The subtitle of Rhett Smith’s book The Anxious Christian is either a very silly rhetorical question or designed to feed the anxieties of the target audience. “Can God use your anxiety for good?” Well, of course He can. God’s ability in that regard has never really been in question. If you’re one of Smith’s anxious Christians, though, maybe your anxiety about God’s ability will drive you to buy the book.
Smith uses the early chapters of the book to recount his own struggle with anxiety as a young man. The loss of his mother and several other close relatives at an early age drove him to compulsive behaviors in an attempt to bring some control to his anxious, insecure life. Smith then explores the lessons he has learned from seeing God’s work in his life.
Christians who don’t wrestle with anxiety on a regular basis may immediately point to Phillippians 4 where Paul instructs us to “be anxious for nothing”. Smith addresses this directly in the first chapter, saying that while the instruction is “powerful” and is often counseled by those who “mean well”, we can inadvertently communicate the wrong message.
When we discourage others from safely expressing their anxiety, then we are essentially saying to them that anxiety is a bad emotion, and that it is something to be done away with. It communicates to them that perhaps something is wrong with their Christian faith…
Kierkegaard referred to anxiety as our “best teacher” because of its ability to keep us in a struggle that strives for a solution, rather than opting to forfeit the struggle and slide into a possible depression.
There, in a nutshell, is what Smith is going to come back to in nearly every chapter of the book: to recognize that God is continuously at work in us, and that our anxiety can be useful if it drives us forward to continued struggle and action. He says that God “uses [your anxiety] to awaken you and help turn you toward Him.” In chapter four he goes further to say that “God wants you to pay attention to it [anxiety]. He wants you to listen to it. For in your anxiety God is speaking to you and He is encouraging you to not stay content with where you are.”
In the last few chapters, Smith puts his experience as a marriage and family therapist to good use as he provides some practical suggestions for working in areas that often cause anxiety; he discusses setting good personal boundaries, refining personal relationships, and asking for help.
With a topic like this, an author runs the risk of playing the victim card, but Smith handles it deftly. As one who has struggled with anxiety at various times in my adult life, I appreciated the reminder that God is at work in my life. While I know it to be true, Smith’s book was a welcome kick-in-the-pants reminder.
Note: Moody Press provided me a free copy of this book asking only that I give it a fair review.