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Throwing a Chair at My Anxiety: Brian Barnett

with Brian Barnett | November 3, 2023
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A miasma of life-upending health issues depended on Brian Barnett—and left a mark. Here's how he's surmounting and healing the anxiety following legit trauma.

[For] people who are dealing with chronic pain, oftentimes their brain goes into this state of extreme caution, and now, even though you're in a safe situation, your brain is still functioning in that way. -- Brian Barnett

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A miasma of life-upending health issues depended on Brian Barnett—and left a mark. Here’s how he’s surmounting the anxiety following legit trauma.

Throwing a Chair at My Anxiety: Brian Barnett

With Brian Barnett
|
November 03, 2023
| Download Transcript PDF

Brian: [For] people who are dealing with chronic pain, oftentimes their brain goes into this state of extreme caution, and now, even though you're in a safe situation, your brain is still functioning in that way.

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.

Dave: This is FamilyLife Today!

Today is an exciting day at FamilyLife Today. Do you know why?

Ann: Yes, I do know why.

Dave: Why?

Ann: I'm looking across the table—

Dave: —I thought you were going to say, “Because I'm sitting here.”—

Ann: —Oh, that’s always good—

Dave: —You were looking at me.

Ann: We've got Shelby Abbott in the studio with us today.

Dave: First of all, let me say, “Welcome to FamilyLife Today!”

Shelby: Thank you.

Dave: I don't know. How many times have you been in this studio?

Shelby: I don't know—

Dave: —You're in here when we're not in here—

Shelby: —a Baker’s Dozen? I'm not sure—

Dave: You've been here when we're not in here.

Shelby: Yes, I record in here sometimes and do a few things for my podcast.

Dave: And our listeners can't see you, but—

Ann: —They know that—

Dave: —if they're watching on YouTube, they know you're freezing right now. [Laughter]

Shelby: It's true.

Dave: Because you're in a T-shirt—

Shelby: —Florida overcompensates with the AC!

Ann: It's true!

Shelby: That is definitely the truth around here. Yes, I wore a T-shirt, and I'm not an expert like you guys are. I forgot to bring a sweatshirt.

Dave: Yes, we should get a blanket for our guests because they don’t know. [Laughter]

Ann: Especially the ones that are from Philly.

Shelby: Yes, I don't know how I feel about wearing a blanket inside the studio [Laughter] while we're sitting here talking about stuff.

Ann: Our listeners have heard Shelby's voice a lot—

Shelby: —yes, probably—

Ann: —every day, yes.

Dave: I mean, you wrap every program.

Shelby: Yes, every program now.

Dave: But you do something else that a lot of our listeners know that you do, and some don't, called Real Life Loading. Tell us what that's all about.

Shelby: That is a relatively new podcast from FamilyLife®that launched last September.

Dave: It’s been that long?

Shelby: Yes, it's been that long. They brought me on to start this podcast to aim at a new demographic for FamilyLife®, and that is 18 to 28-year-olds, so we're—

Dave: —You don't think that's our demographic here, Shelby? [Laughter]

Shelby: Not quite. You've got a couple of years on it, maybe four or five. [Laughter]   We really wanted to be intentional about reaching the next generation, so the idea really was, [that] what FamilyLife®normally does is land the plane in terms of ministry with marriages and families. Well, the runway needs to be built before the plane can land, and before the runway can be built, the brush needs to be cleared in the field. Consider Real Life Loading clearing the brush before we can build the runway to land the plane.

There's a lot of stuff that happens in the life of a person who starts at 18 and ends at 28. So much stuff can happen. We're trying to address and really hit that age demographic and talk about the real things that impact their life on a daily basis. So that's what we're trying to do.

Dave: Well, talk about today. We get to hear a little bit of a conversation you had with a friend of yours on Real Life Loading, and by the way, you can find that at FamilyLife.com under our network of podcasts, right?

Shelby: Yes. Today I'm talking—we're going to hear some clips of my conversation with one of my best friends in the whole world. His name is Brian Barnett. Brian has gone through a number of different experiences in his life that have given him a unique perspective on what it means to walk with God. Really, when the rubber meets the road; when all else is stripped away, what does it mean to have a robust, thriving relationship with God when things are kind of attached by a string? So, that's what we're going to hear about today.

[Recording]

Brian: In 2018, I started to have unexplainable health problems, so much so that I was bedridden for two years. I was experiencing migraines 24/7 through the night; struggling to sleep; I had blurry vision. From 2018 to 2020, I lived most of my life in a bed, which was insane to even think about now, with two little kids, [and] a ministry. I had to go on medical leave. I felt like I was losing my mind, let alone my body, and at times, [I felt] like I was losing my faith.

