didn't ask the woman if she felt guilty. That wasn't his goal. He knew she’d made a mistake, just like everyone else on earth, but he didn't spend his time telling her how wrong she was, or looking down on her. He simply pointed her in the direction of a happier and more fulfilling life and said: "Go."
Jesus is a healer, not a prosecutor. Romans 8:1-2 says "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death" (NIV). The Bible is clear that Jesus wants to heal us. He wants us to be whole.
But our God doesn't condemn us. He calls us toward things – gives us steps we can reach. Think about that voice in your head – the one shouting "You're a failure! You'll never be good enough! No one could love you!" Those voices of vague displeasure aren't from Jesus. They’re the lies anxiety tells. Ask yourself: Would the Jesus you know say things like that to anyone?
God may call you to make a change in your life, but if he does, you will know what he's calling you to do, and it will be a step you can manage.
Jesus says: "Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment" (1 John 4:18, NIV). So don't be afraid to seek treatment for your anxiety. By quieting the voices of fear in your head, you are moving toward healing, toward wholeness.
On this website, you'll find information about anxiety and its treatments, and there are more strategies for anxiety management in issues five and six of this series. Don't be afraid to educate yourself about anxiety, and reach toward wholeness. When you're healthy, you'll be able to do even more for God's kingdom. Happy Healing!