on March 9, 2012
Rhett Smith approaches a challenging topic--one that is often tackled with a "fix it" perspective--with gentleness, wisdom, and compelling insight. I love how he shares transparently from his own challenges and struggles with anxiety, while at the same time drawing on his considerable experience and training as licensed marriage and family therapist.
Discussions about anxiety so often approach it as a problem to be fixed--one that is ultimately shameful and a sign of weakness, and one that should be hidden from others in professional settings and even at times in personal relationships.
But Rhett forgoes these all-too-common approaches in The Anxious Christian: Can God Use Your Anxiety for Good? and instead delves into how anxiety can be a potential source of good in a person's life.
For me personally, I was really touched by his exploration of how our anxiety can be reimagined, that is, how God can use it to reshape pain and suffering in powerful ways. Rhett writes that "[anxiety] is God's tool to help you grow, and the catalyst that helps us get unstuck and move out of the rut." In fact, God uses anxiety, Rhett explains, "[...] as a way for you to give birth to new life and to follow after the new opportunities that are out there that He is calling you toward" (p.76).
As someone who has experienced anxiety to deep and impacting degrees at many points in my life, I found this book to contain very good news--a most welcome message of hope.
on March 19, 2012
Rhett has managed to take the topic of anxiety and wrap it with a humble instruction. He clearly shows that anxiety is not a final destination but can be a journey of discovering critical truth. Anxious Christian lifts this struggle from the cellar of shame, that much of society has labeled it, and provides a new perspective laced with hope. For those who have grappled with anxiety of any kind they will find a worthwhile and helpful read in Anxious Christian administered through the lens of Rhett's own journey. It is a rare and delightful treat to see someone with depth of knowledge and professional acuity apply it with such a careful humility. Read this book!
on January 25, 2014
“I was a thirty-five-year-old grown man sitting in my therapist’s office sobbing like an uncontrollable child…I began to realize that all those years I had allowed anxiety to get a stronger hold over my life… But anxiety was still in a battle to exert more control over my life than I wanted.” (Rhett Smith, The Anxious Christian, 174)
Smith provides assurance to anxious people that “God does not leave you alone in your anxiety…” (76). He generously shares his own experiences with marital problems, career concerns, and losing a parent. In what reads more like a memoir than self-help, Smith is like a friend saying “I know how you feel.”
The problem with The Anxious Christian is its theology on suffering. Smith, a licensed therapist, seems to endorse the idea that anxiety is from God rather than the result of living in an imperfect world. Referencing a session with a therapy client and the cause of the person’s anxiety, Smith asked the client, “What if God put that anxiety in your life for a purpose?” (84) Smith also reflects on his own life and suggests “…anxiety was perhaps a feeling that God had placed in my life to help bring about change.” (88)
The idea of God bringing a spirit of power, love and a sound mind doesn’t seem to match with Smith’s idea that God is the source of anxiety.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.
on March 26, 2012
I am not sure what I appreciate more about Rhett Smith's "The Anxious Christian: Can God Use Your Anxiety for Good?," the argument he makes or how he makes it. In this book Smith's basic premise--about which I think he is certainly right-- may seem counter-intuitive to many. As his subtitle hints, he does not argue that anxiety is carte blanche a negative emotion to be avoided, escaped as quickly as possible, or ignored. Smith does not tell you that you are wrong, faithless, or somehow emotionally deficient for having anxiety. Instead he makes the case that anxiety--though not fun and easy--can be something that God can use to help one grow in life and to recognize and face head-on past and present issues that a person may otherwise never deal with.
