What Anxiety Can Teach Us About God: Curtis Chang & Kim Gravel
Curtis Chang: What I believe human experience and Scripture tells us is that anxiety itself is not a problem to be eliminated, that in fact, it is actually a fundamental condition of what it means to be human. That to be human is to be vulnerable to loss. That’s what it means to be human. And so to be human, to be a creature, means we are ever always vulnerable to future loss, which means we are ever vulnerable to anxiety.
What Anxiety Can Teach Us About God: Curtis Chang & Kim Gravel – Episode #356
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. At one time or another in our lives, we are bound to experience bouts of anxiety. The Bible does not teach that lack of faith is the cause of anxiety. In our world today, it is almost impossible not to experience anxiety to some degree. We just can’t avoid it. What if instead of running away from our anxiety, we name what is happening, and develop ways to support ourselves through it while leaning on God in the present moment?
Curtis Chang is a pastor and a non-profit director. He remembers early moments of anxiety that were a response to his fears of being in an empty house after school, waiting for his parents to come home. He shares how he developed early coping mechanisms which exacerbated anxiety later in his life, and how through that anxiety, he was able to draw closer to God. Kim Gravel is an author and TV personality who shares about the early anxiety she had while competing in pageants as a young girl and opens up about her journey to find self-confidence.
Let’s start with Curtis’ story.
Curtis Chang: My name is Curtis Chang. I’m a former pastor and currently faculty of Duke Divinity School, and I also run my own consulting firm. I also am the executive director of Redeeming Babel, which is a nonprofit that’s producing resources to help Christians make sense of this world.
The Unique Challenges of Immigrant Children
So I was born in Taiwan. I immigrated to the United States at age three. I grew up in Chicago. My parents came over and they were not high-paying professionals. They were more of what you’d call in the blue collar Chinese immigrant class. And so I also grew up with that immigrant sense of scarcity that we didn’t have enough.
Many immigrants from my generation were the first in our family to acclimate, to figure out what this new society is like, which means you’re in this funny position as a young child of playing almost the role of the parent in the sense that you actually understand the culture in some ways better than your parents and you’re interpreting things for them. Your language is better, you’re more fluent and so forth.
And that actually can be an anxiety-producing situation to put a child in, because at some level, you feel like you have to take care of your parents because you’re the interpreter. You’re the bridge to the broader world. And so probably that sense of burden and responsibility and inability to fully relax was probably present to me even at an early age, because of that aspect of the immigrant experience.
Early Coping Mechanisms Become Ingrained
From as early as five years old, I was a latchkey kid. After my first grade, I would have to walk home from the local elementary school, get the key from the hiding spot, and let myself into an empty house. One of my earliest memories of anxiety was just that experience of going to an empty house and hearing creaks and cracks—it was an old house.
I would sometimes jump and think that somebody might be upstairs or might have broken into our attic or something like that. As a seven or eight-year-old, your mind can conjure up all sorts of scary scenarios, and so that was one of my earliest memories of anxiety. And then, of course, the fear that I would have of whether my parents would make it home, and somehow I developed this anxiety that they might perish or die in a car accident on the way home. This scenario would go through my mind, and I would develop all sorts of coping mechanisms.
What anxiety is, is the fear of some potential loss. We all carry that around with us. We all carry around some fear of potential loss. And our childhoods oftentimes make us especially sensitive or vulnerable to certain types of loss. And so in my case, I think I was vulnerable to, one, the loss of provision, the sense of, What will happen if my parents don’t make it home? Who’s going to take care of us?
Our anxieties have a lot of wisdom contained in them, they tell us a lot about who we are, about our experiences growing up, and what we fear losing.
Our anxieties have a lot of wisdom contained in them, they tell us a lot about who we are, about our experiences growing up, and what we fear losing. – Curtis Chang
Anxiety is a Fundamental Part of Being Human
Now I’m very aware that anxiety is a problem and it is experienced as a problem, and the more your condition becomes veering into a full-blown anxiety disorder, the more it is a problem. And what I believe human experience and Scripture tells us is that anxiety itself is not a problem to be eliminated, that in fact, it is actually a fundamental condition of what it means to be human—that to be human is to be vulnerable to loss. That’s what it means to be a creature. That’s what it means to be human. And so to be human, to be a creature, means we are always vulnerable to future loss, which means we are ever vulnerable to anxiety.
