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Interim Pastor, Timothy Swanson

An Age of Chronic Anxiety


We live in a time period filled with terrorism, a rise in Fundamentalism (Islamic, Christian, etc.), cults and the like. This according to Dr. Murray Bowen is a common occurrence in the course of history. It is a time where the focus is on a sickness (pathology) rather than strength; where safety is more important than adventure. There is an emphasis on being dependent. The Feelings of empathy is more important than responsibility. It is a time when those who are the most anxious are the quickest to react.


Religious institutions become the center of this activity because they are the middle ground between family and society. Much of the anxiety experienced within the family and the rest of the world are often played out within the churches


Anxiety and anger share the Latin root word angere which can be translated “to choke” or “to give pain by pushing together.” Anxiety

provokes change. It prods and pushes us towards innovation and transformation. If it reaches a certain intensity, we can “loose our head” and become too reactive than responsible. Anxiety becomes emotional pain. It can constrict and limit life. Full of uncertainty, we do not know what we are afraid of. Where fear itself can have a focus, anxiety does not.


As humans we share the lower parts of the brain with the animal kingdom which is used to react when threatened. We defend, react, strike out and preserve our safety and comfort zone. We also have a hemispheric brain which sets us apart from other animals and allows us to think. This part of the brain helps us to define things around us, to discriminate, to create and to respond. This is the realm that God has created that gives room for reason, imagination and creativity.


Anxiety, when threatened, moves us to react with our lower brain segments. When this happens, impulse overwhelms our intentions, instincts are stronger than our imagination, our reflex action hinders any reflection, our defensiveness blocks our ability to define, and our emotional reactions limit a clear course of direction.



Anxiety causes us to act faster than we think. Therefore, we act and respond with words before we think through everything. We lose our objectivity and our civility. We are no longer in a position to be responsible or loving.


What is needed most in times of intense anxiety is what anxiety does not allow: imagination. Anxiety does not respect belief systems. When threatened, any one of us can do away with our Christian Belief Systems. Which is rooted in God’s grace.


Acute and Chronic are two types of anxieties. Acute is generated by a crisis. Within the Church Family, it can be seen whenever there is difficulty over the budget, loss of a pastor, a building program, and the addition of new members. Chronic is habitual. We are unable to put it to rest. Someone no longer has anxiety, someone is their anxiety. This distinction can be seen in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. The younger son displays the signs of acute anxiety. He wants to distance himself from the family. He has lost all sense of reason and must learn to survive when he has lost everything. Later, however, he comes to himself. Reason and imagination come into play and he returns to the Father. The older son sounds like the voice of the chronic anxious. “All these years I served you...You never sacrificed for me...” This kind of behavior can show up in thoughtless obedience as well as mindless outbursts. This is the root of Fundamentalism and Moralism.


The focus of the chronic anxious is shifted onto someone else as the problem; never themselves. In Fundamentalism and Moralism, the evil lies out there, not within ourselves. This stands clearly in opposition to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Acute anxious people seek out a mentor or some objective to regain their perspective and return to the thinking process. I also see the value of prayer that seeks out guidance from God so that “I may understand”. Jesus teaches us first to seek God’s kingdom and God’s will. The chronic anxious person has little capacity to discern what is right and wrong, let alone the will of God, because they reduce everything to all or nothing. Lines are drawn: win or loose. Reflect on this within your family lives, the church, and social politics. Terrorists play it out by taking hostages. It is often played out in churches by withholding gifts, withholding attendance and withholding participation because of our fear of change. It is witnessed in Jesus’ parable by the oldest son in his refusal to join in the festive party. It is called willfulness.


Church families are vulnerable because in the interest of peace and harmony, they are willing to exchange integrity for tranquility. Chronically anxious people have a low tolerance for pain. When threatened, they make demands, spread rumors, exaggerate circumstances and often claim injustice. Thoughtful and careful approaches by others are often ignored. The results often lead to polarization’s marked by camps. It is fueled by secrecy and avoidance.


Anxiety of this nature tests the supreme values of our faith and love. It questions our very existence and purpose. The only way to overcome this is exposure. We have to name and/or give a name to the powers. We live in an age of Chronic Anxiety marked by Terrorism (hostage taking) Fundamentalism (withdrawal into the safety of camps/communities where everyone else is wrong/evil/immoral and we cannot tolerate anything new or an individual expression.)




Confession is opening the hidden side of ourselves to God directly or through   a mentor or pastor in order to regain a focus of reason where God’s love transforms us by Grace to overcome our willfulness and resistance.   It is chronic anxiety that crucified our Lord. It is God’s Grace that transformed it into a recreation; a new life through resurrection. We are a Confessional Church which is called upon to focus on a solid biblical witness (sola Scripture) to transform our lives and discern God’s intentions for this congregation. Christ is central to faith. Only a well defined Faith can overcome the polarization of the anxious. This was Paul’s response to a chronic anxious church at Corinth (1 Cor 1:10-17). Paul goes on to declare that he was called to preach Christ crucified. In our Baptism and in our repentance, our willfulness is to die and we are to be raised. Why? In order to freely walk in this newness of life (Romans 6:4).


It is within communal and individual prayer, when done in accordance with our faith, that we create space for God to speak to us with reason and love. In doing so, prayer changes our lives and our responses to those things that cause us to be so anxious. Our Lord has taught, that in and through prayer we surrender “my will” to “Gods will” (Lord’s Prayer).

In the Word of God preached and the sacraments administered, our Risen Lord meets us. Integrity and responsibility are regained and life of the church is transformed so that we may get on with the business of the church which is to

transform the world, and our families in and through the Grace God expressed through a tolerance of love. We are prepared to travel through the darkness of the unknown with the life of our faith in Christ.



Pastor Tim


(Much of this article is drawn from the work of Peter L. Steinke,

“How Your Church Family Works”.)

Let us pray that God will grow the body of Christ together.       

Your servant in Christ,   Pastor Tim





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“If any want to become my disciples, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”               Mark 8:34b-35

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