Drip. Drip. Drip. We’re being overwhelmed on a weekly basis by a relentlessly heavy news cycle, making the dripping of bad news feel more like a thunderstorm.
Dobbs; January 6 hearings; war in Ukraine; mass shootings.
In this week’s episode David and I give listeners a break from all this to talk with us about anxiety, despair and weariness in what we hope to be a very uplifting conversation.
In this episode, we talk about:
- How we – and the people around us – are responding to the news of the day
- The three most typical responses to the news, which are actually distinct and different
- The secular tendency to “medicate anxiety away” (and find it intolerable)
- The Christian tendence to “pray it away” (and consider it a sin or character flaw)
- The proper perspective of troubles in the context of human history
- The hope to which we are called as Christians
- How to engage the world more “playfully”
- Plus, some TV and movie recommendations from David
Who knows? You may even walk away with some helpful ways to navigate the overwhelming feelings all of us are experiencing these days.
DAVID FRENCH: Curtis, why are people feeling overwhelmed? A couple of podcasts ago, you interviewed me as “the legal guy” about legal developments, so I’m going to switch it around, and I’m going to interview you as “the pastor guy” on feeling overwhelmed. So let me just start with this: When you hear that someone is feeling overwhelmed, what are you hearing?
CURTIS CHANG: Well, first of all, let me just say I hear that a lot in my own household. My kids often say, “Dad, I’m just feeling overwhelmed.” They use exactly that term. Consequently, I’ve been paying really close attention, because I share some of that feeling as well… so do folks in my church, in my workplace, and my colleagues – both secular and Christian. As I’ve been listening more closely and asking more questions, it’s become apparent to me that feeling of “overwhelmed” encapsulates at least three distinct emotional and spiritual realities. It’s important to diagnose, distinguish, and separate out anxiety, despair, and weariness. Though they can all be in response to the same events in the world, they’re actually different.
Anxiety is the response to uncertainty; despair is the certainty that things are going to turn out bad; and weariness is just the tiredness of going back and forth between the two.
If I can illustrate, David, the distinction among those three by referencing what is the central way that I make sense of the world: watching the NBA’s Warriors on their way to the game.
DAVID FRENCH: I want to hear this.
CURTIS CHANG: So anxiety is what I feel like in the third quarter, and it’s a tight game against a very worthy foe, like the Memphis Grizzlies, right? I’m tossing you a bone there.
DAVID FRENCH: Your worthiest foe the entire playoff, right?
CURTIS CHANG: That’s right. They were the team which gave us the toughest match. And the outcome was really uncertain: it was back and forth. In the midst of that uncertainty, I felt anxiety. That’s a response to uncertainty. Despair is when you’re certain things are going to turn out bad. In the fourth game against the Grizzlies, we were down by 55, at one point in the fourth quarter. That’s despair. “I’m certain we are going to lose this game.” Then weariness comes after I turn off a close game, because I’m just tired. I’m exhausted emotionally, physically. I’ve been tense, I’ve been pacing.
It’s important to distinguish those three. I’m responding to just one event, but I feel all three – just like people are responding to events in the world.
When we do not know how things are going to turn out, we will naturally feel anxiety. And it’s important to emphasize this is natural and normal. But we have come to treat anxiety as something that is abnormal, a problem to make go away.
In the Christian circles, either implicitly or very often explicitly, you will hear that anxiety is a sin or at least a character flaw. People misinterpret the common verse, Philippians 4:6, when Paul says, “do not be anxious about anything.”
My upcoming book – The Anxiety Opportunity – dissects that false notion, which often leads to a “well, we should pray anxiety away” approach, because anxiety is something that we have to make go away.
The secular version is “medicate it away.” Let me be clear, this is not to say that meds aren’t useful. I’ve taken anti-anxiety medication, as well as many of my friends. It’s an important tool, it’s a helpful tool. There’s nothing wrong with it.
But this is a profoundly wrong way to approach anxiety. Increasingly secular mental health professionals are realizing we approach anxiety unhelpfully when we position it as something that we have to make go away.
Let me just make the most specific, direct case of why, as Christians, we should not treat anxiety as a sin or as a character flaw: Jesus himself experienced anxiety.
[This excerpt was lightly edited for clarity.]
HOSTS: Curtis Chang and David French
PRODUCER: Kris Carter
The Good Faith podcast comes out every Saturday on The Dispatch. Listen and subscribe here or wherever you listen to podcasts.