Tag Archives: Anxiety

A chaplain’s view on sharing

As a volunteer chaplain for about 15 years now, I know there are two types of group debrief that can happen after a major event. One type is useful, and the other is less useful and (thankfully) going out of fashion.

Situation group debrief
After a major event, it’s useful for the whole team to get together and assess how the situation went, to reflect on both good and bad. This helpful group work fits because the whole group faced the same situation, even though individual responsibilities were different.

Here are some typical questions asked:

“What was the scene like on arrival?”
“What were the patients’ presenting conditions?”
“What standard procedures did we follow? Did we need to modify anything?”
“Did the communication work?”

These are all quite functional: what the team did, and why. It reinforces procedures, investigates when creativity is required, and crystallises any lessons to hold on to.

Support group debrief
The unhelpful group debrief is an attempt to provide support, or psychological first aid, with everyone present. It tends to be a whip-around the group asking everyone, “How are you?” There are a couple of ways it can be a hindrance to support, rather than a help. (That’s why we don’t do this any more!)

The first problem is that people in a group are likely to say they are OK even if that’s not true. This lost opportunity is compounded by the likelihood that managers will hear, “We checked everyone, and they’re fine.”

Secondly, even if there is honest sharing, reactions vary by individual. And rightly so! There may have been just one event, but the numerous participants all bring their own character and history. Group sharing immediately post-event can cross-contaminate responses, or even undermine one’s reaction.

Imagine the following possible thoughts in such a group:

“Adam got teary and sad. Am I sick for not feeling anything much?”
“She got angry at the situation. Maybe that is what I feel, too.”
“Jo looks as calm as she said she is. I must be wrong for this job.”

A lesson in times of Covid-19
These two styles of group debrief came to mind because, it seems to me, in lockdown to reduce the spread of corona virus, social media is playing the role of a debriefing group. That’s good, but it’s also risky.

Social media is good to the extent that information needed by anyone can spread quickly. There is significant news to hear from governments, health agencies, the media, police, extended family, the sports club, schools, churches, local business, …

What’s risky is the amplification of fear and anxiety, or of lies and hatred. I’ve sometimes felt sucked in to a vortex of paranoia and cynicism when scrolling a social media feed. Even knowing this, it can be hard to get the fingers to stop instead of scroll! Even worse, this poisonous type of ‘group’ debrief does not even have the benefit of bringing people to be with each other – we’re still physically apart!

The lesson for me – and maybe for some others, too – is not to run away from all news and information. Rather, it’s important to get the appropriate info while being wary of the subtle dangers of having our reactions contaminated by those things we know are poison.

Is worry a sin?

This was a question I received recently. I wrote a brief reply, and decided to share it here. Without revealing any personal details!

It would be nice to have a simple yes or no to the question, ‘Is worry a sin?’ I think my answer is ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘wrong category’.

Why ‘yes’? Because some worry is wrong.

A great place to see this is Matthew 6:25-34. Jesus’ words here are more than helpful tips, or cognitive skills (though they probably are that). They address loved disciples who struggle with ‘little faith’ (v.30), who need reminding that their Father knows their needs (v.32), and who are tempted to pursue a Gentile worldly-focus (v.32). I suggest that this anxiety issues from following the wrong master (Mat 6:24). That is, some anxiety stems from turning to a substitute god. Perhaps we see that Martha made this anxiety error, while Mary chose the better way (Luke 10:38-42). Therefore the anti-anxiety prescription – or rather the faithful obedience prescription – is to seek first the kingdom of heaven (v.33).

But why also ‘no’? Because the Bible paints some worry as very commendable.

Though Jesus’ death was a unique ministry, his prayerful torment in the Garden of Gethsemane expresses very real human emotion. He was right to be concerned! Paul speaks of his worry for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:28). These concerns were part of his being an apostle – part of his service of Jesus. He also writes of the anxieties of being married compared with the single-minded anxiety to serve Jesus an unmarried person can have (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). The ‘worries’ of both married and single are good are proper.

What do I mean by ‘wrong category’? I think some worry is neither sin nor obedience, but illness.

We’re increasingly aware of mental health problems, and that’s a good awareness. I understand that ‘anxiety’ is the most common type of mental illness. Of course this covers a multitude of types anxiety. We cannot completely un-couple mental health from our spiritual state – they do relate – but there is a difference. When it comes to help and treatment, I suggest using mental health professionals and not becoming introspective about ‘my faith not fixing the anxiety’. To put it differently, use the therapy or medication as needed, and don’t make Christian faith revolve around mental state. Instead, seek to grow as a whole-of-life disciple (Bible & prayer & church & service) and address the matters of worry as one segment of the larger whole. In dealing with any illness, we must remember that we are defined by being ‘in Christ’, not by being ‘in therapy.’

Finally, and touching all of this, the Bible makes it wonderfully clear that change is possible. God does not condemn his children, but transforms us by his Spirit. This is part of how we read Philippians 4:6. God desires to take away our anxieties. It will be a life-long process, but it will happen, and prayer is one of the key ways to shed the worries. I think God changes us in our sinful worries, in our right worries, and even in our illness worries.

Thanks again for asking,
Little Chris