What’s God Think about My Anxiety? Dr. Ed Welch
Anxiety can feel crippling and heavy with shame. Psychologist and author Dr. Ed Welch fumbled with his own anxiety, and eventually, it led him into life-altering encounters with God—who, it turned out, had beautiful things to say.
How can we create a context in our home where children can speak openly? That’s the challenge. If our children are accustomed to being rebuked quickly or corrected quickly, it doesn’t take many of those occasions for a child to say, “Well, there are certain things you’re not allowed to talk about here, and so we don’t talk about these things.” How can we as parents, and how can we as churches create a place where people can speak from their hearts? -- Dr. Ed Welch
About the Guest
- Hear Ed Welch on Right Now Media and listen to other episodes he's been on and connect with his Christian couseling ministry.
- Intrigued by today's episode? Think deeper about anxiety in our blog post, Anxiety: What You Need to Know.
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Psychologist and author Dr. Ed Welch fumbled with his own anxiety, and eventually, it led him into life-altering encounters with God—who, it turned out, had beautiful things to say.
What’s God Think about My Anxiety? Dr. Ed Welch
Ed: How can we create a context in our home where children can speak openly? That’s the challenge. If our children are accustomed to being rebuked quickly or corrected quickly, it doesn’t take many of those occasions for a child to say, “Well, there are certain things you’re not allowed to talk about here, and so we don’t talk about these things.” How can we as parents, and how can we as churches create a place where people can speak from their hearts?
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.
This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: So you’ve met with more teenage, college-age girls recently than I can remember in the last 20 years, about depression, trauma, shame—
Ann: Anxiety, suicidal ideation, self-harm, and I’ve met with a lot of those moms as well, and they’re scared. They’re scared for their daughters. They’re scared because they’re wondering what’s causing this. Is it Covid? Is it social media? How can I help her? I think a lot of parents, not only of daughters but of sons, that are fearful. We live in a culture and day and age where there is so much going on that feels fearful. I think there’s a part of us as parents that want to just hide our kids away. [Laughter]
Dave: Yes, or we want to help. “Okay, how do I parent in this culture and this generation?” I don’t know if it’s a lot more heightened than it was 50 years ago, but it sure feels like it. I think it probably is, and we have an expert in here to tell us if we’re on the right path or not. Ed Welch, welcome back. You are a Doctor of Psychology. You’ve written, you’ve taught, you’re a dad and a husband, you have kids, so you’ve lived all this stuff out.
As you hear us talk about this, and you live in this culture, where do we start?
Ed: You can go to a manual that has every single psychiatric disorder in it, and we would have a similar conversation, where they’re all increasing. They’re all increasing more than ever before.
Dave: Right now?
Ed: Every one of them, across the board--depression, anxiety, the various kinds of anxieties. We’ve talked about panic attacks, where they’re commonplace, where they were so rare before. Suicide, suicidal ideation, suicidal thoughts is affecting more people and it’s affecting more younger people. I’m sort of painting the large picture first. It raises the question, “Well, why is this?” I don’t know. It seems too easy to say social media has contributed to it, but it has contributed to it. I don’t think there’s any question.
I have observed that with my very own eyes with my grandchildren. When they have been bad on social media, been to places they shouldn’t, and their phones are taken away, they are different kinds of kids. We have different kinds of conversations with them. So certainly social media is part of it.
What else is part of it? Here’s the nice thing with being a Christian. We don’t have to know all the reasons for it to be able to be helpful for our children. I think the important thing at this point is how can we create a context in our home where children can speak openly? That’s the challenge. If our children are accustomed to being rebuked quickly, or corrected quickly, it doesn’t take many of those occasions for a child to say, “Well, there are certain things you’re not allowed to talk about here, so we don’t talk about these things.”
How can we as parents, and how can we as churches create a place where people can speak from their hearts? That’s been one of our themes together, that we’re trying to do what we can to imitate the nature of the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is, “Who is the real you, and speak it.” One of the things in the New Testament that’s obvious is we are sinners. So yes, the Lord’s Prayer—we ask forgiveness. It’s the kind of thing we do consistently. We ask forgiveness and we forgive others.
