Do you wrestle with anxiety? Are you plagued with worries? Do you think you’ve conquered anxiety? Curtis Chang, author of The Anxiety Opportunity, joins Amy Julia Becker for a conversation that uncovers:
- what anxiety really is all about
- spiritual practices for facing anxiety
- practical ways we can grow in the midst of anxiety
Curtis Chang is a theologian and consulting faculty member of Duke Divinity School and a Senior Fellow at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the founder of Redeeming Babel and the host of the Good Faith podcast. His latest book is The Anxiety Opportunity: How Worry Is the Doorway to Your Best Self.
On the Podcast:
- The Anxiety Opportunity: How Worry Is the Doorway to Your Best Self
- To Be Made Well: An Invitation to Wholeness, Healing, and Hope
- The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
- The Good Faith podcast
- Matthew 6:25-34
- Matthew 26:36-46
- Psalm 139
- Jesus Is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered by Martin B. Copenhaver
YouTube Channel: video with closed captions
Note: This transcript is autogenerated using speech recognition software and does contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.
Amy Julia (4s):
Hi friends, I’m Amy Julia Becker, and this is Love. is Stronger Than Fear. Today we are joined by Curtis Chang and we are talking about anxiety, but we’re talking about anxiety as an opportunity for spiritual growth. Curtis is a theologian and a consulting faculty member of the Duke Divinity School. He’s a senior Fellow at Fuller Theological Seminary. He’s the host of the Good Faith podcast, which I personally appreciate and listen to regularly. And he is the author of The Anxiety Opportunity. And that’s what we get to talk about today. I did wanna note as we go into this interview, that we recorded it a few months ago. So you may notice that I make reference to my own anxiety about our family’s upcoming move.
Amy Julia (47s):
And if you’ve been following along on Instagram or Facebook or some of those other places, you’ll know that we’ve made it to the other side of that move and therefore the other side of that anxiety, at least for now. But I am certain that other opportunities await. So for me, and for those of you who know that you do wrestle with anxiety, even for those of you who think you don’t, this episode is really great and uncovering what anxiety is all about and at offering practical ways we can face anxiety and grow in the midst of it. Well, I’m sitting here today with Curtis, Chang and Curtis. I wanted to start just by saying welcome.
Curtis (1m 28s):
Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Amy Julia (1m 31s):
We’re here to talk about your book, but I feel like I should mention first of all that I am a little bit of a fan girl of yours because I am a very regular listener to your podcast. And I wanna just start, because presumably we have a lot of podcast listeners here at this moment. And so if any of you do not know the Good Faith podcast that is now Curtis’s podcast. It used to be Curtis and David French together. Now Curtis is at the helm, although David French still comes back and talks. And for anyone who’s interested in the intersection of faith and culture and politics and just really thoughtful conversations, I do want to just put a little plugin for your podcast. Oh, thank you. So thank you for that. I’m really thrilled to be able to be on the conversational end of things with you and not just the listening end.
Amy Julia (2m 15s):
Yeah. But we’re here to talk about your new book and yeah, so Curtis’s book is called The Anxiety Opportunity. And I thought maybe the title itself could be a launching point for the book, because you have a pretty distinctive way I think, of talking about what anxiety is. So maybe you could explain that, but also I’d love to hear in what way you see anxiety as an opportunity. Yeah.
Curtis (2m 39s):
Well this book comes from a lot of a personal experience with anxiety and growing up I was an anxious child and although I didn’t know it and didn’t have words for naming it. Yeah. And part of it I think is because of the way in which anxiety has been typically framed in the, especially in the Christian Church, that it’s been really framed as a problem, a problem that we have to make go away. And typically we have one of two ways we make it go away. One is spiritually we make it go away. And you might call this the prey anxiety away model, which anxiety is viewed as a character flaw or a lack of faith.
Curtis (3m 19s):
Or even in some circles, as an actual sin So that we have to make go away. Or in some churches that, you know, have come to the place of not wanting to stigmatize mental health, they may say, okay, anxiety’s not a sin, but it’s a mental health problem. And so we outsource it to secular mental health. And this you might call it to, we prescribe it away, prescribe it with either medication or therapy. And again, lemme be clear, both prayer and medication and therapy are good things. I’ve done all three of those things, yeah. Myself to in response to my anxiety. But the, the issue is that in both the prayed away or the prescribe it away, we are still constructing anxiety solely as a problem to make go away.
Curtis (4m 8s):
And I believe both from my own experience and and from scripture and from theology, that anxiety is not primarily, and certainly not only a problem to make go away, that it is also an opportunity, perhaps the most powerful opportunity we will have regularly in our lives for spiritual growth. That it’s, it’s a Doorway to go into, not tovo, avoid and make go away in some way. So that’s why I wrote the book, both out of my own personal experience as somebody who’s suffered, and I can say more other examples of ways that I’ve suffered from early on to, to my adult life, having experienced some very devastating experiences with anxiety, don don’t mean to minimize it or to say it isn’t suffering or isn’t a problem.
Curtis (4m 54s):
I’ve suffered deeply from it myself. But the good news is that it isn’t just a problem. It really is an opportunity.
Amy Julia (5m 2s):
Well, yeah, maybe you could just give us one example. You’ve given a lot in the book from your own life, in terms of some of the more, almost comical or minimal, you know, the, the little anxieties that we experience on a regular basis, which are just as real. And again, opportunities as the deep, you know, as you said, devastating anxiety. And you can choose what, what you wanna share. But would you just pick a story and share that in terms of both what happened and how you began to see that as an opportunity for spiritual growth? Sure.
