BEST OF: How to Turn Your Anxiety Into Healing

Many of us have struggles that we aren’t comfortable sharing with others. These secret sins seem so taboo that if we told anyone, they might stop speaking to us. Often these deep soul wounds manifest as anxiety or anger or other sins that affect our relationships with friends, family and community. So how do we get to the root of these issues? How do we find healing from these sins that constantly seem to trip us up?

Many of us have struggles that we aren’t comfortable sharing with others. These secret sins seem so taboo that if we told anyone, they might stop speaking to us. Often these deep soul wounds manifest as anxiety or anger or other sins that affect our relationships with friends, family and community. So how do we get to the root of these issues? How do we find healing from these sins that constantly seem to trip us up?

Bob Ditmer: Welcome back to another Gary Wilkerson Podcast. We hope you're enjoying these podcasts that we're doing every week, and if you are, we would ask that you would subscribe, rate, review and share them with your friends so that others can enjoy these podcasts as well.

Gary, we're going to be talking about a topic today that I think follows the theme of a lot of things that we talked about here. That is, “How do Christians Navigate Life?” Life throws a lot of stuff at us, doesn't it? Bible tells us a lot about how to get through those problems. I think that's your heart, isn't it, to try to deal with those hurts and problems and fears? 

Gary Wilkerson: It is, that's the reason I wanted to do this with you, Bob. I don't have the opportunity, because I travel so much, to sit down with people on the pastor's couch, so to speak. 40 years of pastoring so many people came in, just seeing the miracles, the power of the gospel, lives transformed, marriages that were hanging by a thread healed. Three years later, I'm dedicating their baby, happily married. The mom who's in my office, and she's weeping because her teenage son is on drugs and run away from home, she doesn't know where he is, she can't sleep at night. There's two resolves to that.

One is that, we hear the stories of the prodigal son come home, and that's rejoicing. Other times the son doesn't come home, but the mother begins to learn to trust God. Again, the pastor's office, there is this place of healing and grace. It was my hope to take these issues of people that are hurting and with addictions and need healing in life. Put it in a context where we try to be honest about it, because I think so many people that experience their Christian faith in the realm of the superficial, of the happy-go-to-church-smiling, “How are you?” “I'm fine,” kind of faith you would never dare talk about, “I looked at pornography last night,” or “I almost slapped my son, my daughter.” We would never talk about those things sometimes in church.

Since we don't bring them to the light, they never get healed. I'm hoping we continue to speak, we have in the past, I think it'd be will behoove us to continue to speak to issues that maybe are deep and penetrating that maybe people go like, "I don't know, if I want to hear about," every time we have a podcast is about anxiety, or stress or fear, or how to deal with depression or addictions. When my son was on here, we talked about his addiction. These are hard issues, but I think they're so important.

I pray that, we as Christians, get beyond always happy, peppy, bursting with songs. That is where we were meant to live, but to get there, sometimes-- you don't get the through denial, you get there through facing the crisis of life, the hardship of life, the suffering of life, the pain of life. Once you do, you come out of that with a maturity that you would not have. That's the whole purpose. Why does God allow pain, the suffering our life? It is to grow us, it's to mature us, so without that-- That was a long answer to a very simple introduction there.

Bob: I like the answer. Nicky Cruz said when he was on with us, “We should be the Holy Ghost Hospital,” what the church ought to be, right?

Gary: Right.

Bob: I guess for those who may not be in the church are afraid to go to the church because of some of these issues. Maybe they're getting some instruction from you-- from these podcasts. I certainly hope so.

Well, the topic we're going to talk about today, we talked about before, but it's one that is so important, I think we're going to bring it up again. This one you probably often heard when you were a pastor, and that was, “Christians dealing with fear, anxiety, and stress and how do we get through it?” I don't know who said this, but somebody had this quote, "Worry is like a good rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it doesn't get you anywhere.” (Erma Bombeck) 

Gary: [laughs] 

Bob: I think that's probably true. We all sit there and rock all day long and worry about our fears and our anxieties. We've talked about this before and about the issue is an issue of faith. That's an issue of not understanding ourselves in God. Another one, isn't it truly-- we're focused too much on ourselves. If we have a lot of these anxieties and fears, although they may be well-positioned, we just think too much about ourselves. Is that true, do you think? 

