- on September 9, 2015
Do Churches Try and Protect Their Congregants from Anxiety?
A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine shared an article with me on my Facebook profile called, How to Land Your Kid in Therapy.
It is a fascinating read for sure, and well worth your time.
But I was especially taken by this passage:
Paul Bohn, a psychiatrist at UCLA who came to speak at my clinic, says the answer may be yes. Based on what he sees in his practice, Bohn believes many parents will do anything to avoid having their kids experience even mild discomfort, anxiety, or disappointment—“anything less than pleasant,” as he puts it—with the result that when, as adults, they experience the normal frustrations of life, they think something must be terribly wrong.
Consider a toddler who’s running in the park and trips on a rock, Bohn says. Some parents swoop in immediately, pick up the toddler, and comfort her in that moment of shock, before she even starts crying. But, Bohn explains, this actually prevents her from feeling secure—not just on the playground, but in life. If you don’t let her experience that momentary confusion, give her the space to figure out what just happened (Oh, I tripped), and then briefly let her grapple with the frustration of having fallen and perhaps even try to pick herself up, she has no idea what discomfort feels like, and will have no framework for how to recover when she feels discomfort later in life. These toddlers become the college kids who text their parents with an SOS if the slightest thing goes wrong, instead of attempting to figure out how to deal with it themselves. If, on the other hand, the child trips on the rock, and the parents let her try to reorient for a second before going over to comfort her, the child learns: That was scary for a second, but I’m okay now. If something unpleasant happens, I can get through it. In many cases, Bohn says, the child recovers fine on her own—but parents never learn this, because they’re too busy protecting their kid when she doesn’t need protection.
I think that we often do the same thing in the church as well.
Take this quote:
“parents will do anything to avoid having their kids experience even mild discomfort, anxiety, or disappointment—“anything less than pleasant,” as he puts it—with the result that when, as adults, they experience the normal frustrations of life, they think something must be terribly wrong.”
And re-write it like this:
“churches will do anything to avoid having their congregants experience even mild discomfort, anxiety, or disappointment-‘anything less than pleasant.'”
I just see too often instances where pastors will swoop in and try and rescue a congregant from having anxiety as they wrestle with scripture or with God. They somehow believe that any anxiety is wrong and the person should have a solid certainty about God’s truth. So much for the dark night of the soul.
Or a youth pastor tries to keep a youth kid from asking too many tough questions that promote some anxiety in the group, and uncomfort with the youth pastor themself.
Or a worship planning meeting will spend endless hours managing every detail of a service so that nothing unplanned happens, or no mistakes are made. Sometimes I wonder if they are just trying to stave off any anxiety that may arise during the service in congregants or themselves if something were to not go off as perfect.
Much of church life is geared around trying to protect people from the frustrations of life and from experiencing any discomfort during church or their spiritual lives.
I say this from experience in my own work as a pastor for many years, and from what is conveyed to me by clients who come in for counseling.
But if anxiety is unpermitted in the church pew, then where else can they go to freely express it than the counseling office?