“The Anxiety Opportunity” with Curtis Chang
“The fundamental question that anxiety poses [to] us is: What is our relationship to suffering?” notes this week’s podcast guest, author, theologian, and fellow sufferer of chronic anxiety, Curtis Chang.
His new book, The Anxiety Opportunity, offers a fresh perspective on anxiety as a doorway to spiritual transformation. He challenges the idea that anxiety is an enemy to be defeated – instead presenting it as a path towards personal growth and a deeper connection with Jesus.
Curtis points out, “There’s an invitation to redemption and that our best self found in Jesus is only found to the extent that we can go through our pain, including our pain of anxiety.”
If you’re ready to think differently about the relationship between anxiety and spiritual growth, we invite you to listen to today’s conversation with Curtis Chang, then pick up your copy of The Anxiety Opportunity: How Worry Is the Doorway to Your Best Self, out this week anywhere books are sold.
About Our Guest:
Curtis Chang bridges the worlds of secular institutions and theology. In the former world, he is the founder and CEO of Consulting Within Reach (CWR), a firm serving nonprofits and government agencies. His consulting work has won an award in social innovation from the Obama White House, and he teaches strategic planning as a faculty member of American University’s School of International Service.
In the Christian world, he is a consulting professor at Duke Divinity School and a Senior Fellow at Fuller Theological Seminary. Curtis is also a former senior pastor of an Evangelical Covenant Church in San Jose, California. He is the author of the book The Anxiety Opportunity: How Worry Is the Doorway to Your Best Self.
Read Dan’s review of Curtis’ new book:
“We are living in an age when anxiety is sweeping us further into a polarized, rage-filled world to escape the fears we refuse to name. Curtis Chang is a brilliant and winsome reader of the soul and body and what every honest human being suffers in anticipation of loss. His reframing of anxiety as an opportunity to know our own hearts and even more the kindness of Jesus will bring rest even in the fear-storms we all face. This tender, theologically vibrant, and psychologically wise gift is not merely for those who suffer anxiety; it’s for every human being who longs to know more of what it means to taste joy.”
– Dan B. Allender, PhD, professor of counseling psychology and founding president, The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology
Dan: Rachael, we know that you have self-identified a number of times as a somewhat, somewhat anxious human being. Would that be a fairer entry into our conversation?
Racheal: Oh, certainly. So, yes.
Dan: So as we approach the category of anxiety, I can honestly tell you, I have not had a sense of like, oh, I’ve got a book. I’ve got a book for a good friend or someone including me to engage this. And it’s been, oh, there’s a lot written on it. Come on. We live and did live in the age of anxiety, so it’s not like there has not been a lot of replete sources. But what we have the privilege of doing today is interacting with an author of a new book, Curtis Chang. And Curtis, I’m going to introduce you in a moment, but let me just say welcome. Welcome.
Curtis: It’s great. It’s great to be here. Thank you Dan. Yeah,
Dan: But you know, and I’m sure you’ve had this experience, having somebody introduce you is it could be the podcast itself. Do you not agree you, your bio is bizarre.
Curtis: It is bizarre. We were talking out before this recording that I feel like, I often feel like I’m explaining a career resume that it’s been afflicted by ADD so.
Dan: Well, for a number of us on the screen who actually have some portion of ADD, I think we all could say that there is a certain career effect on that. But yours, buddy, it’s got a adapt to it. So I will not cover every dimension other than to say that you’ve been the founder and CEO of Consulting Within Reach, CWR. But in that, the labor of working with social entrepreneurs, faith-driven, social entrepreneurs, obviously it’s landed you at a point where you offered teaching on public policy at Harvard. You have been and are an adjunct professor at the School of International Service at the American University in Washington D.C. Look, just that alone. Okay, stop it. Stop doing what you’re doing and then, okay. And then founded a group called Redeeming Babel, which I think every time I say it, I love it. It just makes me laugh. But as well, I think my first encounter with you was listening to the Good Faith podcast with your good friend David French, and to know that in addition, you’re a consulting professor at Duke Divinity, a senior fellow at Fuller as a past senior pastor. Again, it is an amazing biography, but the question I really want to pose is, given all that you have done so brilliantly and so competently, you’ve written a book on anxiety and it’s come out like five days ago called “The Anxiety Opportunity: How Worry is a Doorway to Your Best Self”. And look, I’ll just say it right from the beginning, it is the best book I’ve ever read that holds deep personal, deep psychological, deep theological, deep biblical reflection. Plus you’re just a great writer.
