Curtis Chang | Anxiety & the Doorway to Resurrection

Our newest board member, Curtis Chang, just wrote a book about anxiety! He’s been making the rounds in the podcast circuit, and stopped by ours also!

“Anxiety disorders are extremely common. Curtis Chang knows firsthand how anxiety can be extremely disruptive to the healthy and happy lives we all strive for. In this episode Curtis, who is a theologian, host of the Good Faith podcast and executive director of Redeeming Babel, tells the story of his own struggles and the peace he found when he reframed his anxiety as an opportunity to participate in resurrection.”

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Really enjoyed the interview. His suggestions for dealing with anxiety as Jesus did seen on point, with prayer, grieving, and community. We really do seem to have a crisis of community in our world these days. We are no doubt lacking in prayer, and grief is often suppressed as I see so many of the funerals these days almost deny grief as a normal response and try to present death as a “celebration.”


Grief is not about the person who has passed. It is about those left behind. Grief is primarily selfish. We miss the person. They are not there when we need or want them. We have to change to accommodate their loss.
The church can offer some comfort as to the future of the person who has gone but it is less competent at comforting those who mourn. To concentrate on the next life is to ignore the reality of what we are now living.



I like the phrase " category five anxiety storm"! It describes what I go through two or three times a week, though if they were actual storms I’d be able to forecast that they’re coming. As it is, things can be puttering along tolerably well then out of the blue everything is scary and I can’t make decisions because every option feels disastrous.

I wish he’d gone into at least some of the anxiety issues about his mom; I remember as a kid carrying a load of anxiety constantly because we were never sure what mom might blow up about next. If we broke rule X, one day that could bring a lecture, another day just a reminder of the rule, another day a full-blown spanking/whipping accompanied by an almost screamed lecture.

“…It’s not just you’re feeling tired, you’re feeling like your brain is fracturing, your very self is splintering into a thousand pieces.”

I get days like that several times a month, not because of sleep deprivation but because of constantly being on high alert, jumping at any unexpected noise, certain something is about to go terribly wrong.

“Too often it’s been seen as an obstacle to spiritual growth, perhaps even a sin.”

I got that at one church when an elder learned I was taking lithium. I was “trusting in godless science” and “hiding behind a chemical” and other such crap.

“So all anxiety is, is about fear of some future event, future loss, especially loss of our lives, loss of something we value. So it’s not actually responding to a real concrete fear that is present before us. It’s not responding to a saber-tooth tiger. It’s responding to the possibility of a saber-tooth tiger lurking out there somewhere in the darkness”

I’d say that doesn’t quite cover it – it’s not just responding to the possibility of a known cause of fear, it can also be responding to the possibility of an unknown cause of fear. My younger brother went through a period where he was terrified of talking telephones; he couldn’t articulate why a phone might be dangerous to just pick up a phone and either answer a call or call someone, but the dread didn’t respond to reason. I recall another instance when someone for no evident reason was suddenly terrified of getting off the toilet and so sat there waiting for someone to get home though unable to say why that would help.

" Because it turns out that God’s ultimate scenario for us in the future, the true scenario for the future is actually not an avoidance of loss. It’s actually going through loss. That is the ultimate promise we are given as Christians."

That’s so hard to get across in a right-now, me-centered society! And that’s a big reason that I despise preachers like Joel Osteen who insist that Jesus wants your every moment to be happy; they totally invert the whole point of the Gospel, which isn’t about escaping troubles but embracing them. I pick on Osteen especially because I know some people who listen to him constantly and their lives are total messes because they have imbibed the notion that Jesus came to make them comfortable and happy and they end up resenting everything about life that isn’t comfortable or happy, and resenting everyone and everything that they think has stolen some of the happiness they deserve.


So when Lazarus died and Jesus wept, he was being selfish?

What about Rachel weeping for her children? What about a woman suffering devastating grief after a miscarriage?


No, He was being compassionate and sharing the grief.

Rachael’s children is the whole of Israel. It does not apply .

My wife had several miscarriages. The emotions involved are too complex for here. Hormones are involved. But so is loss. (I think you are being a little insensitive)

What on earth are you trying to prove with these questions?


There are issues here that are way beyond my (proverbial) pay grade.

