Thursday, April 2, 2009

Overcoming Fear, Worry and Anxiety: book review

The book that's encouraged me most deeply recently (apart from the Bible!) is Elyse Fitzpatrick's Overcoming Fear, Worry and Anxiety: Becoming a Woman of Faith and Confidence. I wanted to loan it to a friend, and I had no trouble gobbling it up in a single day.

It's not a long book, and it's very readable. Each chapter begins with stories of women who struggle with anxiety. You're bound to see yourself in some of them! It's comforting to know we're not alone, and to hear how God has helped people to overcome their worry and fear.

Section 1 the nature of fear
Elyse Fitzpatrick starts by talking about the physical nature of fear, and how it can lead to panic attacks. I was challenged when I realised that caffeine, sugar, and insufficient exercise and rest can feed into the vicious cycle of fear. There's a few changes to be made there! Add Image

Section 2 the source of your fears
What had the most profound impact on me was realising that there are "three primary causes of fear" (196):

  • the desire to control
  • the desire to please people
  • the desire to be perfect
There they were, in black and white! I'm an expert in all three, so it's no wonder I sometimes struggle with discouragement and anxiety. I bought the book because of the chapter on perfectionism, but I found some of the other chapters even more helpful, particularly the one on people-pleasing.

It's hard to struggle with anxiety, depression, guilt or any difficult emotion over a long period of time: if you're human, I'm sure you know that! It's easy to run from the situation which is causing such pain. It's easy to start questioning whether God really is working in you, or whether you'll be stuck this way forever.

So it was so reassuring to read these words, and to realise that I can trust God to change me, in his own good timing, through the circumstances he's given me:

Think about the trials or difficulties that you are facing. … Is it possible that God has allowed these specific difficulties into your life to teach you of His goodness, of your inability to control events, and to set you free from your fears? … Could He free you from your fears? Yes. Will he free you? Yes, when it pleases Him to do so. In the meantime, He's using your fear to draw you to Himself and to change you. If you didn't struggle with these problems, you wouldn't see your need for Him. You see, God is interested in this change in you because He is going to be glorified because of it, and that's the goal of everything He does: His glory. (60, 133)
Section 3 - God's answers to your fears
Elyse Fitzpatrick's answer to worry, anxiety and fear is to unpack 4 themes in 4 chapters:

  • God's sovereignty - God is in control, however hard it is to see this during times of suffering
  • the fear of God - the fear of God is big enough to displace all smaller fears
  • the opposite of fear: love - as we love others rather than giving in to fear, we overcome anxiety
  • God's grace - God's grace sustains us and gives us confidence to change
I found the chapters on the fear of God and love the most helpful. It seems to me that no human fear can possibly stand before the combined power of these two!

Only the fear of God is big enough to drive out all other fears: not a slavish fear, that cringes from God, but a childlike fear, that delights in his awesome majesty and runs to him in love and trust.

We might be scared to leave the house, or sit through church, or talk to a stranger, or lead a Bible study. Only as we dare to trust God and act in obedience, even when our hearts are pounding and we have a tight band of anxiety around our chest, will we overcome our fears.

As we reach out to others in love, even when we're afraid, we'll discover that love is stronger than fear. Our love for others will become greater than our fear of their disapproval and our worry about them loving us.

I found myself praying that my fear of God and my love for others will become bigger than my fears, so that I will love friends who don't know God by joyfully sharing the hope I have in Jesus. I'm also trying to pray for, rather than worry about, those whose opinions and criticisms I fear.

Two days ago, I prayed with some good friends. We talked about how it's a battle - every single day! for all of us! - to let go of our fears and to trust God. Every day, we battle to depend on faith rather than feeling. Every day, we struggle to do the things that are hard for us, trusting God to give us the strength we need. Every day, we fight to believe that God is bigger than our fears, and that he is working in us by his grace according to his perfect timing.

If you struggle with fear, worry or anxiety, I encourage you to read this helpful book.

images are from stock.xchng


Lara said...

My psychologist told me this morning that I should cut back on tea, coffee and chocolate because they could be making my anxiety worse. It's so easy to reach for chocolate when I'm feeling down, or to have a cup of tea when I'm stressed with my thesis - have to develop new, more constructive habits!

Jean said...

That's interesting - how about that?! And yes, the minute I'm a bit down, it's to the sugary treat for me. It's incredibly hard to learn to turn to God for comfort instead, isn't it?

Lara said...

It's incredibly hard to learn to turn to God for comfort instead, isn't it?

It is! And do you ever find that when you do remember that this is what you should do, you feel even worse, because there's the guilt factor?

I think I will find myself a copy of this book - sounds like it would be very helpful!

Jean said...

You sound like me - the downward guilt spiral - "I'm worrying! I shouldn't be worrying! I'm worrying about worrying! I shouldn't be worrying about worrying! I'm being introspective! I shouldn't be introspective! I'm turning to cookies for comfort! I shouldn't be turning to cookies for comfort! I'm feeling guilty! I should be trusting in Christ!" etc. etc. Well, you're probably not that bad, but you get the idea.

At which point I'm trying to remember CS Lewis' sensible advice: there's a time when you just have to laugh in the Accuser's face. I'm trying to say, "Enough is enough, and isn't it great Jesus died for me, and God's love and approval don't depend on what I do, or how I feel, or what I think, because he sees me as perfect in Christ.".

Ten looks to Christ for every one look at myself, as M'Cheyne said.

This is what God is teaching me, but I'm a VERY slow learner. And I'm rambling, and this probably has nothing whatever to do with what you said!! ;)

God bless, Lara, and in all your tangled thoughts, I pray God will help you look to Christ and rest in his love and grace.

Lara said...

Thank you, Jean! That's really helpful and encouraging! I've printed out what you said about "enough is enough" and looking to Christ, and I'm sticking it above my desk so I remember!

Jean said...

So glad, Lara. I'll pray for you.

Linda said...

Hi Jean

I really enjoy your blog. I found your review of Elyse Fitzpatrick’s book on overcoming fear, worry and anxiety very helpful and thought you might be interested to know that Mark Driscoll recommended another book for women on overcoming anxiety, Calm my anxious heart by Linda Dillow (, in the notes from his recent sermon on marriage and women. ( I haven’t read it so can’t vouch for it but it has received very positive user reviews.


Jean said...

Thanks, Linda, I'll have to check it out! I'm doing a seminar on overcoming discouragement, anxiety, and other unhelpful emotions soon, so any references are helpful. Not to mention for my own personal growth in Christ!

These Three Kings said...

I LOVE THAT BOOK! I have met and talked with Elyse several times and she is just as encouraging in person as she is in her books. I HIGHLY recommend her Idols Of The Heart Book as well as Love To Eat HAte TO Eat- Breaking the Bondage Of Destructive Eating Habits (I am reading this convicting,yet encouraging! )

Grace to You

Jean said...

Funny you should write that today, Nicole - I'm reading "Idols of the Heart" at the moment, and was just reading a chapter over lunch!

Anonymous said...

Very thoughtfull post on overcoming fear .It should be very much helpfull.

Karim - Creating Power