Well, as a father, my kids didn’t have to be with me that long to see my own sin. To simply confess my sin. It could have been something with my wife that my kids overheard. Say, “Kids, I’m so sorry. This is what I did, and this is the wrongness of it, and it’s the wrongness that you observed. But it’s before God, and before Him and Him alone. Would you pray for me?” Now, something in this scenario like that might not work in our homes, but could you imagine moving toward something like that?
Could you imagine speaking about your anxieties in the course of a day, and going to a passage of Scripture, and “Let’s pray this Scripture. Could you pray it for me? And by the way, we all struggle with these things, so I’ll pray for all of us.” That is one of the things we know, that there are things our children struggle with that they feel like they have no venue for them except with their own peers. How can we create an environment in our homes where our children speak openly? That’s the beginning of it.
Dave: Ed, if you have a daughter or a son that maybe shows signs or says some things that make you think, “Man, they’re really struggling with suicidal thoughts,” or “The shame they’re carrying is much heavier than I’ve been able to see before.” What do you do as a parent?
Ed: Probably the natural way through would be you call up somebody who seems to have some wisdom about that, perhaps has gone through things like that with their own children.
Dave: We call up Ed Welch, that’s who we call. [Laughter]
Ed: And some people will call me, but I will call other people as well. It’s just the nature of the body of Christ that we rely on each other, that we have the Spirit, and the Spirit typically works through other people. So if we have no idea what to say, we say, “Lord, help.” Then we get on our phones and we look for help. Obviously you can go on the internet and find things that are Christian and non-Christian that can be helpful in the way we continue those conversations.
Do you see what I’m saying? It’s not so much “I have no idea what to do. The professional has to deal with this.” Well, in my experience the professional is—if the parents aren’t going to be able to help, a lot of times the professional isn’t going to be able to help.
Ann: That just made a lot of parents worry right there. [Laughter]
Ed: The Lord seems to specialize in using ordinary people who don’t feel like they have a lot to give, but they love, and they pray, and they want to know their kids. So if you don’t know what to say, you get help. And then you try the help that you’ve been given. It might be a particular question. It depends. At school, it might be talking to a teacher at school or principal at school.
It might be asking somebody at school, “What are the kinds of things we should be asking of our children?” It might be to say to our children, “We know that there are things in your heart that are so, so important, and we know that there are things in your heart that are really, really hard and hopeless. We know it’s hard for you to say those things. What can we do that would invite you to be able to speak those things?”
“What have we done that has made it hard to speak of these things? What can we do that would make it easier to speak those things?” Now, imagine how something like that would be. For us to engage that kind of conversation with our children, that seems in some ways like a next step to getting at the good stuff, the important stuff. But we are doing the good stuff.
We are saying, “Here is a place where we love you, and we’re going to grow in how we love you. We desperately desire to do that together,” to identify “that’s the kind of home that we want you to be a part of,” that is moving into the shame or the guilt or the hopelessness. For them to see the spark of life, the life of Christ ultimately, in our home, it will give them some kind of hope. So it’s not just a step, it’s actually treatment as well.
Ann: Ed, I think the thing for us as parents to remember is our kids’ friends are needing this from us too. I know that at our table, at our island, I’d have so many teenagers sitting in my house, and I’d be asking them, “Tell me what’s going on. How are you doing?” Some of the things that came out, oh, were heartbreaking. And so it was sometimes easier for me to not be as emotional with our kids’ friends than with my kids.
I can remember crying with them; I can remember laying my hands on them and praying over them, giving them Scripture, and asking, “Just read this Scripture. Tell Jesus everything you’re thinking and hoping and your fears—all of it. Tell Him everything.” And then I would say, “Thank you for telling me.” One boy—I’ve shared a little of this before—he was a track runner, so gifted. He’d get so anxious before these track meets.
I’d give him a little stone, a little rock, and I’d put Scripture on it. Years later, maybe 15 years later, he came up to me and he said, “Hey, Mrs. Wilson,” and he pulls out that rock and the Scripture had basically worn out. He said, “This got me through every track meet,” and then he played college football. He said, “I hold this in my pocket still,” which was amazing. I thought it was nothing, and yet for him it was a lifeline to Jesus.
Ed: What a beautiful story, isn’t it?
Ed: That’s a precious story. It’s a small thing.