Gary: Thinking too much of ourselves in the wrong way is unhealthy, being self-absorbed, selfish is totally going to lead us in the wrong direction, to think of ourselves in terms of every day, “How am I doing?” I think of myself every day a lot, but I don't think of myself as selfish. What I think about is, what do I value in life. 

My values have shifted, as I've grown. I used to value success and fame and fortune and notoriety, and financial success and all these things being well known as a minister. Those were my values. Every morning I wake up and I make a decision based on that. My values have changed now is like I want some of the simple things that the Bible talks about to be a man who loves well, and receives love well, has grace, has generosity, freedom, contentment, and those aren't selfish, because those are the power tools that make ministry life-giving to other successful. 

Success doesn't come when I'm striving to be famous and make a name for myself. Matter of fact, the opposite happens, I don't have anything to give, it's selfishness. Self, in its best context, we said this before, agape yourself, love yourself as the way you love your neighbor, love yourself, and that word is agape. I don't think that’s selfish to wake up every morning, spend some time in your devotional life, not only worshiping or asking for things but taking a moment to say, "Okay, what do I value? I value love. Yesterday, how did I love? Okay, I said that to this person, and I neglected that. That wasn't love, so Lord cleanse that part of me, give me new strength." 

That question really depends on the energy behind what is taking place in the self. If it's an energy, it says, "This self that I have, the true me that God created is important and valuable to God and valuable to others. I belong in a community and so I want to be the best self I can be. Not just so I can be happy and financially secure or whatever, but so that I have something to give to others. That type of self is really important whereas the other type is just being self-absorbed. 

Bob: Thinking of myself and I'm having anxiety over it, it may be because I didn't offer what I thought I should offer. I have nothing to give, but it's because I want to prop myself up in many ways. They go real closely hand in hand, don't they? [crosstalk] -separate one from the other. 

Gary: Yes. When you're examining yourself and you're full of anxiety, that's a signal that something's off, but it's not necessarily-- sometimes we think, "Oh Lord, I'm so sorry, I'm anxious." There can be sin in anxiety because it's a lack of trust, but also can be a signal. A lot of our emotions that we label as sinful are actually gifts that, in the right context, not to get stuck in anxiety. When I'm anxious, it's like a gift of a signal that, “Wait a minute, something wrong, maybe I'm anxious, maybe there's stress because I made a decision based on needing to be popular. Now I have to go jump through all these hoops to get there. There's a lot of stress in my life that doesn't need to be there.” 

Whereas the opposite of that would be knowing who you are in Christ. Again, it's like this looking at yourself through the right lens, taking some time to understand, "Okay, why am I anxious now? Oh, okay, you're actually helping me, Lord, by letting my body feel that anxiousness because it's showing I'm misdirecting my life. Now I want to go back to my values." 

“This morning, I woke up,” I said, “I value love, I value grace, I value contentment, I value peace and now I'm anxious, I don't have peace. The values that you put in my heart, the biblical values that you have for me, are not being realized in my life. The Bible's over here, and I'm over here, I've got to align those two things together. The anxiety draws me back, the stress draws me back that, even anger draws me back.”

If you're driving down the road, somebody cuts in front of you, and you honk and yell and scream, it's like, "Okay, well, my value of peace, I'm going to let that guy rob me of my higher value to live a life of peace. That anger showed me, okay, I'm off value now.” To return to the Lord, the scripture says, the return of the Lord is not just your backsliding and now you've got to come to the altar and pray and get saved again. Returning to the Lord is often returning to the core values that he's put in our life.