Thankfully, "The Anxious Christian" does not take an unsophisticated view that all anxiety functions in the same way or always manifests positively (i.e. Smith does not paint a glorified or over-simplistic picture of his perspective on anxiety). He acknowledges in several places that anxiety can take helpful and harmful forms. For example, Smith notes that it is natural and good to have butterflies before public speaking or while saying your wedding vows. But there are experiences of anxiety that can become "characterized by worry and an inability to make decisions in life, leading to mental and emotional paralysis" (p. 33). However, whichever kind of anxiety one may have--and the book primarily is about facing the fearful, debilitating kind--it still does not have to be characterized as something devoid of value or as a hopeless state to be denied or abandoned to. In essence, Smith suggests in a non-pray-it-away way that anxiety can become what you allow God to make of it (i.e. If one is open to it and willing to look at and listen to the anxiety with the lens of Christian faith in God and the support of others, God can transform it into a catalyst for positive change in one's life.)
While I think the argument that "The Anxious Christian" makes about anxiety is spot it, it would not be nearly so compelling or believable without its greatest strength and hook: Smith's own personal story of his struggle with anxiety since childhood. He wastes no time in beginning with a very tragic childhood event that had the effect of awaking and shaping a difficult and deep anxiety that he has wrestled with since. One of the results of what happened led to him being a stutterer (There are heart-wrenching descriptions of near panic when having to read aloud in middle school, something very easy to picture for any reader). Smith keeps the reader engaged and understanding his argument by judiciously stringing his narrative throughout the book. At the end of each personal story you find yourself wanting to know more about what happens to him next. You end up caring about him as a "character" as much as you do about the subject of the book itself. His stories have an openness, vulnerability, and honesty that makes the whole project work and understandable. The power of his argument lays in the fact that you can see it displayed in a very real life which is his own.
In the end, one might ask whether the book is more "memoir as self-help" or "self-help as memoir." I am not sure if such a distinction needs to be made, given my belief that one of the best ways to show a "helpful" path is through a story. However, I would say that "self-help" as a descriptor is ultimately not accurate or adequate for "The Anxious Christian." If anything the point is not about "self-help," but "God-help." The Christian God and that God's character and story are ultimately what makes Smith's case intelligible and possible. He believes that God has redeemed the world through the life, death (you would have to be clueless not to see anxiety in the Gethsemane story), and resurrection of the Son, Jesus. Because of this that same God can redeem and transform one's anxiety through the power of the Son via the Holy Spirit. One could dismiss such a description as too "religious" and trite except that Smith succeeds in showing its reality in his own life as well as in the lives of others (For those with an interest in theology and philosophy, I would be remiss to not note that it is easy to see the intentional influences of Kierkegaard and Bonhoeffer on the perspective of The Anxious Christian. I am a big fan of both of these thinkers, so that is a huge plus for me.). If you are a Christian--or even if you are not--and you are struggling with anxiety and feel frozen in fear by it, this is a book with honesty in it that you will want in your Amazon shopping cart.
on March 1, 2012
This book is thoughtful and authentic. The author gently challenges the stereotypes most Christians have about anxiety and leads us into the redemptive freedom of choice that we have been given. This unique perspective is restorative and hopeful. This book is definitely worth your time. Highly recommend!
on August 6, 2013
Although there are some Biblical advice on the subject, the author does not take full advantage of his personal experience to empower others overcome their anxiety. The approach of using it to propel forward is rather controversial in that not all manifestations of anxiety can be considered positive to those around that suffer it.
Due to his background as a therapist, the author finalizes by recommending professional advice, which many readers might not have access to, being the first reason they bought this book.
I have followed Rhett Smith on twitter for several years as moved to Texas and started a counseling practice. I have read his blog as he thoughtfully talked about issues of technology, theology, marriage and faith.
I was not surprised when Moody approached him about writing a book. I knew it would be good and well worth reading.
But when I heard it would be about anxiety, I thought it would be a good book for me to pass on to friends and family. Because I have a particular understanding of anxiety. Anxiety is rooted in fear, fear is something that as Christians we should not have. Therefore the best thing to do with anxiety is to reject it as sin.