It turned out that it was the house that we were living in. We were living in an over 100-year-old house, and we found out that there was a lot of mold in the house. So, when we found that out, we made the hard decision to move out of our house to an apartment. I thought I would get better right away, just being out of that moldy environment, but it led me on a year-and-a-half journey of trying to get healthy, both physically and mentally.

Through that year, I started to get better, but I wasn't completely better. I was out of the bed, but I would have relapses into so much pain every month or so. It was very alarming, and I couldn't figure out why this kept happening, even though we were in a safe environment.

Shelby: So, you ended up seeing your Christian counselor, and he advised you to consider taking an intense, what he called a “Mental Health Program” called “DNRS,” which is Dynamic Neural Retraining System. Tell me what happened in that whole process.

Brian: Yes. It's surreal to think about, because it's through a mental health program that has no religious affiliation, but I feel like God used it to supernaturally heal me. Seeing this counselor was helpful, and he put me on this course which says that [for] people who are dealing with chronic pain, oftentimes, their brain goes into this state of extreme caution. Now, even though you're in a safe situation, your brain is still functioning in that way. So, you need to retrain your brain to send the right messages to [your] body instead of the negative messages to [your] body.

Shelby: So, tell me how it worked out for you.

Brian: I started this on a Monday. This was August of 2021, and I was in bed: massive headaches; blurry vision. I had plantar fasciitis that was diagnosed; I was wearing braces on my feet. By the end of the week, I was too nervous to admit it in the moment, but I was completely healed. I didn't wear the braces on my feet; my body was healthy within one week. I had gone back to work after I had spent months of not working, being on medical leave. It was completely surreal.

Shelby: Yes.

Brian: Now mind you, many people have taken this course, and [for] many people, it takes longer than a week.

Shelby: Yes.

Brian: But for me, it was such a drastic change, and some of the stuff they do is, anytime you have this negative thought that comes into your mind or anytime—like for me, anytime I smelled what I perceived to be mold, I would be filled with so much fear that this was going to be the beginning of the end of me just being stuck in bed.

Basically, the program says [that] anytime you have any negative thoughts, tell yourself to “Stop, stop, stop!” Tell yourself that you need to think about what is true and what is right. What you're seeing [is] a glimpse already to biblical truths. For me, I was thinking, “Well, what's the greatest truth that I know? It's Scripture. It's Jesus. So, I'm just going to speak the words of Scripture over my life.” I stopped the negative thoughts and then spoke Scripture, and within a week, my life was completely different.

Shelby: Okay, so you created a document that's a collection of verses in Scripture that bridges the gap between the program that you went through and the Bible. Talk a little bit about bridging that gap, and some of the scripturally based stuff that connects so well.

Brian: Yes, and this is where I'm going to get most excited, Shelby. Seriously, it blows my mind when I look at these verses in Scripture and what I went through in my life.

Romans 12 talks about, “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of [your] mind.” So, how do I renew my mind? I looked up verses like 2 Corinthians 10 that says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion that's raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.”

When I used to read those verses, I used to always think [that] I'm going to be in a conversation with someone about evangelism and apologetics. I'm going to capture their thoughts and [think], “You're wrong.” But I realized that most of the time, the lies that I'm believing aren't coming from outside. It's coming from within. I then remembered that Satan is described as the “father of lies;” Satan, most likely, is not going to try to do something overtly to tempt you. Most of the time, he's going to subtly implant lies, disbeliefs, and half-truths in your mind.

In light of all of that, transform my mind; take thoughts captive; make [them] obedient to Christ. How do I actually do that? Then I remembered Philippians 4 which says, “Do not be anxious about anything but through prayer, petition, and thanksgiving, present your requests to God and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

That was helpful, but then the very next verse is even better. [Are] you ready for this?

Shelby: Give it to me.

Brian: It says, “Whatever is true, whatever is holy, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is excellent, whatever is commendable; think about those things and the peace of God will be with you.”

Shelby: Beautiful.

Brian: So, how do I take my thoughts captive? How do I stop them and make them obedient to Christ? I think about what is true, holy, and good, and all of these things, which is essentially DNRS: stop the thoughts, take them captive, and then say what is true.

And we know what is true about Jesus; that He loves us, that He cares for us, that we are adopted as sons and daughters. It's not based on what we do. We are heirs of the King of kings. Oh, my goodness!! [Laughter] Come on!

Through that, and trying to remind myself of that every day, the Lord has healed me, and it is amazing! I'm still tempted by worry. I still worry. The difference now is, I can notice the worry. I can notice the fear, and then I can actually practice these things by replacing these lies and worries with the truth of God.