And, obviously I do not know or have heard this particular preacher.
I am, a lay preacher of 40 years
I think you are misunderstanding the intent. In theory, if you place all your troubles at the foot of the cross, and let them go, you will find peace (and happiness). However, this does not miraculously remove the problems altogether, or change how your mother (et al) relates to you. What it does is to give you the strength to endure and the ability to persevere.
I once preached that a Christian should not suffer from stress. A member of the congregation told me that he needed stress to accomplish his work. Each person reacts differently to situations so any generalisation is liable to come up short.
Comparing our lives to others will always fail. The grass is always greener… and we do not know the details or what their happy smile conceals.
There are issues with what you report that should be addressed by the civil authorities rather than the church. I cannot offer you a trite or quick answer, and am reluctant to even try.
Fear, whether irrational or justified is a mental challenge which faith can assist. The peace of God is real, I hope you can one day find it.


What does that even mean? Jesus in his humanity felt genuine grief at the death of his friend. Jesus didn’t just seem to be human; he really was human.

Actually, Matthew uses this prophesy when he reports the grief of the mothers at the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.

That is grief and is not selfish. I’m not being insensitive.

I’m trying to show that grief isn’t selfish, obviously.

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Have I caught a nerve here? Would it being selfish diminish it somehow? Why do people try and hide their grief? Because they see it as a weakness.
Of course grief is selfish. It is all about self. It is about personal loss, usually beyond their control. It may inspire action but that is not the point. It is a personal reaction to a personal problem and people do not like to wash their dirty laundry in public.
Sympathetic or empathic grief is a different matter. Then we are trying to bolster or support the person (people) with their loss. But, you can’t be empathic of something you do not understand. You cannot share in something you have never experienced.

Grief is also a necessary reaction. Trying to bottle it up is psychologically dangerous. It is also a necessary way to close a loss. Christianity does not try and remove grief. “comfort my people” is the prophet’s cry. Coming to terms with the loss is the healing, not ignoring it or trying to cover it up.



One point the Chang made was that Jesus grieved. Grief is not sin. And as such, sincere grief is not selfish, any more than eating bread or taking a nap is selfish. Which Jesus did as well. :wink:


I never said that it was. There is no law against grieving, nor does God ever criticise someone for doing it. Jesus wept, but that was not the grief of loss. It might have been frustration or disappointment.

Depends on what you are grieving for. If the reason for grief is personal then it is still selfish. If the reason for grief is frustration, it could still be selfish. If the reason for grief is empathy or realted to a percieved unjustice or misfortune then it is not selfish, as such, but there could still be selfish frustrations or emotions involved.

The point here is to understand that grief is primarily an outburst caused by pain, either direct or perceived… Calling it selfish is not demeaning, or devaluing it. And like any rule or pronouncement there can be, and are, exceptions to the general rule.


Perhaps we have a different idea of selfishness. I think many would see being selfish as sin. What are your thoughts on that?


Why? Ignoring self is suicidal. The command is
To love others as you love yourself.

If you do not love yourself…

As I tried to indicate earlier, there is a certain necessity in understanding your own emotions before you can understand others. The speck and the plank might also apply here.

Grief is a powerful emotion, yes it is self-centred, but it is not a sin to grieve or mourn. There is nothing wrong with missing someone who has passed on. But to try and suggest that it would be wrong to do so? Just because, primarily it is selfish (you want them back or rather not to have gone at all) Do you really think God expects us just to accept it as beyond our control and therefore beyond our care?

Perhaps looking at anything self as sin is going beyond Scripture. Is eating not selfish? Does that make eating a sin?


Well, the dictionary definition of selfish is : (of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.

Caring for one’s self is not selfish.


Not at all

Or maybe they don’t want some insensitive person telling them their grief is selfish. And such a person should never counsel others!

Word salad, and moving the goal posts. I’m tempted to put Air Tags on them so we can track them.

