The day I realized my anxiety about the Bible wasn’t going away, I thought I’d completely placed my fretting in God’s hands.
After settling in my green easy chair, I found the passage in Matthew for my new reading plan—the plan I saw as a new leaf in my spotty devotionals. I wanted to finally read the Bible faithfully and without fear.
The passage took place after Jesus’ transfiguration—the disciples bumbled a healing.
“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus said. “How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?”
I inhaled sharply and shut my Bible with a snap.
I wasn’t surprised by Christ’s words. I’ve read and studied that passage countless times in my nearly thirty years of Christian faith.
Still, I felt as if Jesus’ words pressed a hot poker to an old wound.
I’d wanted this new routine to work so badly. Would it really end the same way my Bible reading always did?
Help, God, I pleaded. I don’t want to feel this way about your Word.
I first started daily quiet times back in college. On paper, it should have been easy. I’m disciplined; I love study; and, most I was desperate for the Bible and for God.
Regardless, a consistent discipline of reading Scripture nearly always ended with me giving up, feeling as if the daily practice increased my anxiety instead of lessening it.
But how could that be possible?
In that easy chair, I realized my best efforts didn’t work. Over the next few days, I cried out in anguish to God, asking for His help out of this weird fear of his Word. I asked for him to renew my faith and to help me understand why the Bible hurt to read.
Over the next few years, I saw him answer my prayer.
Looking back at my old anxiety, I see why I stayed stuck so long. I carried a lot of faulty theology about my anxiety.
When I accepted Christ at thirteen, I assumed if I prayed hard enough, read my Bible consistently, and believed correctly, any fears would melt away like magic.
But the truth was more complicated—and far more life giving.
In my journey to healing, I discovered three false beliefs that had kept me afraid.
False Belief 1: Anxiety Meant I Didn’t Trust God
I once assumed anxiety was a faith barometer. It should disappear when I took my faith seriously and rise when I strayed.
The night on my green chair, I finally accepted my seriousness about faith wasn’t the problem. I also admitted I couldn’t change my anxiety with more effort.
Crying out to God honestly undid my denial.
In turn, God faithfully led me to the roots of my pain: Spiritual abuse.
An abusive pastor led my first youth group. He used my desperation for Jesus as a means to control me. The Bible made me shaky because that betrayal hadn’t healed. In fact, much of my anxiety had roots in similar traumas.
The anxiety was a signal that I needed help to heal. Through therapy, prayer, writing, and time, God started restoring me.
Anxiety isn’t a sign of faithlessness. Anxiety indicates that something isn’t right. Perhaps it’s past trauma, dysfunctional relationships, or chemical imbalances in our brains. Whatever the source, God gives us an urgent assignment: take the anxiety seriously and get help.
False Belief #2: Prayer is a Magic Anxiety Eraser
Like many people, I love Paul’s call to “not be anxious about anything.”
But how I read that verse kept me stuck. I applied it like a magic spell: present your requests and thanksgiving to God, and poof! No more anxiety!
Results-oriented theology made me a perfectionist about prayer.
But prayer, though incredibly powerful, is not a vending machine, and thanksgiving and prayer requests are not cosmic quarters.
In the practice, I center my mind on one phrase—usually, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I repeat it on the rhythm of my breath.
It’s literally a no-brainer. I can’t mess it up. But God used it to calm my mind.
Prayer is a practice, not a results-oriented machine. Its joy doesn’t lie in my flawless execution but in showing up as I am. In prayer, I practice leaning on God’s power, remind myself of God’s provision, and ask for God’s help.
God’s power, not my effort, is my peace.
False Belief #3: I’ll Heal by Working Harder
Here’s when I started enjoying the Bible again: I bought my daughters a CD of scripture memorization songs, then realized that with the music on, I didn’t have to force myself to memorize verses. I internalized scripture hungrily.
The contrast with the dour drudgery of my previous scripture disciplines astonished me.
I’d assumed I’d heal my fears about the Bible by working harder to read it. Instead, finding ways to enjoy changed everything.
I began to paint scripture, draw scripture, recite it on long walks. I prayed while playing solitaire, sang praise songs at the top of my lungs, and made art to remind me of Jesus. Suddenly, God’s joy was everywhere in my life.
Oddly, my natural discipline sometimes hinders my walk with God. I depend on my hard work instead of meeting Christ with joy.
But as it says in Psalm 37:4, delighting myself in God gives me the desires of my heart.
Being Honest About My Anxiety Brought Me Home
I grieve that I spent so long anxious about my faith. But once I allowed myself to be honest with God about my alienation, I started to heal.
Years after my desperate prayers to God, reading scripture has become easier. God transformed my prayers into deep wells of peace. And instead of working hard to seek Him, I found He’s Lord of every joyful thing.
In a way, God used my anxiety to guide me back to Him. By His power, I can affirm that I do not have to be anxious about anything.