Ed: It’s a small thing. Invitations to speak—what you demonstrated is compassion. Compassion is “I am affected by you. I am different as a result of what you just shared,” which for a young woman or man who feels utterly isolated and utterly alone and distant from love, for them to hear such a thing—it’s a small thing, but it is this intrusion of hope, and opportunities to pray for a child that we would have never had otherwise. That’s a beautiful story.
Dave: Yes, and it’s beautiful that—you’ve said it earlier—it’s God and it’s also people. You have both. I remember, I don’t know what book, but Max Lucado—years ago I shared it in a sermon—where he said a tornado was hitting a Texas town and this little five-year-old boy runs into his daddy’s bedroom and grabs his leg, and they’re standing looking out the window. The dad is trying to comfort the five-year-old son and says, “Hey, you can go back to bed. God is here. He’s got you. You’re safe.”
And the boy looks up at his dad, doesn’t let go of his leg, and says, “Yeah, I know that, Dad, but right now I need someone with skin on.” I’ve never forgotten that illustration because that’s true. We know the Father and we can pour out our hearts, but there are times where, like Ann was the Father to Joe in that situation, right? That’s what we can be in our home. Our wife, our kids, people incarnate the love of the Father often to us.
Ed: And that kind of story is exactly what we should expect. The church is called the “Household of God.” As Paul gets the knack of it, in some of his later letters that’s what he says, that it’s the Household of God. We together are a household, and those are the best of stories, when parenting is shared by other people who love the child.
Maybe just one important point that you’re identifying in this: We can be quick to fix a person; we can be quick to rebuke a person. Those things are not necessarily wrong, but there’s a time for them. I think what we’re identifying here is to know the child, and to not skip compassion; to be moved by the things that are on the child’s heart. If the child is really struggling with the kind of depression and in thinking life would be better over rather than continuing, there are hard things in that child’s heart.
We want to stick with knowing that child until we are moved by the child. And then perhaps the question would be, “Alright, sweetie, what can we do next? What can we do to help?” It’s not a matter of having all the answers. It’s the more ordinary features of love that are going to be part of the rescue; they’re going to be central to the rescue of our children.
Dave: You said before it’s in some ways simple to have the conversation. I grew up in a home where there was the trauma of my dad leaving, and then my little brother dies within several months after, and a move from one state to another. My mom, now a single mom trying to keep this family together, basically said, “We don’t talk ever about Craig’s death, the divorce.” My sister came home from high school and the priest walks out of the house and said, “Your brother has just died.”
My sister said, “You know, we never talked about it after I walked in the house.” So you talk about trauma, and a family that never discussed any of that stuff. I did not know I carried that into my teenage years and into my adulthood. How does a family process that kind of trauma? You write about it a little bit in your book. So how would you help us understand? Where do we go? Is it talking as well, or is there more to it?
Ed: Well, I’d be interested in asking you that question because you certainly have thought about it. It’s at least knowing this, that the culture we grew up in was not culture as God called it to be, and what He’s doing is something that is different and new and good. The litmus test for me is Scripture. It has to sound good. It has to sound good. If it doesn’t sound good, then we’re not on it.
Even if we’re talking about sin, it should sound really good because the deal with our sin is it’s one of the ways we grow closer to Jesus. So it’s good. It’s discarding one of these little features of death that tend to hang on us.
So what is this new culture? It seems like what we’ve been saying is speak about these things. Speak about these things, and don’t you dare try to minimize it. Don’t you dare try to minimize it. It’s a typical way people deal with suffering. “There are people that have it worse than me,” but again, the diabolic feature of minimizing is that we never talk to Jesus about it, because it’s not that big a deal. “I should be able to handle this myself.”
We don’t handle anything by ourselves. We’re dependent creatures by definition; we’re dependent on the Lord. We are also interdependent on each other. That’s simply the way that the Lord has made us. So indeed, for us to speak, to know the compassion of Christ for you, and then to see what doors that opens, to see that Christ Himself is the One Who is moved by these things. Then what? Then it opens Scripture to all kinds of things.
It moves the Scripture to perhaps your own guilt, where inevitably, if things like that happened when you were that young, you are going to feel responsible for it in some way. So what are the things that you believe that you did wrong, that somehow was part of that? Those are the things we bring to the Lord.