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Reminds me of Lewis’ talent at communication in weeping in “The Last Battle”:

“So,” said Peter, “night falls on Narnia. What, Lucy! You’re not crying? With Aslan ahead, and all of us here?”
“Don’t try to stop me, Peter,” said Lucy, “I am sure Aslan would not. I am sure it is not wrong to mourn for Narnia. Think of all that lies dead and frozen behind that door.”
“Yes, and I did hope,” said Jill, “that it might go on for ever. I knew our world couldn’t. I did think Narnia might.”
“I saw it begin,” said the Lord Digory. “I did not think I would live to see it die.”
“Sirs,” said Tirian. “The ladies do well to weep. See, I do so myself. I have seen my mother’s death. What world but Narnia have I ever known? It were no virtue, but great discourtesy, if we did not mourn.”


That’s really interesting. Thank you. I remember a lecture by a Dr John Patrick, who said that he thought there were three or four levels of happiness, starting at eating and self oriented activities like that, and increasing to shared pleasure and finally service to God. As he said, there’s nothing wrong about them.

I remember the apostle Paul said that we do not mourn as those who have no hope. Interestingly, he did not say that we should not mourn, I think. Thanks for the discussion.

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Okay, without labouring a point too far.:

Giref if directed at a situation that is not personal is clearly not selfish by the dictionary defininition. Your concern is with those who are suffering. That is what I am calling empathic or sympathetic grief.

If you have lost a loved one it is all about you. Some may look at it as weeping for the cutting short of a life, and (possibly) the future of that life, but primarily what you are sad about is your loss. Being able to continue your life without the interaction with the missing Person. That is what hurts. That is what you are grieving about. And, technically, that is selfish. But…

There is, obviously, baggage to the term selfish that makes people uncomfortable. The ideais not to demean, insult or be insensitive but to help people move on. And realising that much of the grief is self centred can do just that. Have you ever seen someone who just will not let go. They put flowers at the site of death, or meticulously tend a grave? That is selfish. There is no concern for anyone or anything other than their loss. It serves no other purpose but to comfort themslelves in thinking that they are honouring or remembering, All noble thoughts but actually untrue. The deceased will gain nothing from these obsessive signs of grief.

You only have to look back at the reactions to the death of Dianna (Princess of Wales) to see selfish grief in abundance. (Look at me, I cared more about her than Charles did)


Too late. :slightly_smiling_face:

We are built for relationships, even vicarious and unilateral ones to a significant degree apparently. When one is damaged, broken or terminated, it is not selfish to feel pain any more than it is when you have a hangnail. Pain results in responses of various kinds, depending on the cause of the pain and its severity, but there is certainly no necessary selfishness in a response. Some wounds take longer to heal than others, and that will necessarily depend on the nature of wound and the individual who is wounded. Of course pain relieving responses can become excessive and obsessive, but neither does that mean appropriate and expected ones are selfish. Grief is a normal response to a wound, and to deem it selfish is a misunderstanding.

Back to the podcast…
I thought some of Chang’s claims were strange at best, such as Jesus having taught breathing techniques. He didn’t provide any kind of evidence for that.

And while I valued his points that we all must go through ultimate loss to experience resurrection, that IS a Christian theological claim, one that most non-christians would find strange or unbelievable. It would be hard for that to count as a comfort to any non.

However, his insights into what anxiety is were useful:

That’s what anxiety is, is when we’ve gotten hijacked into the future, our fight or flight systems have been hijacked such that they’re responding to an ever shifting, ever sort of newly creatively constructed fears of loss that our bodies respond to as if it is happening to us right now. It’s not, but we responded as it’s happening to us right now.

And this

What happens with anxiety is that we start letting fear of some future loss grip us….I would say first of all, one really helpful thing is if we are in the grip of anxiety, … is to simply leave the future, not permanently, but at least in the moment of our fear because our temptation is going to want to fight anxiety … on its terrain of the future. So actually, Jesus,…one of his most practical teachings on anxiety in the Sermon on the Mount, do not be anxious passage. Matthew six, he’s advising his people……, if you are caught in anxiety, and he says, don’t be anxious, if you are caught in anxiety, leave the future. Tomorrow has enough trouble of its own Jesus says, come back to the present.

It’s the same way with God. We relate to God and grow our relationship with God in the present. …. It’s a warning sign to say, hey, you’re living in the future, come back to the present and the present is where you can actually grow that relationship with God. Now, once that happens, as we do that, then God can actually give us his vision of the future, which is going to be different perhaps than the vision of the future we want. Because the vision of the future that most of us naturally want is the vision of the future that guards us against loss.