Curtis (5m 35s):
Well, I’ll tell the devastating example. ’cause that’s always the more dramatic one to tell. When you, one of the things that’s in my bio when describing who I am is you can say a podcast sponsor or faculty at Duke Divinity School and so forth, is that I’m a former pastor of an evangelical covenant church. And the former in that title is due to anxiety. So I was taking over as the lead pastor of a very growing large church that this is back in the early two thousands and what you might call one of the early emergent or seeker sensitive churches that was really growing. We got up to about 3000 people every Sunday, which for the Bay Area is a very large church.
Curtis (6m 19s):
Yeah. And, and then the former, the founding pastor left, he got burned out. And also because our church was going through this process of really discovering the call to justice in the gospel. And we had begun as a church that was founded in the suburbs of Sunnyvale, really very much within that seeker emergent church with a kind of an individualistic, you know, me and God finding, God finding meaning. And because of an influx of a lot of folks like me from InterVarsity, we are bringing in sort of this appreciation for the, what you might call the horizontal aspects of the gospel.
Curtis (7m 3s):
The, the ways in which it caused us to justice and mercy and peace. And, and this was, you know, very challenging for our founding pastor, but he, he really took it on. And we began to make changes in the church, including relocating the church from the suburbs of Sunnyvale to downtown San Jose to bring our people into greater contact with economic and racial diversity. And that turned out to be, we were sort of naive and thinking we could just pull that off So that began to trigger a, an already an exodus of people who were like, I didn’t sign up for this. And that was really discouraging to the founding pastor who thought, you know, of course people will follow me. So he left.
Curtis (7m 43s):
Yeah. So I inherited a church that was already in crisis already. And then, you know, quickly discovered that as what all the church growth people will tell you is that when a founding pastor leaves, that’s another marking point for oftentimes people leaving the church. Sure. And then the.com bust hit, this is in the 2000, in the 2000 or mid two thousands. And that created another whole exodus of people just leaving the area as well as giving, going down. Sure. People losing their jobs. So I’m inheriting all of this in my first year as my first role as senior pastor. And I was just in over my head, but I didn’t have a way to make sense of it because really what was I was feeling was anxiety.
Curtis (8m 31s):
I was fear. I was, and what anxiety is, it is the fear of loss. It is the fear of some future loss. And I’m fearing that I’m gonna lose the church or lose a, a successful church. I’ll lose my self image as a successful pastor. I’m going to lose respect of, you know, my peers, et cetera, et cetera. Yeah. All these losses mounted, and that’s what anxiety is. I didn’t have language to really recognize that. And so I just thought, well, I’m, I’m under workload, I’m under a heavy workload, I’m under stress, but it’s not anxiety because again, in I’m laboring under the narrative of anxiety is a spiritual problem that we’re supposed to pray away.
Curtis (9m 11s):
And so, as taking over as the founding pastor, I couldn’t exactly, I felt like I couldn’t exactly get up there and tell everybody, yeah, I am, you know, suffering from the lack of faith right now. And so I just kept pushing it away and, and eventually I hit this period, well one, you know, as, I can’t remember the name of the, the book, but there’s, there’s a book out there that’s called Your Body Ke Keeps, keeps Score. Oh,
Amy Julia (9m 39s):
The Body Keeps the Score.
Curtis (9m 40s):
Yeah. The body keeps the score. Right. Well, so Anxiety, the body keeps the score of anxiety. And so where that was showing up for me was I was starting to have trouble sleeping. And so seven hours and six and then five and then four hours. And then I finally in June of 2005, hit a two week period where I did not fall asleep consciously at all for two weeks straight. And around day 10, I remember I was alone in the house. I remember screaming out loud like, God, just make this stop. Just make this stop. I will say anything. I will do anything.
Curtis (10m 20s):
I will believe anything if you just make this stop. And that’s ’cause you know, insomnia, especially any kind of insomnia. But that driven by anxiety, it’s not just you’re tired. It it, you feel like your mind is fracturing in a million pieces. Wow. And it’s funny because the next time, the next moment after I cried out like, ah, just make this stop. I had this moment of realization. I was like, oh. So that’s how Guantanamo Bay works. Like you I was about
Amy Julia (10m 46s):
To say, I mean torture is actually what you’re describing. Just the, what’s I fascinating, it’s kind of the wrong word ’cause it sounds positive, but is that your brain was able to keep you awake so much, right? That it didn’t have to.
Curtis (11m 1s):
Yeah. It was a self-inflicted torture. Right, right. Self-inflicted
Amy Julia (11m 4s):
Torture. I mean, but, but I guess maybe that’s, maybe that is another way to describe the anxiety that is the one that we deny and that we refuse to actually name and Yeah. And address.
Curtis (11m 17s):
Yeah. So I, that led to a breakdown. I mean, I, I slid into a deep depression, which can happen with chronic unaddressed anxiety and into a further dark night of the soul. And that ended my pastoral career. So that’s why I’m a former pastor. So I say I share all that to say I know anxiety, I know it from the inside and I know it’s a problem. I’m not saying this is not a painful thing that that’s true in our lives. But from that, I can also say with absolute confidence that anxiety is also an opportunity for growth. That where I am today is precisely because of having gone through that experience.