Bob: You mentioned one word a couple of times. Since we've been talking about that, and it's contentment, and I guess that's the other side of the coin, isn't it? If I'm not content, I will be anxious, I will be stressful, I'll be fearful. How do we become content even if we don't have the things that we want? 

Gary: Well, the question is that what makes you content? Your values again, drive your contentment. If my values are fames, fortunate, success, to be adored and applauded, then I'll only be content when I get that. The problem with that is you're totally dependent on outside validation. It's like if you like me, then I'll feel good about myself, then I can’t be content. I have to try to please you, I have to appease you. I have to be somebody else. I have to figure out what, who is Bob like, what kind of guy does he like.” He likes real serious smart guys. "Bob, did you know how smart I am." You're not yourself. You'll never be content. You'll ever be peaceful. You'll never accept yourself. You'll always feel shame and guilt and striving. Contentment is born out of understanding biblical values. 

Wanting those biblical values and then asking for the grace to live in those biblical values. When you see yourself aligned to those things, they go, “Okay. That's contentment.” It's not when I make a million dollars. If my value is to love my wife well, well that's more within my control to get my wife to love me, is not within my control. It goes back to that-- I'm sure a lot of listeners aren’t AA type people 12 steps. The Serenity Prayer. I think is a really important when I believe is attributed to Saint Francis to accept the things I cannot change and to change the things I can. A lot of us are trying to change the things we can't change. Again, getting fame, fortune, success, value through applause. You can't change that. If you live for that, you're going to make wrong decisions and your life is going to be-- No way you're going to find contentment, you're always going to be striving for something. 

On the other hand, if you have the value of loving, I can control that. I can't control my wife whether she loves me or not, although I'm thankful that she does after 41 years of marriage. It's more-- give me the grace to surrender to you, the things that are out of my control and surrender to you also the things that are in my control so that I have the power to do those and that brings the peace. 

Again, as I said not to repeat myself, but then anytime you feel those other emotions that are classified as negative emotions, you see those as signals. Again, strangely maybe even as a little bit of a gift because it's like, "Okay. It's a discipline you're showing me." You maybe-- you have created my human nature in such a way as when I get anxious, it's a signal that something is off in the things that I truly value or that I should value because sometimes we don't even know what to value. That's a whole another program itself. 

Bob: That was going to be the next question. We've got people listening and watching you're saying, "You just identified my values. They're way off track. How do I reform my values? How do I go about doing that?" 

Gary: My values were off when my soul was off. If my soul was empty and feeling worthless, it's too painful to say. All I want to live for is peace and joy and contentment and generosity and loving others deeply because I don't believe that's going to give me success and fame and fortune. Those are too moderate or just average. 

The empty heart is always driven to be spectacular, to be super incredible, to be above the crowd whereas I think the kingdom mentality is like, "I'm thankful that I'm breathing." There's joy in my heart and forgiven my sins. They seem to be unspectacular if that's even a word. These are very temptations that Jesus face from say-- remember, "Throw yourself off the top of the thing. That's spectacular make stones into bread. You're going to get people from all over the world come to see you do that." The temptation of Jesus was maybe you're not enough Jesus and so do these things to prove yourself. That's the temptation that throws your values off if you start with that. I call it the core wound. 

Most people haven't even identified what their core wound is. My wife and I we pray over this regularly. Her core wound is, "I fear I don't have a voice." Sometimes she says something and somebody doesn't respond to her. That hits that core wound again, or me even, "You're not listening to me." She realizes that that core wound is going to create the wrong values: “I need to be heard. I demand to be heard.” If she gets that core wound healed and she goes like, "I have a voice. Jesus gave me a voice." Then she's able to just speak and it doesn't matter whether people respond positively or not. My core wound was, "I don't feel like I'm ever enough. No matter what I do, it's just not enough." Out of that core wound what am I going to do? I got to throw myself off the pinnacle. I got to change the stones into bread. I got to do something to be…  

Since I feel like I'm below average, I have to prove I'm above average. I can never just be average. I used to think average is the worst thing you could be because that would confirm my deepest suspicions of my core wound. Now I'm saying like, "Hey, to be average is nice." It's like, I wake up in the morning, I don’t want to prove anything. I don't have to thrill the world. I don't have to have the best sermon because it's awful, no matter how many times you preach and no matter how many people's lives you touch that and you leave the pulpit feeling like, "I'm such a failure. That was a terrible sermon." That's no way to live. That's the stress. That's the anxiety. That's the fear of not being enough. 