Curtis: Oh, thank you.
Dan: Given all that, just the goodness of what you have brought into this world, I dunno how to ask it better then. How does that come into the reality that you were born, great cost for your anxiety?
Curtis: Well, I think one of the secrets of anxiety is how much we actually in some sense draw upon it to get things done in the world. And that this is what for many years I would say I was driven deeply by anxiety but not aware of it because the fruits of anxiety was actually success in the world. Because I was anxious, I adopted what some psychologists call highly functioning anxiety. So these are practices in your life that actually help you function in the world at a functional level. And so the world thinks you’re doing great. So it’s things like, I’m planning ahead. I am anticipating scenarios. I am constantly anticipating other possible outcomes. It turns out those things really help you function in the world. But the origins of those practices for me was anxiety. It was deep, deep anxiety. And it’s that in some ways is almost, I mean, I don’t know what I would choose whether I would rather have dysfunctional anxiety or highly functional anxiety. I suppose I would choose the path I did on, but there’s a cost to that which is, it actually hides the anxiety certainly from others because you just seem to the world, you are a very successful person, but it also hides it to yourself because you are not coming to terms with the fact that there’s this deep anxiety that’s driving all of it. And it actually causes you to think, I’ve got to kind of double down on both these practices and in some ways this anxious energy that’s coursing through you because it’s getting me ahead in the world. And that is what actually led to my collapse in one of my career paths that you talked about as a pastor, where basically that coping scheme of a highly functioning anxious person broke down in a catastrophic fashion.
Racheal: And having had the privilege of spending time with your story in this book, it’s a heartbreaking collapse. And I think you’ve named it so well that it, it’s a part of what’s true of high functioning anxiety in general. It’s like your cup can hold, it can keep holding, it can keep holding, it can keep holding. But that at some point the dopamine you get from being highly functioning isn’t enough to keep things contained. And there usually is a collapse. And often in places where it’s the last place you want to have a collapse. And I mean, I remember in college, in my biblical studies degree, having my first full on, I think as an adult I had panic attacks as a kid, but I didn’t have a language for that. My full on first collapse and I was so out of my mind and I didn’t have a language for anxiety that I had convinced myself like the rapture had come and God had taken God’s spirit from the world because I couldn’t make sense of everything I was doing to try to get a sense of peace or calm or regulation like wasn’t working. And I think those collapses can be so scary. And the fact that you have gifted us with a glimpse into it as a starting point to that language as a doorway into the glorious opportunities available to us in healing and in the gospel, I just want to say thank you. Feels like a very generous gift to us.
Dan: Yeah, I would so concur. And I think the reality is that as a brilliant book on anxiety, part of the misnomer to that is it really is a brilliant book about engaging life. Who in the history of humanity, post Adam and Eve’s departure from Eden, who has not known, something of the effects of anxiety and fear? The sense of will step into the brilliant but simple algorithm that you created of anxiety really is loss, always loss, but some degree of avoidance. And the brilliance of that is no one can escape loss. And in that you really can’t, can’t make that go away, but the reality of what we do and who we become in the middle of it. But before we get into any of that, I would just love to hear a little bit more of the story of how you came to write this book and something of we know because had the privilege of a pre-copy before the book came out, but our readers probably don’t yet. Our listeners don’t yet. How did you come to write this book?
