A National Institutes of Health study in 2017 on anxiety revealed that nearly one third of American adolescents suffer from an anxiety disorder. One third. In my work among late adolescents on campus, I can confirm there is much anxiety among students. In fact, it is the most prevalent presenting problem at university counseling centers across the country.
In reading a recent issue of Time magazine, it was revealed that companies are now changing their approaches to their employees to accommodate their anxieties. “Mental/Emotional Wellness Days are now being instituted along with the traditional “sick” days. In other words, anxiety is a new normal in our society, along with the high incidences of nut allergies, ADHD, cancer, and diabetes. What would have been considered abnormal a century or even 20 years ago is now viewed as normal for our time.
We as a culture have an amazing ability to adapt to new normalities. We rarely ask why some things are so prevalent. Instead, if they are negative or life threatening, we pursue interventions or cures. Few ask why adolescents are anxious and seek to resolve it at its source; instead, we attack the problem with drugs and therapy in order for them to cope. It is the same with cancer. Billions are spent on finding cures for particular cancers; scant resources are directed toward causation, which, if found and eliminated, would make the need to find a cure not nearly as essential, and its prevalence so much less.
I see the same thing happening in the Church. It has become normal for many to treat sin as something that affects everyone, so why bother dealing with it since we are covered by God’s grace, whether it be gossip, greed, homosexuality, couples living together yet unmarried, bitterness against a brother or sister in the Lord, etc. What are biblical norms are now abnormal in much of our church culture.
As anxiety becomes normalized in our culture, it is becoming normal in the lives of Christians. I am hearing more and more Christian students identify themselves as anxious; not anxious as in the moment, but anxious as a way of being. Many are taking medication and believe they will be taking it the rest of their lives. They view anxiety as their normal.
So what then does the Church do with those cultural norms that run up against biblical truth. How can we consider anxiety an acceptable norm for any believer when the Lord says not to worry? Or when Paul instructs us not to be anxious about anything? How can we as believers treat sin so nonchalantly when we are told avoid sin and confess it when we do? Or when the Scriptures are clear that God’s grace is not a legitimate excuse to do what we want.
Cultural norms are constantly changing. The challenge for us as believers, for the Church, is to continually measure these changes with the one standard that never changes: Jesus. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, as is his Word. They are the constants in an ever-changing world of beliefs and practices. If we lose touch with the constants of Truth, then we will find ourselves inevitably adrift, moving further and further away from God’s will for us, which is a full and abundant life. Can we honestly believe his desire for us is the life seen now as normal for those around us—a life full of anxiety, enslaved to all kinds of sin, yet proclaiming an allegiance to the Lord?
The Lord has something much better for us, and the answer is a full pursuit of him, placing him at the very center of our lives, entrusting the day-to-day things in life to him, allowing his Spirit to convict us of our sin and actively confessing it and repenting of it. Like our culture, most of us have approached our lives as a search for ways to cope with life as we know it, rather than dig deep to find the true cause of our struggles. Living for ourselves is at the heart of it. Humility before God and surrendering our lives to him is the solution. He is the answer, because his ways are the true norm. The more we come into line with his will for our lives, the more we will experience the joy of following him. However, if we insist on doing life on our terms, we will find ourselves adrift with the norms of the current time which will continue to change. Our lives will have little hope and joy, and will offer little hope to others as well. Is that what we truly desire?
© Jim Musser 2020