Where You Find Your Value Has More To Do With Your Anxiety Than You Think

For the past 50 years the field of psychology has significantly influenced our understanding of anxiety.  It was in the 1980s that the American Psychological Association coined the term “anxiety disorder”.  If you were to ask the average person on the street to explain what anxiety is, you’d likely get a mix of answers that range from things like, “it’s a medical disease” “or “it’s when you worry a lot”. If you asked a professional in the field of psychology to explain anxiety, they would tell you, “Clinical anxiety is excessive worry and concern that goes for longer than 2 weeks and significantly impairs an individual’s ability to function in their daily life”. As you can see there is a myriad of answers to what anxiety is, which often lead to a wide variety of fixes for anxiety.  Some of the more common treatments for anxiety include, but are not limited to:
•Talk therapy
•Diet and exercise changes

I was recently reading through the latest issue of, “Psychology Today” and I came across an article from a veteran journalist talking about how he treated his panic disorder (for those of you who don’t know, panic disorder falls under the umbrella of anxiety diagnoses).  This journalist detailed when his panic disorder started and when it really took shape.  He discussed all the different treatments he tried and how they inevitably failed.  He went on to discuss how he got connected with a psychologist who created a program that treated panic and anxiety disorders, among other things in a very unconventional and controversial way; he treats them with controlled dosing of ketamine.  Ketamine is very similar to PCP.  Without going into a long medical and chemical explanation of what ketamine does and how it interacts with the body, you see an example of someone going to great lengths to address his panic disorder.  At the end of the article the author said the experience taught him to, “trust his brain more”.  I decided that I would read one more article from that issue of Psychology Today that was addressing the “real” reason your anxiety exists and likely persists.  The article was focused on the inner workings of a persons’ gut health and if they could dial that in, they would see a great reduction in their anxiety symptoms.   You can see that the field of psychology has lots of possible explanations and answers for anxiety, but nothing that works across the board for everyone.  

I’ve spent the last decade counseling people in a mental health setting and what I can definitively say is that those with anxiety lack hope; and it was this thought that made me ask, “what role does hope play in treating anxiety?”  I decided to Google this question and to my surprise there were thousands of search results from all kinds of sources. Many mainstream media outlets and well-respected universities all agreed that “hope” played a significant role in the treatment of anxiety.  What was hard to discern was what were these sources saying the individual with anxiety should be putting their hope in.  One university source said that hope was critical in treating anxiety but did not define what hope looks like or where it comes from.  Some of the other sources said that hoping in yourself was key.  From a cursory glance, it seems like many people and secular sources all agree that the element of hope is necessary albeit critical to treating someone with anxiety, but they don’t know how to define hope or say that it comes from within.  While I do agree that hope is critical for someone with anxiety, I do not agree that anyone of us can manufacture hope or that it is hiding in us, and we just need to dig a little deeper to find it.  To say that hope resides within us, puts an emphasis on the “self” and communicates an entirely different gospel.  Scripture teaches that hope can only be found within Christ (Eph 1:7).  So, while psychology the gospel of self, Scripture proclaims the Gospel of Christ.  Which leads me into my overall point on value, its impact on anxiety and its role in the proliferation of hope.  When we find our value and significance in anything other than Christ, we become blind to God’s provision and we lose sight of our true identity and this results in blindly seeking answers for our anxiety from alternative sources, which often don’t alleviate it but exacerbate it.

The psychological field is constantly teaching that we are to find our value and ultimately our hope within ourselves; that’s why you hear things like, “self-love, self-acceptance, self-forgiveness”. The emphasis is on the self and finding value there.  In my many years of work, I have never seen anyone successfully love, accept, and forgive themselves more and find their value.  All these strategies have short-term effects and that is why so many remain in counseling for long periods of time; they have been promised that if they can unlock their true potential and find their value, they will produce a life that is worth living and enjoyable. Finding your primary value in yourself does not lead to less anxiety, but to more.

Scripture, however, is not silent on anxiety, where anxiety comes from, what it does and what our responses should be.  We see in Matthew 6:25 Jesus saying to the crowds, “Therefore I tell you do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.”  Jesus knows our proclivity to worry about all kinds of things and he knows our desire to be god of our lives and he is addressing this in v25-34.  Anxiety does at least three things in a person’s life:
1. Rob you of the ability to see God’s provision in your life.
2. Rob you of joy.
3. Rob you of your identity and value

At the core for most of us is the desire to control our lives and the belief that God does not have our best in mind.  This is the original sin we see all the way back in Genesis 3; the belief that God does not care about or is indifferent to you and your life.  This mindset often leads to us taking control of our lives and steering it in a direction that is usually more destructive than good and when our navigation of our own life yields more anxiety and less success, rather than course correct and head back towards Christ we continue our destructive path determined to make it work.  This thinking and actions are what blind us to God’s provision and from this comes a lack of joy, loss of value, loss of identity and the solidifying of anxiety.
Our value comes from God in two specific ways:
1. Being made in God’s Image
2. Jesus dying on the cross for you

Being made in the image of God inherently comes with value, dignity and worth. Additionally, you are so valuable that Jesus gave up his life for yours so you could have hope for daily living and hope eternally.  God is not hiding your value somewhere and you need to just need to unlock it with the right tools; but God shows how valuable you are as an image bearer and someone that Christ died for.  As I said before our value and hope does not come from within ourselves, but it comes through Christ, and we are to daily seek after him with urgency.  We are to seek after him like we are meeting with a dear friend that we can’t wait to see.  Jesus says in v33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”  

You will face all kinds of anxiety in your life and the goal is not to live a life that is free of anxiety, but rather live a life that is marked with unrelentless seeking of the one who loves you and holds your soul together.  This my friends is where you find your value, this is where you find your hope.

Seek Christ diligently in prayer.
Seek Christ urgently in Scripture.
Seek Christ fervently in community.

- Christian Bringolf MA LMHC