Curtis: Well, I really did feel deeply called by God to write this book. And I’m reminded when I use that word of calling of that famous quote by Frederick Buechner, defining calling and vocation as, I believe it’s, I’m going to mangle it slightly, but it’s sort of where the world’s deepest need meets your deepest gladness. Well, I feel like I need a Buechner corollary for that one, which is it’s where the world’s deepest need meets your deepest pain and suffering. Cause I think that’s really what was my sense of calling for that. I wrote the book and its origins really were in the world’s deepest need during the pandemic when the world clearly was thrown into a period of intense global anxiety. I mean, it was this bizarre experience where you realize, well, everyone in the world is, maybe not everyone, but the vast, vast majority of people right now in this moment are all suffering from a very similar anxiety. They are completely uncertain about what is lies in the future and the fear of loss, which is the essence of anxiety looms over for everyone. And I was trying to think about that, especially for the people in my immediate circle. This was first of all with a leadership development program that I run in my consult secular consulting practice that our lockdown order in our county here in the Bay area happened the same day that we were supposed to have a retreat. And so I had to scramble quickly to figure out how to respond to them. And all I could draw on because I was in that moment was my own personal experiences and my own personal experiences of being somebody who has suffered from anxiety both in a sort of lifelong way and then also in catastrophic ways that I’m sure we we’ll talk about. And so it was drawing out of my own pain and my own suffering to try to offer something to respond to this world that was a need. And then it just grew from there. So I then offered it to my church because it was sort of well received by, in the sort of secular context, I thought, well, I’d love to make the biblical origins, the spiritual practices that are behind my story more surfaced. And so I offered it to my church, they loved it, they wanted it to, how do we offer to other people? And I realized quickly I could not keep doing these retreats. I was going to run out of energy and time at some point. So I created an online course that was based on this material, and then people really enjoyed and appreciate the course. And they kept asking me, so how do I share this with somebody without having them make them go through the course? And I realized, okay, I need to write a book. And so it grew from there, but it all really did originate from that moment of sensing that the world is in a very anxious place and they need something to help them make sense of and go through this anxiety. And I had suffered enough such that the two met up in a sense of calling.
Dan: And again, I certainly don’t know how to say it better than what Rachael has already said. It is such a gift. And I wonder how that labor has been a gift to you. So what did you find out about yourself about anxiety just from the labor itself to do this world?
Curtis: That’s such a great question, Dan. I think it went deeper, right? Because, it was funny, when I first wrote the book, my editor at the time, my initial editor Nancy French, David French’s wife, was one of the loudest voices trying to convince me to write a book. And she said, look, you’re like 80% of the way there with the course, the video course that you created, just take the script that you used for the course and I think you’ve got a book. And that became a running joke with Nancy and me because she was completely doing a bait and switch. I don’t know if she was conscious or not because it turns out like I would say 80% of the book is new material. So it was just this process of realizing, oh, I said this in this five minute video I did for the course part, and there’s actually a five pages I could say that. And so it was going deeper. And I think that experience even further confirmed to me, oh, anxiety really is this doorway that the further you go and peer into anxiety rather than treating it as solely as a problem to make go away. I’d rather view it as a doorway to walk through to go through, oh my gosh, there’s just depth and riches. Because anxiety, it turns out, just touches on everything because the essence of anxiety is the fear of loss. As you said, Dan loss touches every one of us and loss touches every aspect of our lives. There’s nothing about our lives, not our most treasured relationships with our spouses, our children. Our friends, our aspirations for our career, our physical resources that we have to bear that are not going to experience loss. We’re going to experience loss in our financial, relational, emotional, every aspect of our life. We’re going to experience loss, which means we will experience anxiety in every aspect of our lives. And so writing the book was this, I had the experience that I wanted to convey to my readers of, wow, it’s this doorway that is into every aspect of our life. And ultimately on the other side of that doorway is Jesus himself wanting to meet us in anxiety.
Dan: Well, and just to say it again, loudly it to speak about opportunity almost looks too optimistic. And yet how you engage that with a very, in one sense pastoral, but stern warning, there is nothing good about anxiety. It’s not what we were meant to suffer. So it’s not a lovely bow around because yeah, if you have known your body’s stress, cortisol, overwhelming reaction in that moment, it’s very hard to convince your body like, oh, this is great. This is going to be really good. So to take away any false assumption that this is an entry into dark experiences, and I just… What words can you put to what you have known and what you’re inviting others to know in that experience?
