Grasping at Anxiety

If you get to know me well enough, you’ll learn that I am a highly anxious person. I over analyze everything and work myself into worrying about things I shouldn’t worry about. It seems like this reality is normative for more and more people these days, or at least more folks are talking about it. Our culture seems to be stuck in the minutia and building anxiety off the narcissism of minutia.

Recently I read a book by Mark Manson which sat at the top of the New York Times best seller list and sold millions of copies. The title is enough to make the more innocent blush so I won’t mention it. Mark is a writer who is simultaneously offensive and incredibly meaningful all at the same time. Manson is not a Christian writer, I have no idea of spiritual beliefs, but his book resonated with many spiritual truths I have contemplated in years past.

Manson’s ultimate point is that human beings often care too much about things we cannot control and create illusions of a reality that will never be. These unrealistic expectations for life create in us a constant negativity because we are comparing reality with something that is unreal.[1][1][1]For more on this idea check out the book The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. I think this is what scripture explains when it approaches the topic of sin. Sin is really trying to be something we are not.

In Genesis chapter two we get a story about God creating the first humans. He gives them one rule, “Don’t eat of this one tree.” The other trees are all fine to eat from and yet we quickly see the one tree they are not allowed to eat from become the center of attention. The feeling you get is that it is like telling a small child that they can play with any toy in a room but “this one toy.” No matter how insignificant that toy is, our natural tendency is to become obsessed with that toy. Why? It is something we can’t have so we imagine it is something we need.

Sin started with a grasping after something that wasn’t for the one grasping. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is not for humanity. That knowledge belongs to God alone. Only God can see enough of the picture to define good and evil. Only God can determine if something is they way he created it or not. We weren’t happy with that arrangement and continue to not be happy with it. We grasp after that knowledge to be ours. We want to be the definers. You hear this played out every time you hear someone question why God would allow so much evil to exist if he is real and is good. The idea behind the question is that we are the arbiters of good and evil and are judging God by our standards.

This phenomenon plays out in every little aspect of our lives. I think that I should be smarter than I am. I strive and grasp for something I wasn’t designed for. I think that I should be prettier than I am and so I strive and grasp for something that is ultimately unobtainable. We are all running around trying to be things we are not, trying to be things we have arbitrarily defined as “better” in our own minds.

Years ago while studying Paul’s letter to the Philippians, I realized he speaks to this very in referring to Jesus in chapter two;

6Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

Philippians 2:6

Jesus is God. This is something we believe as Christians. Paul seems to believe it. Despite this reality, Jesus didn’t see it as something to be “grasped” or another way to put it, controlled or strived for. He just was it. What this taught me is that when we “grasp” after something it is often not what we were designed for. If it was of us, we could hold it with an open hand. We wouldn’t have a fear of losing it. When we grasp, we betray immediately that the thing does not belong to us and we are trying to manipulate or control it into being ours.

I think this is the basic point of Manson’s book. If I were to reframe it from a Christian perspective, it would be “The Subtle Art of Resting in Who God Made You: A Jesus Modeled Way of Living Without Grasping.” Stop grasping after things that aren’t meant for you. All this will cause us is anxiety. Learning to live this way is learning to unfurl our clutching hands and being ok with the things that don’t belong to us fluttering away to wherever they may belong. Trusting that God has it all under control and leaning into his design for us rather than trying to define it by our standards.

Are there things you need to stop grasping after? Have you already stopped grasping and want to share your story? Leave a comment and let’s discuss.


[1]For more on this idea check out the book The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz.

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