Curtis (11m 60s):
Now I could have gone through that experience with much less painful, in a much less painful way if I’d actually been willing rather than to push it away. And avoided been able to actually lean into that anxiety, enter into that experience. And that’s really why I wrote the book is don’t want people to make the same mistake I made that, that of of actually avoid, when we avoid anxiety, when we treat it as something that is a problem to make go away, we actually make, we are actually at risk of increasing the levels of anxiety in our lives.
Amy Julia (12m 33s):
Yeah. It is an irony. I wrote a book about healing that came out a year ago. And in it I have a chapter on anxiety as a barrier to healing. I think for very similar reasons. Obviously not with the type of depth that you are able to give in your book, but that sense that when we deny, ignore, avoid, then the anxiety just becomes this barrier to the healing that God wants to do in our lives. And I don’t, I didn’t use the word opportunity, but I do think that is a really good way to name what is also possible is that, you know, God is not afraid of our anxiety, but at the same time, it can get in the way of what God wants to do in our lives if we are afraid of it.
Amy Julia (13m 16s):
Right. And if we can’t actually acknowledge that that’s what’s going on. And I wanted to ask, you’ve mentioned in your own life, for example, the not sleeping was a signal that you were in a place of anxiety and needed help. It’s, and you mentioned the body keeps the score. Like could you just give some, talk a little bit about the ways that our bodies can signal that we, or maybe our minds also that we’re experiencing anxiety, especially for those of us who have been conditioned to pretend, whether it’s because of like don don’t know, stoic American individualism. Yeah. Or because of Christian culture. And in your book, I think you have a great section on Clobber verses that tell us not to ever admit that we are anxious.
Amy Julia (13m 58s):
’cause it would be bad, you know? Yeah. So what are some of the clues if we’re unwilling to admit anxiety, that anxiety might actually signal to us this is your, what’s going on here?
Curtis (14m 7s):
Yeah. I think you could maybe categorize these as bodily clues, bodily signs, mental signs, and like relational signs. So in terms of bodily signs, there is insomnia for some people. Others experience this in, in stomach distress, that anxiety resides in their stomach and they, you know, have variety of gi distresses or just the tightness of chest that people will feel. Yeah. So people locate their anxiety in different parts of their body. Muscle tension Yeah. Is often another sign of anxiety. So yeah, there are various classic bodily signs which all stem from the fact that what was happening is anxiety, is hijacking our fight or flight symptoms that are designed by God to respond to an immediate present real threat.
Curtis (14m 59s):
It’s actually hijacking that system to make it think that this threat is happening because it’s actually hijacking us to the future, some imaginary situation, So, that we’re imagining a threat. But then because it feels real, our, it’s, it recruits our fight or flight system to respond to actually an imaginary future threat. When that system really was designed just to meet an immediate threat before us. And then because we’re being hijacked in the future, we can’t ever shut it off. Right. Because the future ever looms before us. So yes, if I’m facing a snarling wolf, I, my stomach should shut down because I want my blood flowing to my muscles, not to my stomach digestive processes to actually flee or fight that, you know, wolf.
Curtis (15m 43s):
But if it’s an imaginary wolf, like the law, the the metaphorical wolf of like, yeah, loss of status or loss of relationship with my kids, or something like that, then that wolf is ever, ever present in the future. Right. It’s ever. And because it’s, it’s not real. It’s so it’s ever conjured up in our minds. And so our, that’s why those reactions stay locked in. So our, that’s why, you know, I couldn’t fall asleep ’cause it was like I was facing an a threat before me all the time. Or my stomach is shutting down all the time, or my muscles are tensed all the time. So those are some common bodily signs. But my book also describes ways in which our mental patterns reveal ways in which our, we are engaged in this hijack being hijacked by anxiety.
Curtis (16m 31s):
And then what’s really interesting for me is in ways in which anxiety shows up in our relationships. Hmm. And especially because they can often be hidden. Like I write about this in my, in my book, a lot about a big breakthrough in, in my marriage was realizing patterns in which both of us were actually feeling anxious about something, but we couldn’t name it. And we were trying to avoid that anxiety in very different ways. Hmm. So for example, I tried to deal with anxiety through the fight mechanism. Like I will head towards that threat, but then try to like wrestle with it in a way to make it go away. So this is where my rumination comes in. I’m my, I’m mentally rehearsing and wrestling and turning an idea, try, try to make that feared loss go away.
Curtis (17m 17s):
She’s a flea person, she’s an away person. Okay. So she tends to like, want to avoid it, go away from it from a like, I don’t wanna talk about it, or let’s not, you know, deal with that. And we were having all sorts of like, relational conflict because it was basically our different avoidance measures coming into conflict. So, you know, I was judging her for being in denial and, you know, you know, not confronting reality. She’s judging me for being obsessive and being overly worrying. And, and then finally we just started realizing, wait, we’re just both anxious right now. We’re just responding in a different ways. And that was super helpful. But, so those are some ways in which I think people can hopefully start recognizing the anxiety in their lives.
Amy Julia (17m 59s):
Yeah. I can relate personally with so many of these things. And I wanna not make this into a, you know, therapy session for me. But I will
Curtis (18m 7s):
Where where, where you just have a bunch of people listening in on our therapy session. Exactly.