Curtis: Yeah, it’s suffering. And this is why I said my sense of own calling to it was based in my own deep suffering. Because yes, you’re absolutely right. It is painful is suffering. The question though, the fundamental question that anxiety poses us is: what is our relationship to suffering? What is our relationship to pain? Is it ultimately, do we view pain and suffering as something we must keep at bay? We must avoid at all costs, we must make it go away, or we must chart a path around it away from it. Is that our path or is our path through pain and through suffering? And what I’m trying to invite readers to contemplate is that anxiety, just like it is with any other pain, is actually an invitation to go through it because that is the Christian narrative. That is the Jesus story. Jesus did not wave a magic wand and make all pain and suffering go away. He himself endured it. He went through it and we went through it out of the belief that there was redemption possible as you go through pain. And that’s what redemption is. When we say that Jesus is our redeemer, we’re not saying Jesus will wave a magic wand to make all of our pain, including the pain of anxiety go away. Redemption in its essence is going through suffering and out of it coming something better out of coming at something even better than we started with. And that’s the beauty, that’s the amazing promise of the gospel of Jesus. And I think we can apply that same promise to anxiety that without at all diminishing or trivializing the pain, but actually in some ways staring at it square in the face, recognizing we have to actually experience it. But through that there’s an invitation to redemption and that our best self found in Jesus is only found to the extent that we can go through our pain, including our pain of anxiety.
Racheal: Well, and one of the things I really appreciated about how you wrote, there’s such, there is such a pastoral tending and I, so I want to speak to that and I want to just ask you to put some more thought to it for our listeners, because I know so many of us who have suffered anxiety and as you’ve named so well, it’s this fear of loss, which I often think is based on an actual experience of loss we’ve already known, right? We’ve already known something of loss and just our imagination for then what more could come and will we survive? And so many of us in Christian context, I think by well-intentioned people who maybe aren’t honest about their own anxiety and maybe this coping has worked for them, leverage Jesus, leverage the text in a way that often feels like kind of heaping heavy burdens on already burdened people. And you put really good language to this and start, you engage Philippians 4, right? Which so many of us, I just think about my 16-year-old self literally laying in bed, being like “be anxious in nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication let your request be made known to Christ Jesus,” just if I just say it enough, because I was being told you shouldn’t be anxious. Your anxiety is a sin and only being framed in that way. So could you put some words to how did you come to bring such nuance? What were your own experiences with well-intentioned people trying to help you with the text, with maybe I would say a really shallow or simple understanding of faith? And how did you come to be able to nuance that so well, for us and for people that will need to see a way with Jesus, that doesn’t mean getting rid of your anxiety to get to Jesus.
Curtis: Yeah. Well, I think it comes from one that I have myself, a lifelong sufferer of anxiety and have suffered this catastrophic collapse of my pastoral career as a result of it. And I think that latter part, the fact that my pastoral career collapsed of it, gave me the key clues to that there was something wrong. Because what happened for me was I went through a period, after I took over as this lead pastor of our church. There was a lot of pressure on me. I was replacing the founding pastor of a large growing church here in Bay Area. And so I felt like I needed to project, I’ve got this, I am the guy who can take on this burden, take on this role. And of course, if you know anything about church dynamics when the founding pastor leaves, that’s a period where everybody’s like, should we leave also? And so I felt like I needed to project, I’ve got this, I’ve totally got this. And when in reality I was feeling mounting anxiety. Now of course I didn’t recognize it because of this highly functioning anxiety dynamic that we talked about where I just thought, oh no, this is just me taking on the challenge and being more successful. But where it manifested was increasing sleeplessness. And I write about this in the book where I went through this period of two weeks where I did not sleep at all consciously. And that was the moment of this sort of catastrophic collapse because I basically became disabled and was just suffering from panic attacks became not functioning. My anxiety slid over into depression, which often happens with chronic anxiety. So I guess this is a long answer to your question, Rachael, which is I’ve experienced it deeply so I can write about it. But in writing and reflecting about it, I had to come to terms with this question, wait a minute, how did I let it get so bad? How did I let that anxiety build so much such that it only took a collapse for me to have to come to terms with reality that I was anxious? And I think the answer to that lies something in the Christian Church culture around anxiety. Why did I feel like I could not admit and acknowledge my anxiety? Why did I have to feel like, oh, the paradigm of a strong, successful, competent pastor is one that is not anxious? And that gets to, I think what you’re talking about is that we have a Christian culture that is actually found in many different denominational variations. It’s not just one stream of Christianity that treats anxiety as solely as a problem. Now of course, as you said, it is a problem. It is something painful, but we treat it solely as a problem. And when you think conceive of something solely as a problem versus as also a redemptive opportunity, then your only answer is to make it go away. That this is something, this is a problem, this is something wrong. And so it’s either a character flaw, a sign that you lack faith, or even worse, that it’s a sin, that it’s an outright sin. And we misread versus Philippians 4:6 to actually, and this is why I began my book exegeting that passage, is because I think it’s a misuse of that verse, but we use it because we’re looking for anything to make that anxiety go away. And then we’re telling people there’s something wrong with you if you’re suffering from anxiety. And so this is what drives anxiety both underground and underground in this kind of pressure buildup that eventually explodes.
