The Anatomy of Anxiety, Part 2: Sentry Duty
A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words
Picture the difference between anger, anxiety, and vigilant faith like this:
*Anger: The Fight Response to Threat—Attack: Vigilante Justice.
Taking matters into my own hands.
*Anxiety: The Flight Response to Threat—Retreat: Vigil without Action.
Taking my safety into my own hands. “If I worry enough, at least I feel as if I have some control.”
*Vigilance: The Faith Response to Threat—Befriend and Tend (Engage and Protect): Vigorous Response.
Taking the safety of myself and others and surrendering it to God’s hands while I take a stand for God’s plan. It is befriending and tending to others even when I am threatened.
Called to Sentry Duty
The root “vig” relates to sentry. God built into our brains a sentry. A sentinel. Adam went off sentry duty when he allowed his wife to be attacked by Satan without intervening. He failed to use his vigor—his energy, force, power given to him from God to “keep the garden” and to “cleave to his wife.”
Where does fear fit into this equation? We know that fear is a God-given emotion. We are called to fear God. Why did God create us with a capacity to fear, and how does fear run amok?
Fear is our response to uncertainty about our resources in the face of danger. We are assaulted by a force that overwhelms us. Then we are compelled to face that we are helpless and that ultimately our safety is out of our control. Faith faces this reality by trusting in the unseen reality of a God who cares and controls. Fear compels me to face my neediness.
Anxiety is fear without faith. It is vigilance run amok. We scan the horizon constantly, fearfully, but without ever taking action or responsibility. And without clinging to God.
Jesus models constructive vigilance in the garden. He faced His dread of death (Matthew 26:39). And He placed faith in His Father’s good heart and strong hands (Matthew 26:39).
Jesus’ disciples modeled destructive fear and anxiety. Peter at one point chose the fight response of vigilante justice—cutting off an ear! At another point Peter chose the flight response of vigil without action—denying the Lord three times. All of the disciples displayed the inability to hold a vigil. “Could you not keep vigil with me one hour?”
Faith or Fear?
Healthy vigilance and a godly response to fear prompt us to relationship: trusting God with faith. And it prompts us to impact: protecting others through vigilance with vigor.
Abnormal, unhealthy, sinful anxiety prompts us to retreat from relationship: we turn to inward scanning without relational trust in God. And it prompts us to retreat from impact: we experience vigilance without vigor as we self-protect instead of lovingly and strongly protecting others.
Fear of God roots us in the essence of existence not in the externals of our situation. Where does fear drive us? To protect ourselves through the flight response of anxiety or the fight response of anger? Or to God, our Protector who empowers us to tend and befriend (“Guard the garden!”)?