Amy Julia (18m 11s):
Exactly. But I will mention a couple of things that were just prompted from my own life and what you just said. One is that bodily response, and again, some listeners will know this from having read my book, but I had a, a paralyzed stomach when I was in high school. Hmm. Wow. And again, I would’ve told you that I was not an anxious person for a variety of reasons, but I do, the way you even described the, like wolf in the future and the blood leaving your stomach, I mean, that was literally what a gastroenterologist said about my stomach in looking at pictures of it. They were like, it’s gray, there’s no blood. Wow. Yeah. Like it, so I do think there was some measure of like, I am on heightened alert all the time for the danger in the future Yeah.
Amy Julia (18m 53s):
In such a way that it even like shut down my organs. Yeah. Which is obviously what’s quite severe. But even more recently, I’m a healthier person now and I do really want, I’ve been learning how to pay attention to some of those bodily signals, whether it’s the kind of small thing of like my eye twitching. But I really do find that when I am getting a little bit more stressed out and not necessarily knowing what to do about it, my, my eye starts to twitch. And last night I had we’re, we’re preparing for a move. And so that’s, I know that, and this is what’s I wanna ask you about ’cause I know consciously Yeah. That it is a stressful thing to move and that that is coming in the next couple of weeks.
Amy Julia (19m 34s):
Like, and so, you know, I am feeling that as I’m feeling that in my body. And last night I had all of what I would call anxiety dreams where, which I don’t actually thankfully have very often, but last night it’s like I’m looking at a city that has flooded and I’m wandering around in an amusement park barefoot, needing to go to the bathroom and thinking, but I can’t go into the bathroom with bare feet. Like, you know, so all of these kind of out of my control anxious dreams. Yeah. So I guess my question is, when you are paying attention enough to be able to say like, clearly my subconscious is signaling anxiety. Right? And yet on my conscious mind, I think, well, I know that it’s stressful to move, I have a plan.
Amy Julia (20m 21s):
We know what’s ha like I don’t, I how do you actually address that anxiety Yeah. When you are become aware through bodily or relational or whatever measures that it’s actually present? Yeah,
Curtis (20m 33s):
It’s a great question. I think there’s, I’ll, I I’ll say there’s one thing that we all can do to help lower the anxiety when we feel, and then there’s something we can do to go deeper into it. So these are sort of, I think actually parallel harmonious moves. But, but I think people sometimes most immediately want, well, how do I lower our anxiety levels? Yeah. Which is a fear desire. I would say that one thing that we all can do is to read our anxiety as a sign, as a signal that we are living in the future in some way that we’re, that and, and really some future loss that we’re rehearsing in our mind over and over again or subconsciously, perhaps.
Curtis (21m 14s):
And so one way we can lower anxiety is to simply try to get more in the present. And there’s something going on in which we are rehearsing and don don’t know what it is for you. Whether it’s, you know, thinking about what if we forget something or well, will our my family adjust to this? And will we lose something in there? Who knows? Right? I, I really, really should not turn this into a therapy session for you. But, but, but, but to pay attention, like, okay, I’m, I’m living the present. How do I get more back into the, I’m living in the future, how do I get back into the present in some ways? And this may be an, an opportunity for us to actually adopt some ways that are time tested, that are actually found in scripture that which secular mental health also has adopted of ways of getting present.
Curtis (21m 57s):
And that this comes by, you know, labels like mindfulness or, you know, getting into our body breathing, getting into creation in nature. These are all ways in which actually are found in scripture that Jesus himself often talks about or embodies himself and acts himself of calling people to look, be present with a current reality rather than living in kind of future scenario land. And so don don’t know what that means for you, but maybe it means actually getting present and enjoying these last few days in this house with your kid. Right. You know, in, in the current reality that you have now, don don’t know. But, but one thing is that anxiety, when we, when we are able to name it, is an Invitation to get present, to get to the, now this is why Jesus says in Matthew six when he says, Hey, don’t be anxious.
Curtis (22m 45s):
And he’s not saying, don’t be anxious because of the sin. He’s saying saying, look, don’t be anxious ’cause you’re living in tomorrow and tomorrow has enough to worry about for itself. And then he invites his listeners in the Sermon on the Mount to get present to creation, especially to the, to the, to the lilies, to the birds, and to experience God by getting present. Because that’s, that’s how we actually can only relate to God is by actually we, we build a relationship with God, just like we build a relationship with anyone in the present, in the here and now, not in an imaginary future. Right. So, so that’s one thing. But then I think the really interesting thing is then think reading anxiety. Then hopefully once you’ve sort of been able to bring it to some, some manageable levels, then reading anxiety as a sign of loss.
Curtis (23m 32s):
Like trying to help understand what is the loss that is going on. Yeah. ’cause again, anxiety equals loss. It’s some feared loss. So, you know, in your case you might be using this as an opportunity. Like, well what is the loss here? Right. There’s some loss of leaning this up. Is it the memories, is it, is it that, you know, the experience that you’ve had in this house that you wonder will you be able to replicate in the future? I i, is it the financial stress of who knows? Right. I don’t know what that is. Right. But there’s some loss. That’s a, and I, I think that’s the, the, the ways in which anxiety is, and opportunities that helps us investigate the nature of the loss that we fear. And oftentimes it’s not what we think is on the surface, that there’s some deeper loss that we may be sort of, you know, wrestling with rest, trying to, trying to avoid in some way that we may need to actually be invited to come into contact with.