Racheal: Cause I think all three of us could say, if you just try to ignore anxiety, it’s a little bit like a tea, a tea kettle. It’s not like it just goes, oh, okay… sure.
Curtis: Yeah, that’s right.
Racheal: It’s like “ahhhhh”, it just gets louder.
Curtis: Exactly. Yeah. The pressure builds underground until it explodes, right? So I think this is why I wanted very much to speak pastorally to people suffering anxiety with a sense of, I understand you, I’ve been through what you’re going through right now, and there’s a different way, and it’s a way that’s different than what you’ve been told. If what you’ve been told is this is solely a problem with you that you need to make, go away or get God to go away in some way,
Dan: Well, you link it as well brilliantly to shame, and you’re putting some words to that at this juncture that when it’s your fault and you can resolve it if you were just more faithful, it is such a setup to bind two of the strongest affective experiences together. So if it were just anxiety, but it’s never just anxiety, you bound it well to shame. How did that play out for you?
Curtis: Well, that I think, like I said, one, it meant as a pastor, I couldn’t acknowledge it. And so therefore it built up to this intense explosion. And then I think also it made it really difficult for me to get help. Because this is what I write about. We need help when we are anxious. We need help to actually experience anxiety as something other than just a problem. But it’s very difficult if you are feeling ashamed because shame drives you into the darkness. It drives you into hiding. And I opened my book with a story of that came up when I realized this binding of shame to anxiety, that from a very early age I was feeling anxiety. And somehow even as a eight-year-old, I knew I wasn’t supposed to feel this way. And so I had to disguise it even from my parents of all the various convoluted ways that I was coping with my anxiety.
Dan: Well, and to name what you have named. And then to add, as you put it, that as an immigrant there, there’s an additional cultural layer that’s at significant play.
Curtis: I think that’s right. And I think mean it’s true for people who are both highly functioning, anxious, and also have slipped into or have been for a long time dysfunctional anxiety that there’s, there’s shame happening for both of them. So for the highly functioning anxious person, they don’t want to look at their anxiety as the actual driver for all these you kind of extreme behaviors that they’ve been using to cope with it, like overwork or substance abuse or things like that. But then for the dysfunctional, it adds further this weight that I’m something deeply wrong with me and God is… I’m beyond the reach of God, beyond the reach of redemption at that point. Because not only am I not functioning, but I’m also anxious about the fact that, I’m not doing well in the world. And so for both of those types of people, I think there is this call to come into the light to acknowledge their anxiety and bring it before God, not as something that God has to is going to wag his finger at you and shame you additionally, but rather that Jesus wants to touch you precisely in the places of anxiety. And this is why I also in my book, wanted to show readers how much anxiety pervades the gospels that in my own study that the vast majority of ways in which people approach Jesus is they approach Jesus through their anxiety. And Jesus welcomes that anxiety meets them in their anxiety. And so that to me is a wonderful promise for those of us who have been in some way conditioned to keep it in the darkness.
Dan: Well love to hear a little bit more about what you’ve discovered, the reality of what it means to not avoid. And I think that was such a, again, simple, but often what is simple is not addressed, and therefore to address it, it’s just brilliant. So when you add the word avoid, you’re talking about multitudes of different ways of avoiding. And for an anxious person to the degree of avoidance is there, that increases the sense of loss. Your formula of anxiety equals loss times avoidance. So that’s right. What take us into that formula.
