As the world struggles with the impact of COVID-19, anxiety is clearly on the rise. Anxiety is fear, either of something real or imagined, and for many people it is debilitating. Those in grief understand anxiety and many suffer at a much higher rate than other people. The anxiety I experienced in watching my six-year-old die from cancer, the fear of life without him, was intense.
As with many things in grief, anxiety is a paradox. While the loss of my youngest made me more fearful for the life of my other children, it also created less anxiety in other areas of my life. Long before my youngest became ill I would talk with my co-workers about not fearing mistakes we make since no one will “die in the process.” After my son died, that phrase became even more true. I became less anxious about almost everything else in life — I have experienced the worst thing a parent can go through so why fear anything else. And yet at other times I can find myself anxious for no reason at all, as if something was missing. Because something is missing. My son. In other words, grief can make you more anxious and less anxious at the same time.
Many people are worried about getting COVID-19 or losing a loved one to this virus we know so little about. We become anxious and we can see the level of anxiety rising in the world. Anxiety, or fear, in and of itself, is not bad — it is a form of protection. It is when anxiety becomes debilitating that we need to step back and examine what we think and how we act. While we cannot always control our emotions with logical thinking, sometimes we can realize our anxiety is unfounded. Or, at least overblown.
For people who share my Christian faith, anxiety does not hold up against trust in God. That does not mean Christians are not anxious — we are human–but we can remind ourselves of God’s ability to bring peace. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
The fact that scripture is filled with verses addressing anxiety shows us this a not a new malady or one that God’s followers are exempt from. Anxiety does not show a lack of faith; it is a condition that encourages us to learn to trust more. The Christian faith is an active faith and in the midst of rising anxiety we are called to serve others. Those of us in grief may be better equipped than most. We know the power of death but also have less fear of death. It is a paradox we can use to reach out to others. We know how to keep life, and death, in perspective.