Curtis (24m 26s):
And some of that involves grief, actually, you know, So, that that actually, one of the ways in which Jesus responds to his anxiety that he experienced in Gethsemane, which I write about it, is when Jesus himself experiences the anxiety of a fu, his future loss is, he grieves. And yeah. And grieving is this way in which we, rather than avoiding loss, we actually hold loss and we actually just experience it. We just suffer it. Rather than trying to, in our minds or other behaviors or our relationships, make it go away to avoid it. And holding losses then just simply saying, okay, I’m gonna hold it in the present versus try to avoid more of it in the future.
Curtis (25m 9s):
And that enable, it actually, it teaches us to actually that loss is holdable. And that that’s actually a profound spiritual growth when we can actually relate to loss as something that is scary that makes us, that we have to make, go away, but rather something that is still scary and is still painful, but something that we can actually tolerate. Something that we can actually hold.
Amy Julia (25m 30s):
I really appreciate that idea of that does, as you said, come up in the book about grief and other holding habits that we can cultivate. And I wanna come back to that. But before we do, I have two things to say. The first is, when you were talking, I did, did remember when our daughter Penny was first born and we found out that she had down Syndrome whenever she was out of the room when we were in the hospital, it was, I mean, unbearably frightening. Mm. And just filled, I wouldn’t have even used the word anxiety because it was beyond that for me. Mm. When she was present in the room, it that was gone. I mean there wa it was just like, we, what was that?
Amy Julia (26m 10s):
And then it would happen again. Yeah. And it was just such this kind of tangible example because when she was in the room, she was a concrete human. Beautiful. And in, in her case, like she was a healthy baby who was also diagnosed with down Syndrome, but down Syndrome was this like abstract fear in the future at that point. Like there really, we were not in a position of having a child who needed surgery tomorrow or something like that. And So, that to me was kind of the embodiment of what you were saying about Yeah. Being here now. And I think you write about this as well, but over and over in scripture, there’s such this promise that God will be with us now.
Amy Julia (26m 51s):
Yeah. My question for you though is, ’cause you write a lot in the book about eternity. Yeah. So what’s the difference between like living in the future and living in and with a sense of eternity? Yeah. Because they’re somewhat, I think they feel related. Yeah. And yet I think you’re also trying to argue that they’re very different in terms of what they’re gonna do with our anxiety. Yeah. So could you talk about that a little bit?
Curtis (27m 13s):
One way to think about this is, is as, as a sequence of spiritual growth that in the anxiety for it to be an opportunity of spiritual growth for most of us involves first learning to get present. Like to not live in the future. Because if we try to like fight anxiety future on future and say, I’m gonna, you know, what we’re most likely gonna do is, is grab for and try to construct our own future scenario that avoids loss. Because that’s our temptation. Like, okay, so I’m gonna think, think, think and turn things over in my head enough so I can think my way to some situation where that feared loss I have won’t happen. Right. So, and then, or we’ll, we’re going to demand that from God, we’re like, God, you know, you give me this future that I will not experience loss.
Curtis (28m 1s):
And we come to even demand or expect God was always gonna deliver that. So one of the reasons why spiritual growth through anxiety starts by getting present is it’s a way to stop that that temptation, our addiction to creating or getting God or creating God in our image of, you know, God as the, you know, and Christianity as the cosmic loss avoidance scheme. Right. That’s just somehow, you know, if we’re Christians, we won’t experience loss. Which as you’ve experienced, as I’ve experienced, is just, just not true. We gotta disabuse ourselves of that, that addiction to that, that falsehood. So getting present certainly helps, but you’re absolutely right.
Curtis (28m 40s):
We’re still left with a problem of loss. We’re still left with the problem of the future. Right. And this is where I think anxiety then becomes an opportunity for us to reformulate our understanding of the future, especially the future that is Promised to us in Jesus. And this is where the promise of the resurrection is so critical to anxie, to a Christian experience of anxiety. Because again, if we think anxiety equals loss, if we treat anxiety then as a problem to make go away, this means we’re saying loss has to go away. Right. And this is, and so this is why anxiety cannot be a just a problem.
Curtis (29m 23s):
Because then if we think it’s a problem to eliminate, we’re saying loss is something that we must eliminate in our lives. But that’s not the Christian promise is that a loss will be eliminated. Rather the promise is death, resurrection. Right. That’s actually the, that’s, that’s the pathway that Jesus took through his own anxiety. He went through loss. He did not actually end up avoiding it, but he went through loss and then he got resurrection, which is the restoration of loss. But restoration of loss, which is resurrection, is a completely different thing than avoidance of loss. Like those are two different things. Resurrection is going through loss, experiencing it, holding it in the promise that even as we go through the loss, we are being held by the presence of God, just like Jesus was held by the presence of his Father.
Curtis (30m 16s):
And then on the other side of it, in the future, in the final end, when Jesus returns to restore all things in the final resurrection, all of our losses will be restored. So that’s the future. But that’s a future that goes through loss, it goes through death. It doesn’t avoid it. Right. And so, so we do ultimately need to have a future lens on anxiety, but it needs to be anchored in the truth of, of the gospel and the prom. The true promise of Jesus, which is not loss avoidance, but actually loss restoration.
