We Live in an Anxious World

Winfred Neely
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After forty years of marriage, thirty-one years of full-time Christian ministry, and six decades of living, one of my big takeaways is that we live in a worry-filled and anxiety-driven world. Every day it seems new anxiety-creating circumstances intrude on our lives.

Large, Ever-Present Threats

In the twenty-first century, these threats seem larger, more frequent, and more menacing. Terrorism, economic uncertainty, the recent resurgence of racial unrest, the murder of respected police officers in the line of duty, the murder of unarmed civilians by rogue cops, the breakdown of trust between law enforcement and the citizenry, senseless gun violence, the danger some children face as they walk to and from school, mass shootings of innocent people, the moral and spiritual crisis of the Western world, and the erosion and blatant rejection of traditional values—all of these realities generate worry in many of us. Gary Collins puts it this way:

Chaotic overscheduling, worry over tests, the disappearance of family routines or stability, endless exposure to disturbing information, lack of close connections, constant change, insecurity, information overload, pressures from peers, and the fading of clear moral guidelines all combine to raise anxiety levels in young people. . . . Constant reminders about the ongoing activity of terrorists around the world have heightened our insecurities and led to what has been called “the new anxiety.”[1]

See Something, Say Something

In 2012, a man dressed in tactical clothing opened fire inside a movie theater in Colorado. Since then, a number of shootings have occurred inside theaters, producing a dark cloud of anxiety on what was once considered a worry-free pastime.

“When a raging sea of anxiety rises up in our souls, how do we keep ourselves from drowning?”

My wife and I are avid moviegoers, and we recently went to see a newly released blockbuster. As the lights dimmed, and I prepared to listen to the instruction from the big screen about how cellphone usage during the film spoils the experience for others, I heard this new, troubling warning: “Let’s talk safety. If you see any strange people or strange activity, let someone from our staff know.” I settled into my seat in the theater, but I paid close attention to people when they left or came in.

Since September 11, 2001, bold signs hang on the walls of trains that read: “If you see something, say something.” The exhortation itself heightens our sense that danger may be lurking in the shadows. In a world where terrorist attacks are a reality, the signage on train walls can generate a new low-grade anxiety.

We live in a world of global communications with a never-ending, 24/7 news cycle. We watched in real time as the terrorist attacks in Paris unfolded. We have repeatedly watched the news in horror as ISIS fanatics behead their captives. It is not an overstatement to say that our entire planet is worried.

Even church sanctuaries are not necessarily safe havens. The church bombing in Birmingham in 1963 showed that not even churches are off limits. And more recent events like the shooting that occurred in a Charleston church’s prayer meeting and threats against pastors who preach the gospel have raised new concerns about security during church services.

Mass shootings in schools, universities, theaters, and churches have demolished our naïve assumptions about the safety and security of these places. Respect and honor resulting in sensible behavior is no longer a given in these traditional havens of rest. The twenty-first century is a new, high-tech world full of anxiety and worry, yet our old anxieties have not left us.

Anxieties for Everyone

You may be a part of the sandwich generation, with children at home on the one hand and aging parents for whom you are responsible on the other. You never dreamed life would be this hard and demanding. You are worried about your capacity to continue at this pace.

You may be a mother with a tendency to worry. Perhaps you have a son or a daughter who is struggling, or maybe your new baby is ill. You may even feel guilty because you are so utterly helpless in the face of your child’s overwhelming need. You are worried, preoccupied with the pressures of life, feeling like you are all alone.

“Our struggle with worry is a part of the human condition.”

You may be a grandparent, enjoying your golden years, when out of the blue, and for reasons beyond your control, you find yourself caring for your grandchildren. You love these kids, but you are tired all the time. You worry that you have to bear these burdens alone.

Your spouse may be a police officer. You have a good marriage, and although the safety of police officers has always been a concern, it is a major concern today. And, if you are honest, you are no longer just a concerned husband or wife; you are downright worried.

You may be single, and while there isn’t anything wrong with singleness, you want to get married one day, have a life partner, someone you can grow old with. You have laid out your biblical criteria for a spouse in the presence of God, but weeks, months, and years have gone by, and you are still single. And the desire to be married is no longer simply a concern but a preoccupation.

The Theological, Existential, and Practical Question

Even though worry has taken on new forms and descended with a vengeance on former havens of tranquility, it is a problem as old as the ancient text of Scripture. Our struggle with worry is a part of the human condition. Anxiety can reside in virtually every nook and cranny of human experience. Its causes are myriad, and it is no respecter of persons or circumstances. And Christians are not exempt!

In light of such a reality, the theological, existential, and practical questions that we as Christians must address are: How do we overcome anxiety in a worry-filled world? How do we obtain victory over worry in situations that are charged with anxiety? When a raging sea of anxiety rises up in our souls, how do we keep ourselves from drowning?

May we all embrace heaven’s answer.

[1] Gary R. Collins, Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 140.

For Further Reading:

How to Overcome Worry

by Dr. Winfred Neely

Do you struggle with worry or anxious thoughts on a regular basis? Does your mind get fixated on the same concern over and over? Do you know...

book cover for How to Overcome Worry