[Editor’s Note: The following article addresses the topic of anxiety. This article isn’t meant to replace seeking help and wisdom from your local church along with professional medical care. Our encouragement is for you to seek counsel from your local pastor, a wise mentor in your church, a licensed counselor, and/or a medical professional.]
I stared out the window from my office chair as the morning sun stretched over the field in our yard. The twins slept in their cribs, their tummies full of milk. In the background I heard the sounds of my toddler’s TV show. An herbal tea steeped beside my Bible. This was one of the few times of the day I had alone to read and study God’s Word.
Despite the peaceful aura of this morning, my heart clambered with unnameable anxiety. My heart beat like a wild bird trapped in a cage trying to free itself and my breath was shallow. Memories and thoughts scattered frantically in my mind, keeping me on edge. My fingers felt weak and shaky, and my entire body wanted to lunge out of the room and run away from this peaceful scene, from some unknown perceived threat.
Perhaps you know these feelings well. Maybe you’ve been told all your life that God’s Word will put your mind at peace and calm your fears, yet they still rage and flicker inside no matter what you do. Even as you repeat Bible verses to yourself, your heart tumbles in your chest. You try to focus on the text before you, but anxiety fogs and clouds your brain. Concentration is out the window, and you can hardly sit still enough to read. I’ve lived these feelings—at times, daily. How do we stay in God’s Word while anxiety fills us?
Permission to Change Your Routine
in Seasons of Anxiety
In recent years, there’s been a good resurgence to dig deeper into Scripture through inductive study methods. When our minds are clear and time allows, it’s a wonderful way to grow in our love for God. But we each go through seasons of change. And you may find that as anxiety resides in your heart, that kind of study might not be the most beneficial. You may avoid studying for fear of falling short. Your foggy brain might struggle to concentrate. We need to be able to give ourselves permission to change our Bible study routine if it’s for the better.*
But maybe you’re afraid to do that because God might be disappointed in you. We need to remind ourselves that our Bible study time doesn’t change our status as God’s beloved, adopted children. Our salvation isn’t based on how we study God’s Word. God saves us by grace through faith in Christ. Then, out of love and gratitude for this salvation, he beckons us to read his Word to know and love him. God has not given explicit instructions about how often or in what way we should study—simply to read Scripture and handle it correctly.
If you can, try a new study method—one that isn’t anxiety-inducing or too complicated. Let go of the obligations you set up for yourself. Don’t focus on a specific outcome or meeting a certain standard. Simply open your Bible to hear him speak and work in your heart. And in whatever form that is, his grace will always meet you there.
A Few Simple Ways to be in Scripture
When Our Hearts are Anxious
- Read a psalm and pray it back to God. Flip through the Psalms, read their titles, and choose one that sounds like it could encourage you or give voice to your emotions. You don’t need to spend hours unraveling the meaning or its historical context—simply read through it and pray the words back to God. The beauty of the Psalms is that they encompass all human emotions, from rejoicing to deep grief. Need a reason to praise and thank God? See Psalm 30, 32, or 34. Unsure how to tell God your fears? See Psalm 61 or 91. Looking for the right words to voice your confusion and sorrow? See Psalm 3, 6, 42, or 130.
- Read through an epistle with a commentary. Choose an epistle that contains a favorite verse of yours and read through it bit by bit with a commentary next to you. Don’t worry about how much you can cover in a day; just do as much as you can.
- Listen through the Bible. Download an audio Bible app and pick a plan to listen through. You can listen while cooking, cleaning, driving, or even before bed.
- Use a theologically-sound Bible study. We can thank God for the abundance of resources he has given his church over the years. Ask your pastor, church leaders, a mentor, or a friend for a recommendation for a good Bible study.
- Read through one of the Gospels. As a family, we like to do our family devotions at the table during supper, since it’s one of the few times everyone is sitting and somewhat quiet. Choose one of the Gospels and do the same, ending each reading with journaling or family discussion of what the passage means and how you can apply it to your lives.
The Right Expectations
Anxiety is a lifetime thorn in my side. In my earliest memories, I see a little girl full of worry, doing odd compulsions to keep herself safe from unrealistic fears. During those years, I turned to the Bible for healing. If I just memorized these passages, read this book, covered my walls and mirrors with these Scriptures, believed this verse hard enough, then I would be healed. Yet all my good works were never enough. I walked away either disappointed in God’s lack of power or ridden with guilt over my own lack of faith and effort.
It’s not that God isn’t powerful enough to save. It’s not that his Word is dead. Scripture isn’t a book of magical incantations to heal our mental illnesses. It’s a book about God’s story of redeeming his chosen people who he set his love on despite their wayward and sinful hearts. It tells us about him, his love for us, and how to love him in return.
The Bible should give us joy, encourage our weary hearts, and even sanctify us by the work of the Holy Spirit, but we may also need the common grace that God has provided in the form of doctors, medications, and therapy. We can turn to this common grace while longing and looking forward in our hearts to the day where all illnesses will be healed. Trusting God’s Word and seeking medical help don’t have to be in competition; they can go hand-in-hand as we live in the already-but-yet of redemption. And with the right expectations, we can come to God’s Word whenever we can, however we can, trusting him to work in the ways he promised.
* This in itself can be hard to discern if structure and familiar routines help keep you at peace. As one who battles OCD as well, it can be hard to give myself permission to change my routines because I’ve made moral connections to them, or I fear something bad will happen if I change them. Discern first if it will only cause you more anxiety to change your study habits, and speak with your counselor or doctor about what is best for you in this season.
Meet the Author
Lara d’Entremont is a wife and mom to three from Nova Scotia, Canada. Lara is a writer and learner at heart—always trying to find time to scribble down some words or read a book. Her desire in writing is to help women develop solid theology they can put into practice—in the mundane, the rugged terrain, and joyful moments. You can find more of her writing at laradentremont.com.
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