Amy Julia (30m 51s):
That’s really helpful. And I’m thinking in the book about some of the just very practical ways you say we can notice when we are trying to avoid that loss. And, and I’m curious if you could just maybe name those a little bit like again, as the, what are some of those clues? Because I think that can happen, especially depending on your personality. You and I I think have similar ways where it does become fairly clear, whether that’s through my body or through my ruminations where I just am like circling a problem in the night, you know? Yeah. As if going around the bend one more time, I’m gonna come up with a new solution or whatever.
Amy Julia (31m 32s):
So I am pretty aware of what it is that is bothering me in those cases. And I think there are other times where we really don’t know. Yeah. And it’s like we have to spot the avoidance, not the That’s right. Problem almost in order to get there. And I’m, can you like give us just again, some insight into how to know? Yeah,
Curtis (31m 49s):
I think so. I can give some examples, but I think you’re right. These are ultimately very personal realities that need to be investigated. Yeah. And but, but yeah, so I think generally speaking, you can categorize avoidance habits as a way or around that correlate to our fight or flight tendencies. Right? So fight would be more what the around move and the away is more of the, the flea move. And so, you know, so typical away moves are denial. Addictions are very common as an away move. ’cause we’re numbing, trying to numb ourselves. Yeah. We don’t wanna feel that thing. So it could be something a of relatively benign addiction to, I just, I gotta watch You’re watching a lot of tv.
Curtis (32m 32s):
Yeah. Shopping is a very common away move that people are dealing with their anxieties to get something numbed by getting away from something that they feel that makes them feel lost. That they’re getting, getting a immediate sensation of gain by purchasing something. Phobias are another classic away sort of pattern that’s set in is ’cause we just can’t come anywhere close to that thing that we fear losing. So those are some common away ones around ones. I think rumination, like I said, relationally when we find ourselves, like we’re, we’re always like badgering people for something or we’re, we’re a very hyper insistent personality that can’t let go of things.
Curtis (33m 16s):
That’s it. A classic around move that you’re of, that you’re heading, you’re fighting something, you’re fighting the loss. But ultimately these are some sort of great categories that people can use. I do think that our hearts and our minds and our bodies can be so subtle, I think especially if they’re not like at very ratt up to very high levels that it takes investigation. And this is where I actually think, and it’s another spiritual opportunity because it’s an opportunity to invite the spirit of God in that investigation. You know, Psalm 1 39 says is a prayer of an anxious person where he prays, oh God, investigate my anxious thoughts, see if there’s any offensive way in me.
Curtis (33m 58s):
And what that suggests is that the psalmist recognizes the sin is not in the anxious thoughts. That’s, that’s just reality. But it’s an opportunity for investigation. And God needs to enter in that process for investigation. Yeah. Because there may be something wrong about the way I’m thinking, feeling about it. I, I may be engaging in this false belief that God promises the avoidance of all laws. That Christianity is a cosmic loss avoidance scheme that needs to get investigated. And, and the, the great Invitation of the Christian life is we don’t have to do that alone. This is not just a self introspection that we’re called to, it’s a examination of which we are invited to participate in by the spirit of God, this Holy Spirit.
Curtis (34m 43s):
I mean, Paul talks about, Paul gives a nickname to the Holy Spirit called, he calls it the searcher of hearts. Hmm. That’s the Romans of formulation in the book of Romans. And the searcher of the hearts, the hearts for the Hebrews was the origins of one’s thoughts. They didn’t have a conception of the brain as conception of the thoughts. So they located thinking in the organ of the heart. So when Paul is saying the Holy Spirit is the searcher of the heart who comes alongside us in our weakness, what Paul’s describing is we’re kind of weak by ourselves to know truly what is going on in our own thoughts. We need to be able to believe that God is interested, God is curious. God wants to investigate, Hey, what’s going on in there?
Curtis (35m 26s):
And we can invite the Spirit into that process.
Amy Julia (35m 29s):
One of the aspects of the spirit’s work that you wrote about that I really appreciated was saying that it, that we will often hear from the spirit in the form of a question. Just that sense of both gentleness and also of really Invitation to dialogue, to relationship to an ongoing pursuit. And I, you know, find myself certainly often wanting or thinking at least that I want the spirit to simply be directive. Right. I can found
Curtis (35m 60s):
That question. Give me the answer. Yeah.
Amy Julia (36m 3s):
Curtis (36m 4s):
That’s right. I mean, if you think about the spirit, the Holy Spirit is the spirit of Jesus. That is what the, is the, the presence of Jesus in, in the spiritual form. And you look at how Jesus related to people, you know, the, this biblical scholar, Martin Copen Hoover wrote this great book that just shows that Jesus was like his main grammatical form of engagement was the question you asked. 307 questions made actually very few statements and answered very few questions, but asked a ton of questions. Yeah. And so it makes sense that when we listen to the spirit in our anxiety, in our weakness, what’s gonna come back as a question. Yeah. And so, you know,
Amy Julia (36m 44s):
And, and again, I do think when we think about the Invitation to participate in the life of God, which is, you know, so much of what the Christian life really is, is a sense of you are being invited into the work that God is doing. And that often does come not through directives, but through questions in, in even our human relationships. And I really, I really appreciate that. Another thing that you mentioned that was really helpful to me, I I, I can’t remember whether this was in all the gospels or just the gospel of Mark, but looking at the number of people who come to Jesus that are experiencing some form of anxiety, that that is so often some part of, I mean, but like 80% or something, you know, I don’t remember what the percentage is.