Curtis: Sure. So the formula that I advanced in the book is anxiety equals loss times avoidance, and we can’t change loss in our lives. Loss is inevitable. Loss will hit us one way or another. So what actually that tells us is that it’s impossible to reduce anxiety to zero because we’re always going to experience some loss. So anxiety equals loss. What we can make some choices around is this multiplier effect of anxiety equals loss times avoidance. Because it turns out the more we try to avoid anxiety, the more we try to avoid loss, the more we actually multiply anxiety in our lives. And it’s because what I call, it’s the hamster wheel effect because we’re, anytime we’re trying to do something that is impossible to do, we have to supply evermore energy into our avoidance mechanisms, right? Because it’s impossible to do it. But if we think, well, we just inject some more energy to it. And that’s the nature of this dynamic is because loss is unavoidable. But if we fool ourselves and think, oh, if I just do this or think this or behave this way or feel this way, then that loss will go away. Then it actually drives multiplies the anxiety. And I think for me, I find it helpful to think of two main categories of avoidance sort of moves that we can make avoidance like habits almost really. And I think of them as either away or around moves that are avoidance moves. So away moves are things like that. I don’t want to think about it. I you’re procrastinating dealing with whatever that issue is in your life or you don’t want to talk about that issue or substance abuse is a way move. I don’t want to think about that issue. And so I will take this substance that kind of makes that thought that possible loss go away, at least temporarily in my mind. So that’s kind of away moves and people who tend to go towards away moves, and it’s kind of this, people who in the fight or flight kind of dichotomy tend to be flight people. They want to run away from things. That’s the away move. That’s not me. Although I know people in my life who are away people, I’m an around person. So around is especially tricky because it seems like you’re dealing with the issue. It seems like you’re dealing with the loss. But in reality, what you are doing is you are searching for this one scenario or this one thought or this one, whatever, that will make the loss go away. And so I liken it to you’re turning a ball over and over and over around in your hand thinking that with one final turn then, and that will land the scenario, the action, the way of being that makes that loss go away. But just the away moves doesn’t work. The around moves also doesn’t work because loss is unavoidable. So we end up just turning it over and over and over in our head, it becomes the sticky pizza dough, ball of pizza dough that just gets stickier and stickier because we’re trying to find that final turn that does not exist. And that is, and there’s many symptoms of that. But my symptom of that, which I think is true for many of these around people is rumination. That’s when we turn a thought over and over and over in our head, we’re stuck in a loop. That’s what it’s going on, is we are practicing, we’ve gotten addicted to this mental around move and we think we’re dealing with the issue, but actually we’re actually just trying to avoid the loss. We’re in futile search for loss avoidance.
Dan: Look, nobody can see our faces, I know that. But let’s just say, what are you coming to here, dear colleague and friend?
Racheal: Well, I’ll say this was one of the places in the book where I almost threw the book because I was laughing so hard. And my husband and I definitely, he’s more of an away, I’m 100% around. But I was trying to locate myself and I was like, I dunno if either of these fit me. And then I saw your word rumination. I’m mean, I’m a season right now. And I think I love the way you give language to this in a simple enough way that people aren’t trying to get too into psychologizing things where it’s like you’re avoiding loss. So for me, I know I’m in a season where I do not want to grieve, and we’ll get to that because you do bring grief as a necessary part of this redemptive movement. I do not want to grieve the loss that has occurred. So instead, I’d rather ruminate every morning in the shower about the things I would say to the people that I’m angry at as if I can just say the right thing and really stick it to them and they can feel some of the loss, I feel then maybe I don’t have to feel the loss. I’m past the point of believing that the thing can be redeemed. I’m just like, I want people to pay because I know what I really need. It’s okay to have this anger. Anger is a part of grief. But I also know there is profound sadness in my body and heartache that I have spent my life trying to avoid at every cost. And I need to let that… I need to see that Jesus could actually meet me and the loss in a really tender way, but I’d rather just ruminate for now. So I like your language. You’re not actually solving the problem, you’re not actually dealing with the anxiety even though it feels like you are, because instead of feeling afraid, maybe you feel angry or agitated or whatever. And so I appreciated the invitation even as I was like… ugh!