[Studio]

Dave: We've been listening to a segment from Real Life Loading, our podcast here with FamilyLife®under our network of podcasts. Man, that last part—

Ann: —with Brian Barnett. Wasn't that inspiring?

Dave: Oh, we all need to hear that.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: So, we're going to let you go back and hear the rest of this story.

[Recording]

Shelby: Can you give us maybe a few relatable things to practice when we're going through something painful? Maybe there's a 20-year-old person listening who doesn't necessarily need a program like the one you mentioned, but they are struggling. They're struggling with pain, anxiety, stress; the daily grind of wrestling with life's problems. Start by telling us what to do when life is life.

Brian: Yes. Well, the crazy thing about the program I went through, and then this deep dive of Scripture—which I have a list of 15 verses related to thinking rightly and the promises of God associated with it—I got into all of this to try to get physically better so I could have my life back. The thing that has really changed is not just my physical health, but my ability to fight against worry and anxiety.

I know that one of the biggest problems every Gen. Z student is dealing with is worry and anxiety. You don't need to go through this program for worry and anxiety, but you do need to figure out how to use Scripture to fight against worry, to literally take those negative thoughts captive.

I will be going about my day, and I have a negative thought. I will literally tell myself, “Stop, stop, stop! That is not from the Lord. Here is what is true of God in light of my situation.” Sometimes, I'll say it out loud. Sometimes, I just say it in my mind, and I'm doing this dozens and dozens of times every day. To me, that's a picture of how we walk in the Spirit; replacing these negative thoughts with what is true from the Spirit.

So, I would tell a 20-year-old that there is so much grace for you if you are riddled with worry and anxiety. There is no condemnation, at all, for your anxiety or worry or doubts or depression. But, at the same time, God does want to give you victory in this area. He wants you to grow in the area of having a renewed mind in the things of Jesus. He wants you to take steps of faith.

For me, that involved counseling; that involved taking care of my physical health and diet. And, of course, it meant knowing Scripture, and the Holy Spirit, and how to fight against these worries. We can do it! We can do it together! Let’s go!

Shelby: Yes! [Laughter]

Well, I think that's an important thing that you pointed out, there at the end, some of the things that you went through. How do you think that a young person can practically let God into the difficult parts of their life so that God can transform and heal them? Are there some other things that you can think about that the young person listening now can do?

Brian: Yes. The first thing that comes to mind is: be brutally honest with God about whatever difficulty you're facing. Whatever pain you're facing, whatever worries [or] fears that you have; be brutally honest with God.

This brings it full circle to the two years that I was in bed. I listened to worship music, which helped me cling to God, but the thing that I did most was [listen] to the Psalms, and it sustained me because I saw how brutally honest they were with God. There were things said in the Psalms about, “Where are you, God? You've abandoned me, God.” Things that were said in the Psalms that I thought, “If I said this in a church, they would think I was a heretic.” But it's in the Psalms, and I realized through reading the Psalms, [and] hearing the Psalms, that one of the best ways for us to come to God with our issues is to be brutally honest. He's not surprised. He's not upset.

So, when I was honest with God about my troubles, it was what sustained me. I've talked to you about this verse, right Shelby, about 2 Corinthians, chapter one? It's Paul writing and he says, “I don't want you to be unaware of the troubles I've experienced in Asia. But I was facing so much trouble that I despaired of life itself.” That's not the end, but just right there, I'm so encouraged by it because he was brutally honest. He said things were so hard he essentially wanted to die. He is telling God, and he's telling other people this.

So, being honest about what we're facing is so important. But then the next verse said, “These things happen”—these difficulties happened—"in order that I would rely more on God and less on myself.” Now, looking back years later, all that I've faced with health and worries and fears, I can say without a doubt, that God used that to force me to rely on God. Did I love it in the moment? No. Do I love that I'm closer to God now? 100 percent! 100 percent!

Shelby: I'm really glad that you talked about that because that is a very practical way for someone who needs some help right now to just basically be able to say, “Okay. I can do that. I can yell at God! I could be honest with Him.” You also mentioned this at the end. When I asked you the last question, you said, “Let's do it together.” What do you feel community is like when it comes to someone suffering like this or going through pain?

Brian: Oh man, Scripture is just riddled with this idea over and over again that we should mourn with those who mourn. I think that so many groups of Christians have this perception that we need to have it all together. Or “I have Jesus. Everything's fine!” Which is kind of true, but not really. We need to be honest about the difficulties that we're facing.

So, I would say, “Find a group of Christians. Find a small group. Find a church. Find a Christian organization in which you can be brutally honest with other people.” Because here's the thing that I found out with being brutally honest: everyone's dealing with stuff that is difficult in their lives. Everyone's dealing with it, and when I was willing to be vulnerable, so many other people opened up. I had no idea that they were facing it. Then we got to live out great biblical community by encouraging one another, praying for one another, [and] mourning for each other. It sustained me and is sustaining me.