Amy Julia (37m 33s):
Yeah. But a huge, it’s really anxiety is really an Invitation to turn to God. Not in order to be Yeah. Kind of critiqued for the anxiety Yeah. But to be received in that place and, and still nevertheless transformed. And That’s right. Maybe we could end by talking a little bit about some of the practices and habits that you have found in your own life that are maybe, I mean, it seems like there’s some things we can do in an immediate sense in terms of like, oh, I notice that I’m having anxiety, I’m gonna name that. We’ve talked about some of those. Like maybe I’m gonna grieve, maybe, you know, but are there others that are more of a sustaining, I wanna try to live in a place where I’m not don don’t know, welcoming anxiety quite as readily.
Amy Julia (38m 22s):
Curtis (38m 23s):
Yeah. Yeah. Well, I’ll speak personally, one that has really sustained me, which is contemplative prayer. Yeah. And I think the reason why contemplative prayer for me has been so rich for me is because one of my great anxieties is the loss of pro productivity. I really am fear that I’m won’t be anxious, won’t be useful. Right. Like I, yeah. Like some people really law look forward to retirement. I, I’m, I’m desperately afraid of retirement. Like I can’t, I’m totally with you. Yeah. I don. I don’t know what I’m gonna do. Like don don’t play golf. Yeah. I don. There’s nothing, you know, I’m used to being useful. And so I, one the thing that happened when I turned 50, which was I found that myself in the evenings that I was doing a lot more like consumer research.
Curtis (39m 13s):
I talk about this in my last podcast. I won’t go into great detail, but I’ll just say one of the, and it was because I realized like it was a false experience of being useful. It was basically like in the evenings I didn’t have anything to do. My kids were all grown up, they didn’t need me. I didn’t wanna work ’cause I was really guarded against actually doing formal work. But I realized I was still addicted to this needed to be useful and productive. So I was like going to this false substitute of like, well, I’ll research consumer purchases because it was like readily available right. As a thing that look at all these useful things we could buy that weren’t actually that useful. Right. In reality. But, but, but, so here I’m doing that and I realized, oh my gosh, I am addicted to needing stimulation to, in the evenings to stimulate my sense of productivity and usefulness.
Curtis (40m 1s):
And that rather than trying to avoid that loss, is this an opportunity? Is this an Invitation by God to actually lean into it? To, to let God investigate? Why are you so afraid of being non-productive? Yeah. And then that led me to this form of prayer that’s ancient form of prayer, which is contemplative prayer, which is honestly for me, really hard to do. Yeah. Because the nature of contemplative prayer is precisely that it is not useful. Right. Like, you’re not interceding, you’re not learning some scripture, you’re not like doing some exercise. You’re just being still like, you’re just being still and trusting that you’re in the presence of God. Even if you don’t subjectively feel it, you are by faith saying God is present with me.
Curtis (40m 45s):
Now I’m just going to be still and silent. And for somebody who is addicted to stimulation to be, to feel useful, that is an incredibly hard place to be in. But I just began to lean into it more and more. You know, first it was five minutes and then 10 minutes a night, then 15, then 30, and then got to be an hour. And you know, so now I’m routinely, you know, evenings, it’s, it’s the thing I most crave and want to do. And it’s because it takes me to that place where I can just hold that feeling of loss. Right. For, for me it’s the loss of productive activity, productive impact in the world. I’m just don don’t have that. I’ve lost it and I’m just being still in it and I’m finding, oh, I can actually tolerate this.
Curtis (41m 27s):
I can actually hold this. And actually I meet God in it in a deeper way than I am when I’m in my furious, you know, sort of pursuit of activity to stave off a, this sense of existential loss. So that’s for me, and I I, and it may not be what everyone is, but again, this is the beauty of The Anxiety Opportunity is if you’re willing to be curious, you’re willing to lean into your anxiety. God, I really believe has for you something that is designed for you of your pathway for growth towards him.
Amy Julia (41m 59s):
Mm. And you do a great job in the book of giving multiple of those pathways. I wanna hone in for just a minute on the contemplative prayer though. Let’s go back to the five minute version. Yeah. People who are thinking, don, don’t know that I could even sustain five minutes. What does that like actually look like? Are you in a room with the lights off, with the door closed? Are you sitting on a yoga mat? Are you lying in your bed? Are like, what’s the posture? What’s going on in your head when you start thinking about the consumer product you could be researching instead? What do you do? Like, will you just kind of walk us through in a much, like, in a very pragmatic sense?
Curtis (42m 37s):
Yeah. So I’m sitting actually, you know, about five feet in this direction from where I’m sitting right now in my, my my, my room, my office, if you will, I will be there by myself. I’ll have a small light on the light. The lamp is lighting an icon of the Trinity rub love’s a famous icon of the Trinity. So it’s just, give me something to look at. It’s not like I have to think great thoughts, Theological thoughts with Trinity, but it’s just something for me to focus on. Yeah. To not focus on the twirling thoughts that may otherwise hijack me. And then I will begin by breathing, I’ll begin by consciously breathing in a very mindful way that is meant to embody the spirit of God present in me.