Dan: Throwing the book on the laughing, laughing and then throwing. And from my standpoint, if a book is worthy of being truly read it, it’s also a book that you want to throw against the wall. So when you begin to name Rachael, you just named that voice within you that’s ruminating and coming to language. And as well, Curtis, you began naming how important it is to get connected to the voices that are inside of us. And one of the ways you put that was radio stations, again, for the west coasters, it begins with a K, not a W. So K Fear became one of the radio station voices that you had to tend with. I’m not going to ask you to replicate that voice, but if you did, we certainly wouldn’t cut it out of the podcast. But talk about that voice.
Curtis: Well, I think you’re referring to a practice that I started engaging in, which was I started naming the anxious voice inside me, the anxious self inside me. And the way I did it was I signed it a radio calls sign. I called it K Fear. And the reason why it was so helpful to do so is because one, it’s a way to grant it a place in your mind, into your very self. When we give a name to something, we’re giving it a place. And that’s actually really helpful with anxiety, a way to actually recognize, oh, there’s this voice, there’s this part of me. And rather than squelching it, rather than thinking it’s something wrong with me, rather than thinking I have to make it go away by shouting Philippines 4:6 at it over and over again, I can actually give, grant it a place. And so one, I gave it a name called it K Fear. And then the second thing that enables me to do is then once I granted it a place in my consciousness, I could listen to it. I could pay attention to it, not be captive to it, but actually from an observer listener standpoint versus that captive stance kind of from the outside like, huh, what’s going on? What is K Fear broadcasting today? And that was very helpful for me. And it was in the season of a lot of parental anxiety where I could actually observe, wait, what am I really afraid of? What is this saying? And a tremendous amount of insight came as a result of that process. For instance, I realized, wow, K Fear is replaying some old hits from my childhood growing up, and which had to do with a lot of my growing up as a Chinese American and a lot of parental shame that comes around that parents in the Chinese American culture, all cultures, but especially in a shame-based culture like the Chinese culture, there’s a tremendous sense of that parents’ fear loss of their own face, of their own standing because of what their kids might do. And I realized, oh my gosh, K Fear is playing this all this old tune of, oh, well, what will the other parents think? And that was really helpful for me. Okay, I don’t want that voice. I know what to do with that voice. I, it’s strengthened my resolve to not let that voice take over me. The other thing that it really does when you grant it like a radio station is then you can take some authority, some God-given authority over these voices because rather than you being completely hijacked by these voices in an unthinking way, then you’re like, oh wait, this is a station that’s playing my mind. It’s possible to change the station. It’s possible to change the station and or say, I’m going to reserve certain times of my day to listen to this station. So on a walk, when I’m not instead supposed to be doing something else, I can play. And during the times when I am supposed to be doing something else, be attentive to my kids or my wife or do my work, I can say to K Fear, now’s not really the time for you. We have another appointed listening session for you. And that helped me to just put anxiety in its proper place. And then I could also change the volume on it. Eventually I could say, okay, I can’t make you go away. Even for the times when I couldn’t make it go away where the rumination was just too present, I couldn’t change the station, at least I could say, you know what? I’m just going to turn you down a bit. And so what happens when we make room and make a place for our anxious self and realize it’s not something that we’re supposed to just eradicate and suppress and eliminate, it actually then actually shrinks in size. Because once we’re not suppressing it, it’s like, oh, okay, there’s a way in which if you were to anthropomorphize this, it’s like the anxious self says, okay, you’re giving me a place I can slide into my proper spot. So that, that’s was very helpful for me.