Thankfully, that is not the thesis of this book. Autobiographically, Rhett Smith works through how he dealt with fear and anxiety through the early loss of his mother (and much of his extended family to cancer), his problems with stuttering, school and the normal anxiety of growing up, finding a career, and relationships.
Smith knows that fear and anxiety can crush us and being defeated by fear may become sin. But more to the point of the book, Smith believes that God has created us in a way that God can use normal anxiety about the world around us to help move us in positive directions. God intentionally creates us in ways that place us in situations where we are forced to grow. He uses marriage (professionally his is a marriage counselor) as one example: "David Schnarch in his book Passionate Marriage...refers to marriage as "people growing machines." This relationship that I now found myself in was designed by God, not only for me to experience an intimate connection with another person, but to help me to grow up and become a more mature human being. Terry Hargrave writes, "one of the basic philosophies I have about all relationships is that they require us to grow up a little and learn more about ourselves." I might add that they often require us to grow up more than a little--perhaps a great deal!"
Smith talks about how God used his anxiety of speaking in front of others (because of his stuttering) to help teach dependence on God and to illustrate to Rhett that God can work in ways that we would not assume.
Surprisingly, one of the things I learned from this book is that I am actually anxious about being anxious. I push down anxiety because I am afraid of potential conflict, loss of control and some of the negative ways I have seen people deal with anxiety around me. It is surprising that a book about anxiety can be so positive, but Rhett Smith has presented a very positive view of anxiety.
There are some expected (and helpful) sections on creating margin in your life, taking care of yourself, creating appropriate boundaries and other things that remove some of the inappropriate power of anxiety and fear. I also appreciated Rhett's frank discussion about his own experience in therapy (and as a therapist). Christians often have inappropriately negative views about therapy and anything that can be done to lessen those should be celebrated.
I have already given away one copy of this books and I will be giving away more.
Note: The author sent me a paperback copy for review. I purchased my own kindle version and gave away the paperback.
on May 2, 2012
A few weeks ago, I received Emily Freeman's newsletter in my inbox. I was just giving it a quick glance and saw a book mentioned by a name I had never heard of, Rhett Smith. I clicked on the link because it mentioned a book The Anxious Christian. All of my life, I have viewed myself as unworthy, not a good enough Christian and honestly disliked who I was, simply because of my anxiety. The tag line of the book says, Can God Use Your Anxiety for Good? When I saw those words, my first thought was no way! My anxiety paralyzes me. It keeps me from going and doing many activities, because of fear. What if I'm stuck in the bathroom sick and miss the whole concert or field trip or whatever I want to enjoy? How can God use that for His good? We don't open up our house and invite community in as often as we should, because of my anxiety. We were created to live in community and enjoy community, so how can my anxiety be something good?
Part of the back of the book cover says: "In our journey of faith there are particular moments that produce a certain amount of anxiety. Often anxiety and/or worry has been looked upon as an "un-Christian" feeling to have. But The Anxious Christian conveys the message that anxiety can actually be helpful in our spiritual formation, and that God can use anxiety as a catalyst to move people forward in their life of faith. In that movement, anxiety's gift is that it allows us to face our resistance and fears, understand where those fears come from, and then make intentional choices about important issues such as career, marriage, money, and our sprititual lives. It's time to get unstuck."
I have got to tell you that this book might have been one of the most life changing books I have ever read in my life. I have no idea how many books I have read, but I promise you, it is many. Just reading the foreword had me hooked. The first chapter had me in tears. I love that Rhett includes quotes from different authors in the book, also. It gave me some ideas of other books that I might enjoy reading. The best thing that I got out of this book is that I am NOT alone! The enemy wants to isolate us and make us ashamed of things like our anxiety and depression. No one likes admitting that they have issues with anxiety or depression, because some people do not believe they are that big of a deal. My mother in law likes to just say I'm a worrier and I just need to trust God. I do trust God. I know that He knows everything I am going to face. I know that He knows about my anxiety. I have a whole new outlook on anxiety after reading this book. I do believe that God can use it for my good. I do believe that that might just be the way that he is choosing to mold me and shape me into the person He wants me to be.
