“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”
When I first read those words from the existential philosopher Soren Kierkegaard my heart literally leapt out of my chest. Finally a statement that resonated a lot with what I had been feeling. Most of my struggles with anxiety appeared when I experienced freedom.
The freedom to choose who I would marry.
The freedom to choose a vocation.
The freedom to choose where to live.
Who we marry, what kind of work we pursue, and where we live are huge decisions that stir anxiety in all of us. But those aren’t the only options in life where we have the freedom to choose. Every day life is full of freedom and that can cause quite a bit of anxiety.
In my book The Anxious Christian I write the following:
“For Kierkegaard, anxiety always increases with the more possibilities we have. Who hasn’t experienced that anxiety when faced with a multitude of choices to make? As we move into anxiety it is healthy to be anxious about the unknowns, to have doubts, and to experience the struggle of life’s transitions. This is a normal, healthy anxiety. It is when we don’t deal with that normal, healthy anxiety and choose to avoid or bury it that it begins to do something insidious in our lives.
We find ourselves stuck and we develop the inability to even start something, let alone follow through. For Kierkegaard, healthy anxiety tells us, ‘I can.’ In that belief of ‘I can’ you have the choice to say, ‘I did it,’ which is normal, healthy anxiety. The other option is to say ‘I can’t’ or ‘I won’t,’ which is a sign that we have fallen to a neurotic, unhealthy anxiety.” (The Anxious Christian, pp. 87-88).
At various points in our lives you and I have to face the freedom we have and make choices. If we don’t, we simply let life happen to us. We let life pass us by. Part of reimagining our anxiety is to look at anxiety as an opportunity to grow because we have been given the freedom to make choices for our life. When we forfeit our freedom…then we forfeit our choices…and we forfeit an opportunity to grow. We have failed to capitalize on the anxiety that God has possibly given us so that we may grow and not become stuck.
I can look back over my life and see that when my anxiety was most high, was also when God was at work to change my life. And when I faced my anxiety, God helped me reimagine it in a life-giving way.
If I didn’t face my anxiety as a stutterer after the death of my mom, I wouldn’t be out speaking and teaching as must as I do. God helped me see that my anxiety was an opportunity to grow if I was willing to face it.
So what are you most anxious about right now?
Is it possible that God wants you to enter into that anxiety in order that you may grow?
This post is the fifth in a continuing series on the topic of transforming your anxiety. If you would like more help in learning to use your anxiety for good, check out my book The Anxious Christian, and work through the questions, exercises and prayer located at the end of each chapter. This can be a powerful experience alone, or in a small group.