Curtis (43m 18s):
Because the spirit is very much embodied by breath. The, the pma, it is in the Greek right, is the spirit, which is breath pneumatic, where we get pneumatic from the ear that flows through us. So just like the breath flows through me, I am sort of embodying that the spirit of God is present within me. And so I’m, well begin by just breathing. And then in the contemplative practice, they recommend having a word that you center on that is your word. It could be just something very simple like Jesus, like peace or what, you know. So I have my own word, which I’ll keep private and I will just, you know, then not verbally, but mentally say that word timed with my breath.
Curtis (44m 4s):
So like on the intake, I will be like repeating that word in me. And so all of that is giving me a way just to anchor myself in the present. ’cause I’m breathing, so I’m being very present to my breath. I’m being present to God by rehearsing this word or by looking at the icon. And then I, that’s all I do. And then if I get distracted, which I will, which will happen, I will, yeah. I, I will just observe that I will just, I won’t try to fight it. I won’t redemonstrate myself or scold myself for getting distracted for thinking about, you know, where should we go for dinner tomorrow? Or, oh, I have my report due, you know, tomorrow. Yeah. I’ll just observe it. I’ll just like watch it almost like it’s on my, on a screen.
Curtis (44m 45s):
Like, oh, I’m thinking of this. And, but rather than engaging in it, rather than fighting against it or engaging, I’ll just observe it. Hmm. And then in that process it, it begins to fade. It goes away because it’s just, it’s, it’s not real. It’s just a thought. It’s just a, it’s just, and so it goes away and then I return to the breath and then if another distracting thought comes by, I notice it, let it pass in a non-judgmental fashion. And then before you know it, five minutes have passed. And sometimes it’s, I can subjectively feel peace come to me. I can feel the presence of God sometimes, many, many times, more often than not, don don’t feel anything, don don’t feel anything in particular.
Curtis (45m 27s):
And, but then I’m in that just trusting that my relationship with God is more real than even my subjective experience. And it’s just a way to discipline me from chasing some subjective experience as the end goal here.
Amy Julia (45m 42s):
Hmm. Thank you so much just for taking the time to really spell that out, because I have also found as an uber productive, wants to be useful person contemplative prayer, both a tremendous challenge and a tremendous gift. And I suspect that would be true for many listeners to this podcast. And it’s, you know, obviously quite similar to a practice of meditation. And yet there’s also this assumption that the presence of God is an aspect of what it means to be mindfully present to this moment. And it’s helpful for me. Even I haven’t ever prayed with an icon, well actually that’s not true. I have in my life, but I have not ever regularly done that.
Amy Julia (46m 23s):
And that I think could be a helpful practice for me in terms of the number of those distracting thoughts that come along. Yeah, sure. That might be helpful to have both a kind of return to the breath and return to the image. That’s right. You know, it’s kind of a double returning. That’s right. It seems like it’s helpful. And I will say we are coming to the end of our time, and perhaps that’s a good thing because I don’t wanna give away everything that is in the pages of your book because I would love to encourage listeners to actually purchase it and read it. But there are, I think you do a really wonderful job of giving some, again, kind of tangible ways to bring habits and practices of really addressing anxiety in a way that can re lead to, as you said, like spiritual growth.
Amy Julia (47m 11s):
And I, I was very grateful for that personally, and I’m sure many, many other people will be as well. So thank you so much for your time here today and for writing your book and for the work you do on the Good Faith podcast too.
Curtis (47m 24s):
Thank you so much. It’s been really fun to be here with you. Amy.
Amy Julia (47m 30s):
Thank you as always for listening to this episode of Love is Stronger Than Fear. We, I did wanna just give you a little heads up on what’s coming. We are about to turn our attention to Down Syndrome Awareness Month, and I’m really excited about the guest I have lined up. We will be talking with Robin Patterson, who is the producer of a new Netflix series called Down For Love. You get to learn more about that in weeks ahead. And I’m also gonna be talking with Stephanie Meredith, who is the author of a new study about prenatal testing and the ways that doctors deliver a diagnosis of down Syndrome. And in both of these cases, we’re not just talking about Down for Love and this study, we’re really talking about what it means to have an imagination for a good life, a good life lived in all sorts of different ways, including with Down Syndrome.
Amy Julia (48m 21s):
What else do I have to tell you? All right. If you go over to Amy Julia Becker dot com slash newsletter, you can sign up for my free monthly email. It is full of reflections from me as well as upcoming speaking events books. I’m reading podcasts, I’m listening to other news. I would love for you to be a part of that community so you don’t miss anything that is coming out from me. I would also love to ask you to do a really helpful thing. Could you leave a review on Apple Podcasts on Spotify? Wherever you listen to this podcast, it should only take a couple of minutes and your review will help this content to reach more people. While you’re there, be sure you’re subscribed so you don’t miss any new episodes.
Amy Julia (49m 4s):
They will air every other Tuesday. I always love to hear from you. My email is Amy Julia Becker email@example.com. Finally, I wanna give some thanks to Jake Hanson for editing this podcast to Amber Bii for doing everything else to make sure that it happens. And I wanna thank you for being here, and I want to offer you a word of farewell. With HopeThe, you will carry the peace that comes from believing that love is Stronger Than, Fear.
Learn more with Amy Julia:
- To Be Made Well: An Invitation to Wholeness, Healing, and Hope
- S6 E20 | Strong Like Water with Aundi Kolber
- S6 E16 | Enchantment in an Anxious Age with Katherine May
If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to receive regular updates and news. You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Goodreads, and you can subscribe to my Love Is Stronger Than Fear podcast on your favorite podcast platforms.