This entire book just felt like it was full of hope and encouragement. It was an easy read and I am a fast reader, but I found myself wanting to read this book slowly and really think and pray on each chapter of the book. I feel like God pointed me to this book during this season of my life. Anxiety is something I have seriously feared for at least 25 years. Chest pains have sent me to the ER, thinking I was having a heart attack. This book has taught me that anxiety is not something to be feared. God could very well be using it to call me closer to Him and to show me my calling. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone that has ever worried or faced anxiety in any form. It is very helpful and might be just what you need. I purchased the Kindle version, but I will also purchase the print version, because I want this book in my hands to go through again and highlight and write in the margins.
on June 18, 2012
The subtitle of Rhett Smith's book The Anxious Christian is either a very silly rhetorical question or designed to feed the anxieties of the target audience. "Can God use your anxiety for good?" Well, of course He can. God's ability in that regard has never really been in question. If you're one of Smith's anxious Christians, though, maybe your anxiety about God's ability will drive you to buy the book.
Smith uses the early chapters of the book to recount his own struggle with anxiety as a young man. The loss of his mother and several other close relatives at an early age drove him to compulsive behaviors in an attempt to bring some control to his anxious, insecure life. Smith then explores the lessons he has learned from seeing God's work in his life.
Christians who don't wrestle with anxiety on a regular basis may immediately point to Phillippians 4 where Paul instructs us to "be anxious for nothing". Smith addresses this directly in the first chapter, saying that while the instruction is "powerful" and is often counseled by those who "mean well", we can inadvertently communicate the wrong message.
"When we discourage others from safely expressing their anxiety, then we are essentially saying to them that anxiety is a bad emotion, and that it is something to be done away with. It communicates to them that perhaps something is wrong with their Christian faith...
Kierkegaard referred to anxiety as our "best teacher" because of its ability to keep us in a struggle that strives for a solution, rather than opting to forfeit the struggle and slide into a possible depression."
There, in a nutshell, is what Smith is going to come back to in nearly every chapter of the book: to recognize that God is continuously at work in us, and that our anxiety can be useful if it drives us forward to continued struggle and action. He says that God "uses [your anxiety] to awaken you and help turn you toward Him." In chapter four he goes further to say that "God wants you to pay attention to it [anxiety]. He wants you to listen to it. For in your anxiety God is speaking to you and He is encouraging you to not stay content with where you are."
In the last few chapters, Smith puts his experience as a marriage and family therapist to good use as he provides some practical suggestions for working in areas that often cause anxiety; he discusses setting good personal boundaries, refining personal relationships, and asking for help.
With a topic like this, an author runs the risk of playing the victim card, but Smith handles it deftly. As one who has struggled with anxiety at various times in my adult life, I appreciated the reminder that God is at work in my life. While I know it to be true, Smith's book was a welcome kick-in-the-pants reminder.
Note: Moody Press provided me a free copy of this book asking only that I give it a fair review.
on June 26, 2015
So many things in life are quick fixes. Things like a chain off of a bicycle, a light bulb needing replacing, tightening the hinge on a door, or placing a band-aid over a small cut.
But what about anxiety that lingers and stays with you for days upon days? We want it to go away and we want it to stay away. We find temporary solace in prescription meds or a week of vacation, but the anxiety seems here to stay.
Rhett Smith tackles anxiety from a veterans approach - he himself has dealt with it in his own life. Rather than dismissing anxiety and seeing it as a quick-fix, Smith handles with care and grace the opportunity for discovery and growth through bouts with anxiety.
Smith is very thoughtful, careful and articulate with helping readers understand how to navigate through and find victory not just after anxiety, but in the midst of it.
This entire book is riddled with the theme of Romans 8:28.
Thank you to Moody Press for the book in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.