Jessica (not her real name) was an exceedingly anxious person, and it was becoming costly. She didn’t sleep, her stomach was in constant knots, she became agitated and irritated easily, and she was becoming more and more isolated. Anxiety was destroying her life. That’s when she called me to ask for help. I tried to give her some simple counsel and encouragement, but I didn’t know that she was also hiding serious sin. The longer we talked and the more she shared about her lifestyle the more aware I became that her anxiety was directly tied to her guilt. Disobedience to God brings guilt and chaos which lend themselves to the cultivation of worry.
Not all worry is created equal. Not all worry arises from the same causes. Some worry can arise from biology, other can arise from situational stressors and pressure, others can arise from outright attempts to be God. Some, however, arises because of our own guilt. Morality and worry can be tied together. Timothy Witmer raises this association helpfully in his book Mindscape. Witmer speaks of a confused or bent morality as a doorway to worry, noting that what we think about right and wrong can impact our level of confidence and security. He says that there are “at least two ways that being confused about what is right and not having a true moral north will bring fear and anxiety into your life” (77). The first of those “ways” is guilt associated with violating our God-given conscience, and the second way is the chaotic fallout of living adrift of “true moral north.”
Jessica had been living in rebellion and sin. She was harboring, in her heart, a series of sinful demands, desires, and lusts that she needed to repent of, yet she was unwilling to do that. Her anxiety was building because she was feeling the weight of her guilt before God. She knew, as a believer, that what she was doing and wanting were wrong and that knowledge was convicting her and highlighting her guilt. So, Witmer says:
We all have a sense of right and wrong, even if it is imperfect. So when we drift away from the true moral north, guilt comes with it. An uneasy sense that something is wrong. We might try to talk ourselves out of it, but the sense that things are not right stays with us as a cloud over our minds.
She was guilty of sin and stood under God’s judgment because of it. Not eternal damnation, since she was a believer, but a level of judgment was there nonetheless. She was also fearful of being exposed. Trying to hide your sin will always move you to the edge of anxiety. You will live with a constant fear of being “found out,” of losing your reputation, relationships, or roles. Real guilt can cause anxiety. Repentance is the needed solution.
Other times anxiety arises because of the chaotic fallout from our sin. When we live apart from God’s design and plan life eventually becomes unmanageable. Sin doesn’t work, not long-term. It has serious consequences. Maybe it only impacts our emotional or psychological state, or maybe it only impacts our relationships or social contexts, or maybe it only impacts our daily functions, but it impacts us someway. Eventually sinful consequences catch up with us. We are, then, forced to live with brokenness at another level and that can make us anxious. So, Witmer says:
Without a true moral compass, chaos does happen in our lives. When we fail to love God and others – the consequences are broken relationships and bad choices that have bad consequences – we have all seen and probably experienced those. The anxiety and fear that accompany those bad choices can be overwhelming. (77-78)
Living with brokenness is anxiety producing. The chaotic fallout of sin will eventually lead us to worry.
The reality is that worry can be tied to morality. Not all worry is that way, obviously, but some can be that way. I’ve known plenty of people whose anxiety came from their own guilt. I’ve known it in my own life. The solution to such anxiety is not medication, nor therapy, nor boundary setting. The solution is not dietary, coaching, or breathing techniques. In such cases where anxiety is the result of living in rebellion to God there is only one solution: repentance.
If you’re an anxious person evaluate your own heart and life. Ask yourself a series of questions:
- When does my anxiety flare up the most?
- Do I have any secretes that if they were revealed would “destroy” me?
- In moments of honesty do I ever admit that I am living in ways that are inconsistent with God’s desires for me?
- Are there certain topics that I am completely unwilling to discuss with regard to my own life and desires?
- Am I anxious when people get too close to specific sins, desires, or choices?
If your anxiety is tied to morality you don’t have to stay locked up in your worries. There is freedom in repentance. Worry can be tied to my morality. Repenting can lead to peace, and godly living can help sustain that peace. As the prophet Isaiah has said:
And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. (32:17)
Repent and find relief for your anxious soul.