Beyond our fears

Spiritual practices address an epidemic of anxiety

Jun 18, 2018 by

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Anxiety affects nearly one-third of the U.S. population, making it the most common mental-health disorder. Youth particularly feel its crushing weight. Record numbers of college students are seeking treatment for depression and anxiety. Among teen­agers, anxiety has overtaken depression as the most common reason to seek counseling.

There’s a growing sense that social media fuels the anxiety epidemic. Relentless comparisons with peers magnify feelings of inadequacy. Constant exposure to others’ apparent happiness builds impossible expectations. A generation raised on smartphones feels that nothing they do will ever be good enough.

Debilitating anxiety dwarfs everyday unease. We all worry, but this is fear. And fear can be a spiritual problem.

In Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, Benjamin Corey calls fear the chief barrier to the Christian mission. He reasons: Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to love God and love others. The opposite of love, Corey suggests, is not hate but fear. Fear can destroy our capacity to love.

How exactly does fear prevent love? How can we cast out fear? In a new book from Herald Press, Soul Force: Seven Pivots Toward Courage, Community and Change, authors Reesheda Graham-Washington and Shawn Casselberry identify self-centeredness as a root of the problem. Fear, they say, makes us serve — and preserve — ourselves. We are afraid of what we might lose: possessions, money, political power, status, security. Whatever makes us self-centered prevents loving relationships with others.

“We have to be willing to pivot from self-centeredness to solidarity,” Graham-Washington and Casselberry write. “Solidarity is the movement from I to we.” Our culture pushes us toward “isolation, obsession and individualism.” Only as we marshal the “soul force” within us can we create a culture of solidarity that frees us from fearful self-centeredness.

“Soul force is where the Spirit of God and our human resilience meet,” the authors say. “Soul force is an awakening to the realization that we have a creative force within us, because we all bear the divine imprint of the Creator.”

While offering faith-based solutions for personal and social change, Graham-Washington and Casselberry avoid the deceptively simple answer to “have more faith.” Faith won’t cure mental illness or erase the scars of abuse. People who endure those circumstances may in fact be among the most faith-filled of all. But for others, “have more faith” may be exactly what we need to hear. If we struggle with self-centeredness — or with self-doubt that stifles productive risk-taking and hinders life-giving relationships — leaning on the power of God to fill us with courage for ourselves and love for others could be exactly the right prescription.

Graham-Washington and Casselberry emphasize that we already possess God-given soul force. They cite Jesus’ words to his disciples: “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). God’s power and love was transforming them from the inside out.

What are we afraid of? What are we anxious about? Overcoming our fears begins with naming them and recognizing the lies they tell. The truth is, God has made us good enough.

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