Dave: I love how you, every question we’ve asked you, there’s a blend of the psychiatric and the expertise and the study and the knowledge of almost the science of the soul, and yet you always bring God and the spiritual and the Scripture together. That isn’t often done, that I’ve seen. Explain what that journey has been like for you.
Ed: I think just identifying the journey is the most important, where here we are. We’re struggling with whatever it might be—suicidal thoughts, trauma from the past—what do we do with that? Well, what we’re trying to do as Christians is say, “I don’t know what to do with that, but I do know that we have a God Who knows us inside and out. We do have a God Who never minimizes anything.”
Trauma is about death; death has come close to us. It was literal death for you. Sometimes it can be sort of the deathly acts of people who are doing shameful things, disgraceful things against us. But it’s death all the same. We know He is life, and now the question is, “How do we get there? How do we get from being utterly overwhelmed by this particular struggle to—” I’ll use Paul’s phrase. Paul said, “I have determined to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified.”
Somehow that is the summary of God’s will and understanding the way He communicates to us. So I think a lot of times it’s simply are we asking the right question? Are we saying, “Okay, Lord, what do You say?” And if we don’t know what He says, well we [ask], “What do you think Scripture says?” We keep asking around until people can open the doors of Scripture so Scripture comes alive for us. So I’m not really answering your question.
I’m saying that the question is so important. How do we get from the struggles of life that seem compartmentalized and unrelated to Christ? How can we say, “No, no, no, no, no.” We have a God Who cares about hairs on heads, and if He cares about hairs on heads, then He certainly cares about these kinds of things. If He speaks life and compassion and comfort, He certainly speaks life and compassion and comfort to these things. I have no idea how He does it, but that’s where I’m going to head.
And then perhaps, if we don’t have anybody who is walking with us, we become that importunate woman who says, “Lord, you have to give me something here. You have to break through, because here’s the struggle that I have. I don’t even hear what You’re saying. It seems like You’re playing hard to get. I know that’s not the case. You have to speak, through Your people, through Your Word, directly through Your speaking—You have to do it.”
So again, it’s not actually answering your question; it’s saying that the question, “How do we get from our daily struggle to the person of Jesus?” That is our shared question. It’s our shared privilege, and it’s this hopeful question because we know that He is the God Who will speak. He will speak exactly what we need in our hearts. We can be sure of that.
Dave: Yes, I love Psalm 34. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and He saves those”—listen to this phrase—“crushed in spirit.” Devastated, traumatic, He’s close, He will save. That’s a good word.
Ed: And sometimes what we’re left with is, “Lord, I know that’s in Scripture. It doesn’t seem like it’s relevant to me because You’re not speaking to me, but where else can I turn? There are no other words of life, so I’m going to keep at it.”
Dave: So what are your thoughts of sitting with Dr. Ed Welch? He was sort of like a counselor for us and everybody that listened.
Ann: Sometimes I just get sad that we’re listening and gleaning and learning so much at this stage of life. I wish we would have heard this when our kids were younger.
Dave: Well, the good thing is our listeners are younger.
Ann: That’s true.
Dave: And they’re getting to hear it when we wish we would have heard it, but the good news is they are hearing it, and they get to apply stuff we never got to apply when we were in our 20s and 30s and 40s.
Ann: I know. I hope as a listener you’ll send these out to even your kids or friends who are struggling with this, because these are issues that every family is facing.
Dave: Yes, and I’ll say thank you. There are quite a few FamilyLife Today listeners that give financially to make this happen, and so you are letting other families benefit from people like Ed Welch. I’ll just say this: when he said “Create an environment in your home where your wife, your spouse, your kids feel like they are invited to pour out their honest, vulnerable thoughts and feelings and struggles and trauma and shame,” that was worth everything.
Ann: That was good.
Dave: I felt like he did that with us. It’s like you felt so heard and seen and—
Dave: —invited into a conversation, not just with him, but with Jesus. That was beautiful.
Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Ed Welch on FamilyLife Today with Dave and Ann Wilson. This has been such an important conversation. Ed has written a book called I Have a Psychiatric Diagnosis: What Does the Bible Say? You can ask a Christian counselor by picking up this book. It guides readers into listening to God, and finding out that God actually cares and has compassion for those who are struggling in painful ways. You can find a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com.
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