My values changed only when my heart changed and I went like, "Jesus, you're teaching me. I want to believe this now about myself that you have given me value. You have given me belonging. You have given me love. Now I'm not striving for it. I can change my values now is to be gracious to others and to be kind to others and to be content and peaceful." 

Bob: "Stop striving and know that I'm God." In other words. Right? 

Gary: That’s right. He's in control. He's not just in control of hurricanes and wars. He's control of the internal things that he cares about in our life. 

Bob: Do you recommend people pray to know what that core hurt is?

Gary: Yes. I recommend pray. I recommend a community, have somebody that you can honestly talk to. I think men particularly have a hard time with this. I ask this whenever I travel around the world I said, "Put up your hand and shows, name five friends just did this last week." Three fourths of the pastors in the room couldn't do it. You just see the look of almost like terror on their face, like it hit them like, "I'm ministering to thousands, but I don't even have a few friends that I can talk to about that."

Then, again, it's a process of rather than being very superficial as a Christian and in denial it's actually face to pain to say, "Hey there is something inside of me." You don't have to go back to your childhood and say, "My mom did this. My dad did this." You can actually look at it today. Again, we'll use that experience of you're in the car, you're driving somebody cuts in front of you and this rage and this anger comes. You can deal with your own heart issues saying like, "Okay. I always get angry when people cut me off on the road." Where does that come from and so that you can examine it not by having to go back to your childhood, like a psychiatrist might do. You can do it in the daily events. 

I think that's what Jesus does is he takes you today and says, "Okay. You just--" For me, as an example, when I was in my late 20s and early 30s, I was struggling with pornography. This lust would stir up in my heart and it's like, "Okay. How do I stop that?" It's like bootstrap and just say, "I'm not going to look," or just that repetitive repentance and stuff. It wasn’t until I realized, I have to deal with this. Not just on the superficial level of promising, I'll never do it again, but I had to get healed on the inside. Again, it goes back to the core wound. If you feel like you're never enough, then you need some kind of external stimulation, “Ah, that felt good!” 

Sin is born out of the core pain and the core choices we make because of that pain. I'm not saying that sin has an excuse like, "Oh, you poor soul. You looked at pornography because you're a victim." I'm not saying that. You are responsible for your sin. I was responsible for my sin. I was a sinner in doing that. It was two things. I had to deal with the fruit that I saw which was the sin. I had to deal with the root as well as the healing. I think our churches are very well versed at dealing with the sin and the fruit, but very poorly schooled and able to deal with the root of it which is the need for healing of the soul.  

Again, the pornography issue would be the healing of the masculine soul that you don't have to look outside to get love and validation. It's already in you. Then you don't need that then. For me, the pornography died off when I felt like, "Okay. I don't need some stirring like that because I'm already stirred because of the deeper love that I have now." That does it. It's taking a look at the pain, it's taking a look at the struggle you have and going much deeper than the superficial saying like, "I'll never do that again." 

Bob: I know it's hard for a lot of Christians to go in to their church and talk about these issues. What do you suggest they do if they're in a church where they just don't feel they can? What do you recommend? 