“What I believe human experience and Scripture tells us is that anxiety itself is not a problem to be eliminated, that in fact, it is actually a fundamental condition of what it means to be human—that to be human is to be vulnerable to loss.” – Curtis Chang
If we try to structure our lives or come up with coping mechanisms, like the one I did when I was eight years old waiting for my parents to come home—these coping mechanisms will never succeed in making anxiety go away, in solving the anxiety problem, because we’re always going to be vulnerable to loss.
My most devastating experience of anxiety happened because I was living very much in denial that I was suffering from anxiety. So this is when I was a pastor of a church and I had sort of succumbed and internalized this narrative that anxiety somehow indicated a lack of faith. I thought if I admitted my anxieties, that would demonstrate somehow that I was not a good pastor, but—analogous to what I did as an eight year old—developed my own coping mechanisms to deal with my anxiety, and that involved things like just working very hard, working very late, staying on top of things, trying to engineer the situation, my work situation, such that I would not experience loss, the loss of status, the lack of loss of members, the loss of giving in the church. And yet all of those things did happen.
Our church went through a very difficult patch, and my coping mechanisms broke down, and it got so bad that I went through a two-week period where I didn’t sleep. I just—I couldn’t sleep. I was too anxious, too wound up, and my brain was too much in overdrive, ruminating—which is just a way of turning over a situation over and over in your head, trying to come up with a scenario that could avoid loss. And I couldn’t do it. And that led to an utter breakdown.
I ended up going on disability and having to stop being a pastor, and just was sort of almost nonfunctional for several months because that anxiety, that intense anxiety slid over into depression.
So I know full well the nature of anxiety is a problem, but I also have experienced firsthand the promise of anxiety as an opportunity for spiritual growth, because it takes us to our core beliefs and our core fears about loss, about God, about who God is in Jesus, about what we are actually promised by Jesus in terms of our future.
“I know full well the nature of anxiety is a problem, but I also have experienced firsthand the promise of anxiety as an opportunity for spiritual growth, because it takes us to our core beliefs and our core fears about loss, about God, about who God is in Jesus, about what we are actually promised by Jesus in terms of our future.” – Curtis Chang
Anxiety is Normal – Even Jesus Experienced It
Scripture has several accounts—including Jesus at His most decisive moment in His life as He’s heading to the cross—depicting Jesus as experiencing anxiety. Jesus experienced emotional psychic distress as He contemplated His future. That in itself should tell us that if Jesus Himself experienced the symptoms of anxiety, that this is not a sin, this is not a character flaw, this is what it means to be human, and that there’s a difference between anxiety and anxiety disorders. Anxiety itself is a normal human condition.
I believe there’s real value in therapy and in medication, I’ve taken both. I myself have benefited from both. But to be human is to go through this door marked anxiety, and it’s futile to try to run away from this door or go around the door because we are inevitably going to face loss in our life. And Jesus showed us the way already in the cross by going through death, going through that door, not away from it, not around it, and thereby demonstrating that the Christ-centered way of encountering anxiety is to actually go through it.
I think any kind of prayers—like the Jesus Calling kind of practice that both helps us to be present and also helps us to grieve and experience loss with Jesus—are really, really powerful tools in which we can grow spiritually.
This is an excerpt from Sarah Young’s prayer devotional Jesus Listens. And this is from the passage dated August 14th:
When I’m wakeful at night, thoughts can fly at me from all directions. Unless I take charge of them, I start to feel anxious. I’ve found that my best strategy during these night watches is to think about You—communicating with You about whatever is on my mind. Your Word tells me to cast all my anxiety on You because You care for me.
As I remember You during the night, I try to think about who You really are. I ponder Your perfections: Your Love, Joy, and Peace. I find comfort in Your names: Shepherd, Savior, Immanuel, Prince of Peace. I rejoice in Your majesty, wisdom, mercy, and grace. These thoughts of You refresh my entire being and clear my mind—enabling me to see things from Your perspective.
In Your refreshing Name, Amen
Narrator: In appreciation for mental health month, be sure to check out Curtis’ new book, The Anxiety Opportunity, at your favorite retailer.
Stay tuned to Kim Gravel’s story after a brief message.
When We’re Looking for Hope, Jesus Listens
Life can be overwhelming at times. Whether there are global issues that leave you feeling helpless or the day-to-day struggles that make you feel hopeless, God is still there for you—ready to hear your prayer at any time.
That’s why Sarah Young wrote the book Jesus Listens. She wanted to deliver a message of peace, love, and hope to her readers every day. Jesus Listens is a 365-day prayer devotional with short, heartfelt prayers based on Scripture, written to deepen your relationship with God and change your heart.
Learn more about Jesus Listens and download a free sample at www.jesuscalling.com/jesuslistens.
