‘Introduction’ — In the Midst of Madness Preview, Pt. 1

NOTE: This is an excerpt from my book In the Midst of Madness: A Christian’s Experience with Anxiety and Finding Relief, which is releasing on the iBooks Store on Jan. 12. You can read more about the book here.

Probably my favorite book of all time is Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning.

It’s somewhat unlikely you’ve heard of him. He’s not a big name author in Christian circles these days. But he should be, and here’s why: Manning was as honest about his struggles in Abba’s Child as I’ve ever seen in any book. He writes about how he viewed God as a punisher without grace for many years, and how that view negatively affected his spiritual life. A former Franciscan priest, Manning dove into his personal life, including his alcoholism. In a profile for Christianity Today in 2013, Agnieszka Tennant writes of Manning:

“Manning’s admission of his failings — combined with his ability to make others feel God’s love in spite of their transgressions — is one reason for his popularity among those who have paid more attention to their shame than to God. His message is a liberation of the perpetually guilty, those who grew up in churches that preached a lot of sin but little grace.”

Manning has influenced Christian music artists like Rich Mullins and Michael W. Smith and theologians like Larry Crabb, Max Lucado and Eugene Peterson. They’re names that aren’t as familiar to my generation, but are household in Christian circles in generations past.

Manning’s kind of narrative rarely fits in today’s circle because of its rawness, its honesty. It’s one that doesn’t pretend holiness or perfection, but readily admits and even details flaws and weaknesses, sins and shortcomings. Abba’s Child focuses on the realness and nearness of God’s love, of a Father’s deep love for His child, a child that can come to Him without hesitation and without fear, because it’s a love that never goes away despite any sinful shortcoming.

It’s a narrative that has spoken volumes to me since my first read. And it’s a series of truths that have helped inspired me to write this book about Christianity and anxiety. Not only have I taken inspiration from the style of Manning’s writing — intensely personal, thoroughly spiritual and superbly relatable — but I’ve been inspired by his message, one that is completely Christ’s.

I’ve lived with severe anxiety and depression starting around 2008. I’ve been a Christian the whole time. I accepted Christ in the summer of 2006, and two years into following Jesus, I got super anxious. And I’m not talking about being nervous for a little bit, but serious anxiety, leading to panic attacks and depression and even suicidal thoughts.

I’ve learned a lot along the way and God has given me desire to write about it. I want other people to grow from what I’ve learned through Bible study and life experience, and that’s what this book is all about. I want to help you deal with the anxiety in your life. I want to help you to think right.

So much in our lives can change if we learn to think right. Paul emphasizes the importance of thinking right in Romans 8:5-7.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”

And again in Philippians 4:8.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Setting our mind on the things of the Spirit, on spiritual things, on godly things, on God Himself, is evidence that we’re living by the Spirit, that we’re Christians, that we’re God’s children. And Paul gives us a list of adjectives that describe godly things. That’s how important thinking is.

And that’s what I spent this entire book trying to do. I thought about how I could help you think rightly about your anxiety and hopefully give you some wisdom on how to fight it, how to daily overcome it.

I want to tell you that this book was written specifically for those of you that struggle with anxiety disorders. I had you in my mind when I outlined the book, when I started it, when I was writing the chapters and as I’m writing this introduction.

But I don’t want to exclude those who don’t have diagnosed anxiety disorders. If you have stress or anxiety of any kind, these concepts are true and have continued to help me as my disorder becomes less of an issue. The book will focus primarily on those dealing with high levels of anxiety, but it’s really also for anyone who is a Christian and has stress over certain situations in your life with Christ.

Important note: This is not a medicine or health book where I’m going to tell you how your brain chemistry works and how to fix it. I’m also not going to suggest which medicine to take or even whether to take medicine. That’s a decision for you and a mental health professional. Full transparency: I’ve been taking medicine for my depression for about 18 months as of writing this introduction, and I think it’s been helpful. I think it can be helpful for you if needed. But I do not claim medical or psychiatric expertise. If you have questions about those those things, please speak with a professional.

Here’s another thing: therapy, or going to see a counselor to talk about this, is also incredibly helpful. A lot of the things I’ve learned have come through talking about things with a counselor. So if that’s something you feel like you need, go for it! I highly recommend it.

This book is not a fix-all for all of your anxiety problems. This book is meant to address some spiritual issues at play and try to help you with your spiritual life in conjunction with, if necessary, professional help from counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, whomever. If there are mental or emotional issues that you need professional help with, do not look solely to this book.