Gary: I would recommend finding just a handful of trusted comrades, some friends, that you can be honest with. You'll know it when you start a conversation. I've got a few friends like that outside of the context of even a small group that you might join in the church that's usually not the place for fullest disclosure. If you have a group of two or three friends and those should be people that you are intentional about. You actually have a conversation with them saying, "I choose to come into a relationship with you that is going to-- If you're willing, we're going to go beyond surface. I'm going to tell you some things about me that might cause you to reject me or cause you to fear me or cause you to view me in poor light but I want to risk that because I need somebody like that in my life and see— 

Normally, they don't reject you or hate you or look bad about you, it opens up their heart, they go like, “You struggle with that too? Man, so do me. I've never talked to anybody about that.” I had a guy in my office other the day and he's probably 70's and we started talking and I mentioned something about an experience he had, when he was in his 20's, a veteran and a war experience he had and he started talking. 

He started telling me this. “I've never told anybody that,” tears rolling down his face. In his 70's, it's like 50 years later. He never told anyone. I just I realized that it's like few of us have safe places. He'd been in church his whole life but didn't have a safe place so finding somebody-- You won't find somebody until you're willing to be honest though and you're not going be willing to honest if you are believing you're not worth it, you're not valuable, you don't belong. 

It's too risky. 

If you already feel you don't belong and then I come to-- say, I come to you, I'm coming to you, Bob, I don't feel like-- I won't say that, but I'm coming to you with an internal sense of, I don't belong and then I'm going to come to say to you something that might make me not belong to you, again, then that's too risky. There's too much pain. If I come to you saying like, whether Bob receives me or rejects me, I know I belong. I'm a child of God. I know who I am, I have value, I have worth. Therefore, I can risk true community going beyond the surface. That's where true healing comes from. 

It's a catch-22 though because to really-- the sense of not belonging may be the very thing you need to talk to, so there's risk involved in as well. I'm not saying you have to be totally healed before you can build community because you need that community, but I would not risk it in, I wouldn't stand up on a Sunday morning say, during testimony time like, “Hey, I'm dealing with pornography,” but I would find those trusted friends. 

Key Questions from the Podcast

  • How should Christians deal with fear, anxiety and stress?
  • Is it a sin to be anxious?
  • How can we learn to be content?
  • If our discontentment is coming from misaligned values, how can we get them back on track?
  • If someone doesn’t feel they can be truly vulnerable in church, where can they find healing for the deep issues of the soul?

Notable Quotes from the Podcast

I pray that we, as Christians, get beyond always happy, peppy, bursting with songs. That is where we were meant to live, but you don't get there through denial. You get there through facing the crisis, hardship, suffering, and pain of life. Once you do, you come out of that with a maturity that you would not have otherwise. – Gary Wilkerson

Worry is like a good rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it doesn't get you anywhere. - Erma Bombeck

When you're examining yourself and you're full of anxiety, that's a signal that something is off. We think, "Oh Lord, I'm so sorry. I'm anxious." There can be sin in anxiety because it's a lack of trust, but it also can be a signal. A lot of our emotions that we label as sinful are actually gifts. – Gary Wilkerson

Contentment is born out of understanding biblical values, wanting those biblical values, and then asking for the grace to live in those biblical values.  – Gary Wilkerson

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference. - Reinhold Niebuhr

Sin is born out of a core pain and the poor choices we make because of that pain. I'm not saying that sin has an excuse. You are responsible for your sin. We have to deal with the fruit that we see, which is the sin. And we have to deal with the root as well, the healing. Our churches are very well versed at dealing with the sin and the fruit, but very poorly schooled and able to deal with the root of it, which is the need for healing of the soul. – Gary Wilkerson

Resources Mentioned in the Podcast

About Gary Wilkerson

Gary Wilkerson is the President of World Challenge, an international mission organization that was founded by his father, David Wilkerson. He is also the Founding Pastor of The Springs Church, which he launched in 2009 with a handful of people. He has traveled nationally and internationally at conferences and conducted mission ventures such as church planting, starting orphanages, clinics, feeding programs among the poorest of the poor and the most unreached people of the earth. Gary and his wife Kelly have four children and live in Colorado Springs, CO.