Our next guest is Kim Gravel, an author, pageant titleholder, tv personality, wife, and mother. Kim shares about the pressures of competing in pageants and opens up about her journey to find self-confidence, and how God showed her—in a time of brokenness—that she was still on a path to become all she was meant to be.
Kim Gravel: Growing up as a child—I say this all the time, that I come from tobacco farmers in South Carolina and Baptist preachers in South Carolina. So my foundation was in the dirt and in the church. I grew up with a rich heritage of going to church, Sunday meals, big family, lots of love, lots of hard times too, a lot of challenges, and all of that has led me down the path and the call that I have today on my life.
We all have these dreams and hopes of our lives, because I think we’re born innately into this world with a calling on our life. And so I believe that everything we’ve gone through—good or bad and ugly—is pointing us towards that calling.
My calling is to see people rise in all that God has for them. And for me, it’s the journey of life, and the adventure of this life is sharing His message with others. Jesus is probably the reason why I do everything that I do and why I am who I am.
“My calling is to see people rise in all that God has for them. And for me, the adventure of this life is sharing His message with others. Jesus is probably the reason why I do everything that I do and why I am who I am.” – Kim Gravel
Becoming Miss Georgia
Well, pageants for me and a lot of young girls especially back then, was like the Super Bowl for chics, right? For girls, we did it in pageantry and it was big, especially here in the South. I mean, there were over seventy girls in the Miss Georgia pageant alone, and I was nineteen and I didn’t know nothing, y’all. I was that wide-eyed, bushy-tailed, dumber than a box of rocks, naive, young girl who just had a big dream to sing and perform and earn scholarship money. And so you don’t know what you don’t know, right?
I was not the prettiest, naturally beautiful, young girl. So when I came home and told my mother, I was like, “I’m going to be in Miss Georgia.” And she looked at me and said, “Really?” Not that she didn’t think I’m beautiful, but she would say, “You know, you’ve got that short hair and you got that sassy mouth, you might be a bit much for what pageantry is all about.” Fast forward a year and a half later, I’m on the Miss Georgia stage and I was so blessed to win.
The Pressures of Pageantry
I mean, let me just tell you, being in pageants is not easy. The pageant world—it can be intimidating sometimes because not only is it just a beauty pageant, so you need to look pretty. I mean, that’s intimidating enough. But it’s also, you have to be smart. I mean, I was nineteen years old, and I was competing with twenty-seven-year-old women who had pediatrician practices, who were doctors, who were lawyers. So, I only knew what I knew at nineteen, but there was a lot of pressure there. There were a lot of times where I think I was introduced to a different life. I was so naive and so small town, and I hadn’t been to many places or met many different kinds of people.
I did have to deal with a lot of pressures and stress, but again it was such a growing and learning ground for me. And I think we all have those moments, but it’s those times of growth that God puts us in so that we go to new levels, and that’s what that was for me.
“I did have to deal with a lot of pressures and stress, but it was such a learning ground for me. It’s those times of growth that God puts us in so that we go to new levels.” – Kim Gravel
A Big Change in a Small Apartment
There was a specific moment in my life that I know for me was the first really game-changing moment in my life. I had just gotten divorced. I was twenty-three years old, I had been married three years, but I probably made the worst decision against my mother’s and father’s will to marry a gentleman who—I don’t even blame him today, he was totally authentic and genuine. I knew who he was going in, he did not know who I was going in. I was the one that was faking who I was, and what I stood for, and what I was going to tolerate in a marriage.
But I found myself after that divorce, sitting in an apartment off of Jimmy Carter Boulevard in a not so desirable area. Broke. Lonely. [I was] the first person ever divorced in my entire immediate and distant family. And questioning at twenty-three what I was going to do with my life. I get emotional thinking about it now because I’m so grateful for that time now, because it was the moment that my faith became not just a heritage, or a family faith, or a legalistic faith, or a faith where it was a practice. It became a deep-seated relationship with Jesus.
There was one night in particular because it was during the Atlanta Olympics. I was right down the road from some of the events that were taking place. And it was so loud and you could hear music and it was just excitement in the city. And I was all alone and I had this old apartment. I was sitting on that dingy white sofa, and I just remember feeling so alone.
It was in that weakness, my weakness and my mistakes and all my mess that I made in my life, the big mess that I made in my life, that He took that and worked it all together for His good and for a great message and calling in my life.