It frustrates me when Christians think anxiety is a spiritual issue and can only be fixed by reading your Bible and praying, and I don’t intend for that to be the case. In so many cases, if not all of them, it’s more than that. Finding solutions is often much more than simply doing “spiritual things.”

Most Christian books start off with hitting the overarching concepts first. Then they dive into specifics. Many of the books you’ve read probably work this way. They give you basics, then get down to the nitty-gritty. I’m structuring mine a little differently. I wanted to begin with my story of anxiety, so I’m starting by looking into particular areas where I’ve dealt with anxiety and sharing what I’ve learned about those areas. You’ll learn more about me in those chapters, probably more than you ever wanted to know about the author of a book you’re reading.

After those specifics, I’ll get into broader concepts that are big take-home points as you face anxiety on a daily or near-daily basis.

This book was written with believers in Jesus in mind. If you’re reading this book and you’re not a Christian, please keep reading. I explain in the book why I’m a Christian, why I follow Christ, something you might be wondering about doing. I believe that the ultimate solution to dealing with anxiety is following Jesus and believing in Him. So please, keep reading.

I want you to fall in love with Jesus even more as you read this book. He is the answer for the spiritual problems that drag you away from Him. And I hope that, through my transparency and His glory and goodness, you can find Him and fall deeper and deeper into His loving embrace throughout your struggle with anxiety. That’s my goal. I pray sincerely that you find and you fall.

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Jesus Died Knowing Something About Us We Don’t Like to Think About

Traffic can be terrible. Especially when it’s raining. It’s so easy to get distracted by the rain, by the cars, by the lights, everything. According to the DOT, 17% of vehicle crashes are due to wet pavement and 11% are due to rain. It’s those kind of distractions that can make driving difficult.

In my life, in the traffic jam that my life can be, one of the most distracting things can be the fact that I sin.

I used to hate thinking that I’m a sinner. I couldn’t stand it. I don’t want to be a sinner. But I’ve grown more and more comfortable with it. I’m growing to understand that it’s just a part of who I am, part of my life, a result of the sin nature in me at conception. Like David, “in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5).

There are some days when, everywhere I look, I see sin. Not just in the world, but in me. And it can be really discouraging sometimes. It sucks thinking about it.

But my awesome girlfriend (must give credit where it’s due) told me something this weekend that blew my mind.

Jesus died knowing we would continue to sin. God chose to save us knowing we would continue to disobey Him. We were forgiven of all that sin while our Father in heaven knew we’d never fully be the reflection of Christ we’re called to be.

We’d be foolish to sit here and say we will ever be without sin. I doubt that 1 John 1:8 ever becomes false – “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” I dare you name someone on earth who ever been without sin other than Jesus. To ever think we will go a day on this earth without sinning in someone is a fool’s errand.

Not only did Jesus come to die while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8), He continues to love us while we are still sinners. He continues to give grace upon grace upon grace from an abundant overflow.

See, we don’t stop sinning when we accept Jesus. We try to sin less, yes. But we see our sin even greater, as even more of an offense, even more of an attack on God and His commands. It’s rebellion. But we don’t stop. It’s a fact. Brennan Manning, in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel:

Often I have been asked, “Brennan, how is it possible that you became an alcoholic after you got saved?” It is possible because I got battered and bruised by loneliness and failure, because I got discouraged, uncertain, guilt-ridden, and took my eyes off Jesus. Because the Christ-encounter did not transfigure me into an angel. Because justification through faith means I have been set in right relationship with God, not made the equivalent of a patient etherized on a table.

We get our eyes removed from the cross, from Jesus, and when that happens we lose our foundation and then we fall, just like a house built on sand and not on stone. When we quit focusing on Jesus, we uproot the foundation we have on the Rock of Ages and put it on shaky sand. Our lives are filled with continual foundational uproots, trying to find something that will hold us for the moment.

And Jesus loves us through it all. God saves us knowing that will happen.

Being saved doesn’t make us perfect in our obedience. All it does is make us perfect in our standing before God. And that’s HUGE! That means everything. That means I don’t have to be continually regretful of my sinful decisions, of my sinful actions. It means God looks past it, and will continue to look past it. I, and all believers, can rejoice in that.

In the hectic traffic that is life as a Christian, trying to cope with that fact that most of the time we’re terrible at following Jesus, we can hold onto that truth and keep going straight. Eyes on the road, hands at 10 and 2, trusting those wheels to get us to the end.