Dan: Well, it’s a form of externalizing, but in order to internalize that’s right, in some deep sense in the naming, you’re not going around. You’re not going away. You’re actually walking into what sounds like it will kill you. But in that process, counterintuitive, you’re actually experiencing a sense of your own authority, but indeed a kind of honoring the voice to say, I will give you space. I will give you language. And now you’ve got something actually to confront with that core question of what is it that is in the loss that feels that it will kill me? And again, it’s not a matter of, oh, I now know it won’t, not that kind of simplicity. It is a entry into the integrity in, integris the idea oneness. You’re multiple internally, but by giving a voice, you’re actually creating an integrity that allows you even more courage to engage that. So as we come, sadly to some degree of ending, I just want to make sure that Rachael, you got plenty of time to ask whatever you want
Racheal: To ask. Well, I was just going to say to make a link here to some of the things that I’m just so grateful you include as a part of this healing opportunity. Because what comes to mind for me in thinking about, I love the idea of the imagination of a radio station. I think for me, because I’ve been privileged to do a lot of therapies, I feel like I’ve gotten to know even some of the developmental places, some of those radio stations land. And when my husband and I were getting engaged, a 16-year-old part of my anxiety structures that was in a very abusive, very problematic relationship, got really triggered. And I remember talking to him and he had enough of this language and something he said was just, I trust your 16-year-old. I trust her. And I think that that’s what you’re naming. Even though we feel like this voice, this radio station is an enemy, often they are telling us something we need to pay attention to. But I love that sense of authority because the truth is, I wasn’t a 16 year-old. I was a 37 year-old woman who needed to parent in some ways tend to this part of me that felt like you’re going to lose yourself. You’re going to be enslaved and trapped and to go, that’s actually not the situation here. But I’m really grateful that you’re calling me to awareness that that’s something I have done in the past and didn’t know I was doing. And we’ve gotten a lot of healing and we’re in a different place now. We have different capacity, and I’m going to make this choice. But I do hear you. There’s a place for you. And I just love the frame you’re giving because I think that work is really powerful. So the two things I just want to highlight is, one, I’m so grateful you do not ignore the body in your book and you let it have a place because anxiety is so deeply wired in our body. And I think especially in a lot of Christian formation and spiritual formation, it’s not in a lot of Christian history. The body is very central. So I think we’re in a lot of cultures, the body is very central. So I think we’re reclaiming that. But I love that you give imagination. So you’ll have to get the book and read more about it for different ways to honor the body, incorporate the body, and then again, the role of community. Because for me, my fiance at the time saying to me, I trust that part of you. I don’t need to eradicate it. It almost allowed for an immediate settling of my body. This part of me that’s afraid doesn’t need to go sit outside. It’s welcome to come along. And sometimes the volume is a little irrational. And I had to be like, okay, that’s really loud. So what do you need me to hear? And I’m just deeply grateful. I just want to say I’m just deeply grateful for this book, for your work in the world. I do hope if you’re listening, you’ll consider getting this book and spending time with it. I love the integration of the theology and the biblical imagination. And I said, before we started, you read so much of Mark’s gospel, and I’ve often thought Mark is the gospel writer for the anxious ones of us and maybe even has some anxiety himself. I don’t know, we can’t put that on him. But he just uses a lot of, and immediately and immediately, and those of us who are high functioning, anxious people, that that’s a feel like we feel that viscerally and immediately. That’s right. So I just want to say thank you. And again, if I had had this book, I think as a young Christian teenager and not a Christian, I mean it not bound to Christianity, but I think because of the pastoral tending you do, it would have been revolutionary to me in my imagination and my spiritual formation. So thank you.
Curtis: Well, I want to thank you guys both for having me here for the ministry of your podcast, and Dan specifically for you, you’re, you’re like a trailblazer for the Christian community in terms of thinking about mental health, emotional wholeness in a really more biblical and holistic way. And I don’t think I could have written this book had you not sort of blazed the path for me. And I actually, even with citation, steal one of your steal, steal your take on Philippians 4:6. So I really feel like this book stands on your shoulders. And so thank you.
Dan: Well, I can only say you are welcome. And even more what a privilege and that sense of, look folks, we don’t actually do a lot of strong book recommendations, but this is just one of those where you go, the Anxiety Opportunity is even if you’re not consciously aware of anxiety, I promise you it. It’s part of your life, but also part of someone’s life that you love. And so the ability to engage really good theology, really good biblical interpretation, honest storytelling, but also with the fundamental stance we take, and that is the resurrection is a mockery of death. And death never gets the final word. This is a book that offers a textual path to be able to come to that defiant stance, even in the midst of feeling profoundly anxious. So Curtis, our joy to invite our audience to know a whole lot more about you. And you can certainly go to your local bookstore and support them and buy it or there you go. You can go treasonous like I do and go on Amazon, but you’ll find the book now out. We just hope it opens tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of new lives for those who love you, Jesus. So, thank you.
Curtis: Thank you.