Becoming the Person You’re Meant to Be
Now look, growing up in church, I’ve heard that all my life and I’ve believed the Bible all my life. And I’ve read the Bible all my life and I’ve done a million felt boards, Vacation Bible Schools, JRA Sunday school lessons about all the stories in the Bible. But never has the Word come so alive to me, then in that apartment in that time in my life. And what I want to say to people that are listening to this, if you’re in a place or a space right now where you feel hopeless, broken, alone, you’re questioning your faith, you’re questioning if you even believe in God, or if you even have faith…Hush. Just take a beat. Get still, because God is constantly wooing and speaking and guiding and leading us. We just get too busy or too broken to hear it or see it or feel it.
“Get still, because God is constantly wooing and speaking and guiding and leading us. We just get too busy or too broken to hear it or see it or feel it.” – Kim Gravel
I think that was the starting point for me when I just let go and let God guide me. This is the funniest thing, isn’t this how God works? I was working at the apartment community and literally two streets down from that apartment was where WATC TV57, the community Christian station, was located.
I thought it was over for me. It was that apartment, in that location. It was like—God is the ultimate GPS, right? Two streets over was my calling and my adventure of a lifetime awaiting me with that TV station. If I hadn’t been there at Jimmy Carter [Boulevard], broken, divorced, confused, lonely—I would have never been at that TV station which launched my career.
In my career journey and in my life, I’ve had the show Kim of Queens on Lifetime, and I have two brands, and hugely successful on QVC, very blessed there. I’ve been in ministry probably twenty plus years, and every bit of that journey has been this moment of collecting confidence.
And my philosophy on confidence is probably a little different than what the world tells you it should look like. It’s truly a Christ-centered confidence, but it’s also a confidence that I know whose I am and why I’m here. And I think those are the two big questions we all have. And when you can stand in those in confidence, your life really shifts and changes. You become the person that you were created and meant to be.
“My philosophy on confidence is probably a little different than what the world tells you it should look like. It’s truly a Christ-centered confidence, but it’s also a confidence that I know whose I am and why I’m here.” – Kim Gravel
The Power of Devotions and Scripture
I have probably bought over 150 copies of Jesus Calling. It is the craziest, most exciting thing I’ve ever experienced, to sit down with the devotional book—and of course, the Bible does that too—and then go look up those scriptures that are provided at the end of that page and how it just knows, the Bible knows. And this Jesus Calling tool helped guide me to the right scriptures every single day.
If you don’t feel comfortable just sharing your faith, get a couple of Jesus Calling devotional books and just hand them out. It has been such a profound game changer in my calling in my own life, because it’s a simple way to share the Word, love, and hope of Jesus to the world. So simple. And I just thank God I walked in that Wal-Mart and felt that padded book with a little ribbon hanging out of it, because it has been such a game changer in my walk with the Lord.
I get so emotional thinking about it because it’s just so simple. It’s so simple. Look, I’m not a counselor. I’m not a psychologist. I’m not a theologist. I’m just a regular old girl out here just trying to do what God would have her do.
When God calls you to do something, nothing can stop it, damage it, alter it, or prevent it, except you. And that’s the reason I want to share this message, because I know without a doubt, true confidence comes with a relationship with Jesus. True calling comes from Him.
“When God calls you to do something, nothing can stop it, damage it, alter it, or prevent it, except you. And that’s the reason I want to share this message, because I know without a doubt, true confidence comes with a relationship with Jesus. True calling comes from Him.” – Kim Gravel
This is from Jesus Listens, February 20th:
My loving Lord,
Satisfy me in the morning with Your unfailing Love, that I may sing for Joy and be glad all my days.
Finding my satisfaction in You above all else provides a firm foundation for my life. By building on this solid foundation, I can be joyful and confident as I go through my days. I know I will continue to encounter hardships because I live in such a terribly broken world. Yet I can count on You to guide me along my way as I cling to You in trusting dependence. Lord, You make my life meaningful and satisfying while I’m traveling toward my ultimate goal—the gates of Glory!
In Your glorious Name, Jesus,
Narrator: Be sure to check out Kim’s new book, Collecting Confidence, at your favorite retailer and follow her on social media to stay up to date!
If you’d like to hear more stories about faith amidst uncertainty, check out our interview with Janine Reid.
Next week: Ali Landry
Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll hear from actress and model Ali Landry. After years of working in Hollywood and landing a dream job, exhaustion began to manifest physical symptoms, and Ali decided she needed to radically reshape her life.
Ali Landry: I always knew that if I was able to lean on God and He was able to pull me through these situations in my life, that it was my responsibility to share it, to help someone else get through theirs, and get through their reshape.