[Studio]

Dave: Well, that's Shelby Abbott and Brian Barnett talking on Real Life Loading, and we've got Shelby sitting in here in our FamilyLife Today studios.

Shelby, as you listen back to that, do you remember your thoughts or how that conversation impacted you?

Shelby: Yes, well, not just the conversation. I walked with Brian through that season of his life. I wasn't with him in Virginia, but when he would have these breaks and come and spend the summers with us in Ocean City and have a little bit of a retreat from all of the physical suffering that he was going through. We would unpack a lot of that, and then he would go back to Virginia, and he would suffer again. Just really thinking through how I felt in those times of questioning, “Why is this going down for him the way that it is? He's got two young kids. He's trying to be a husband and a father and run a campus ministry.”

But one of the things that we talked about in the interview here is that the Psalms are something that helps us understand that we have permission to be able to have a problem with God. [Do] you know what I mean? They give us this permission to kind of—I ran across this quote from a pastor one time that said, “The Psalms give us permission to beat on God's chest.” And I really felt like Brian did that. I was able to do that with him as well. It's been cool to see how God used the physical sufferings in his life to really purge him of many of his worries and anxieties.

Dave: Yes, I think even as we listen today, all of us, I think, want maturity. We want character. Very few of us want the process.

Shelby: Yes. We always want the shortcut. “Zap me with character, Lord.” It doesn't happen that way.

Dave: Yes.

Ann: Well, we would never make the plan to be healed and to get to this place of really knowing and trusting and encountering Jesus. I have to walk through this really hard valley. And Jesus is in it, but it just feels so lonely. As you said, it's just hard to understand when we see friends or we're walking through that valley.

What do you want listeners to know as you go through this and have that conversation? What do you hope they walk away with?

Shelby: I hope they walk away with a couple of things: that God can always be trusted despite our circumstances; we can always—why don't we default toward “God is good, He is loving, and He's in control in the hard moments,” as opposed to defaulting to the opposite, which is what we commonly do?

Ann: Yes.

Shelby: Then secondly, I'd say it is okay to wrestle with God. It is okay to question God. It is okay to wonder aloud why things are happening the way that they are. I don't think it's okay to stay there for a prolonged period of time, but it's certainly okay to have problems with the way that God is working in your life. You can take that to Him.

Dave: Yes. And I would add, [as] Brian said at the end of your conversation; you need to tell somebody besides God.

Shelby: Yes.

Dave: That community that comes around you—if you're struggling today, don't hide it.

Shelby: Yes,

Dave: Tell somebody. Start a journey because revealing and bringing what's in the dark into the light, starts the healing process.

Shelby: Yes. Christianity was never meant to be a solo thing. Even the Lord's Prayer is “Our Father Who art in heaven.” You know, “Our” Father. It's collective.

Ann: And we, in our individualistic society, don't often go there. So yes, get with your people. Choose them well, and make sure that those are people [who] are not only going to throw their arm around you as you suffer [but] also guide you in the right direction as their arm is around you.

I'm Shelby Abbott. You've been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with me on FamilyLife Today.

Today we got to hear just a few snippets from my FamilyLife®podcast for the upcoming generation called Real Life Loading. Now, on that podcast, we talk about everything in an honest and straightforward way that will be helpful for young people; relevant to what they talk about, and some lightheartedness thrown in there, too. If you know any young person or you have young people in your life, we would love it if you would help them find Real Life Loading.

You can find a link to the podcast in our show notes today, and you can also have them search for Real Life Loading wherever they get their podcasts or on social media. I think it'll be really helpful for them and something that will really challenge them to walk with Jesus as a young person in this crazy culture right now.

Earlier this week we had Jonathan Pokluda on to talk about, “Why I do what I don't want to do.” His book talks about replacing the deadly vices that we have in our lives with life-giving virtues. The book is called “Why Do I Do What I Don't Want to Do?” and it's going to be our gift to you when you partner with us financially. You could go online to get a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com and make your donation there, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329; again, that number is 800, “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY”.

I want to ask you to pray for the Weekend to Remember® marriage events that are happening, starting today, going through Sunday. There are ones that are happening in Cleveland, Cedar Rapids, Pittsburgh, and Coeur d'Alene. And there are actually 40 Weekend to Remember® events happening across the country and still happening between now and the spring. There's still time to find a location near you. You can go to WeekendtoRemember.com and find out all the information about that.

Coming up next week, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be joined in the studio by former NFL player Jeff Kemp as he talks about the manhood crisis. That's coming up next week. We hope you'll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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