Over the last couple of weeks, the passages that I’ve preached from 1 Thessalonians have focused on our need for people (See: We’re Better Together). Time invested in fellowship with other Christians is God’s means for our growth, strength and protection. With that fresh in my mind, the blog article sitting in my inbox caught my attention, “Loving the Church but Dreading Sunday Morning.” It talked about the challenge of Christian fellowship for someone who struggles with social anxiety. Apparently, the author’s not alone. One statistic I read said that 18% of the population suffers from some kind of anxiety disorder and more than a third of those receive no treatment.
So how do you manage the anxiety that keeps you from the people you need?
1. Get help in understanding where your social anxiety comes from.
It’s easy for people to take a simplistic approach here. Christians, in particular, knowing that there can be spiritual issues behind our anxieties can assume that spiritual solutions are all that’s ever needed. This isn’t helpful. Being willing to consider whether there are chemical imbalances or emotional scars that contribute to anxiety can be an important step in recovery.
2. Pray for the understanding and compassion of a few friends or family members.
Adam Ford writes this, “To have those few beloved friends who know we have anxiety and know it makes us act weird, but they’re cool with it and they still love us and pray for us and let us deal with it the best we know how—this is such a blessing from God.” Sharing an article like this with the people around you may help. Opening up to someone you trust may be the answer. But we ought to pray for a few people who will understand so we can deal with those who won’t.
3. If you fear people’s opinions of you, work at affirming God’s opinion of yourself.
Seeing the world through God’s eyes is perhaps nowhere more important than in seeing yourself through His eyes. The Scripture says that a child of God is loved (Romans 5:8) and celebrated by God (Zephaniah 3:17) and so is free from all condemnation (Romans 8:1-2). But believing these truths involves meditating on them until you trust them more than the condemning voices that you hear in your head. We need to reject the lies that our heart speaks to us and instead speak God’s truth to our heart.
4. If you fear people’s judgment, ask whether a judgmental spirit has crept into your own heart.
One author said that those who experience social anxiety often feel like everyone else sees their every flaw and is judging and criticizing them, and noted that, sometimes, this stems from or is exacerbated by their own tendency to judge and criticize themselves or others. When Jesus warned, “with the measure you use it will be measured back to you,” He was specifically talking about the need to avoid judgment and condemnation (Luke 6:37-38).
5. Let love for your neighbour be your motivation.
One author talked about how she was helped by consciously getting her eyes off herself and onto other people in the room. By looking for people who might be in need, she thought less about herself and what people might be thinking about her. She wrote, “I started entering new situations praying and thinking about the needs of the other people in the room. I looked for people who were alone, unnoticed, quiet.”
While there are steps that a person can take to manage their social anxiety, there are also things we can do as a church. First of all, we can be the people who don’t assume simplistic solutions but realize how complex anxiety can be. We can be the understanding and compassionate people that those who struggle with anxiety need. And we can be those who take the lead in affirming rather than condemning and demonstrating the love that everyone needs in order to take courageous steps to grow in fellowship. May we be such a church!
If you’re one of those rare, outgoing people who find it difficult to understand what it would be like to have anxiety about social situations, read Babylon Bee contributor, Adam Ford’s honest article: “Some Things You Should Know About Christians Who Struggle With Anxiety.”
In awe of Him,