Dr. Michelle Bengston writes from her own experience as an anxiety sufferer, a neuropsychologist, and most of all, as a Christian, in Breaking Anxiety’s Grip: How to Reclaim the Peace God Promises.
Everyone experiences worry, anxiety, and fear on occasion to some degree. But for some, they are regular companions.
After defining terms, Dr. Bengston discusses what contributes to anxiety, etc., brain chemistry, heredity, example, our own thoughts and heart, and Satanic influence. Interestingly, “While brain chemistry can impact mood and behavior, thoughts (e.g., ‘This place isn’t safe,’ ‘I can’t handle this any more,’ ‘I’m overwhelmed,’ etc.) actually impact brain chemistry” (p. 35).
The author spends the rest of the book explaining “the tools to effectively exchange our worry, anxiety, and fear for his peace” (p. 28). She doesn’t spout empty platitudes: she has put these principles to work in response to cancer diagnoses for herself and her husband, problems in her practice, a son’s major obstacles in his career path, as well as “everyday” problems and concerns. Her tools are based on the sure foundation of Scripture.
I had read a few of Michelle’s posts when she participated in some of the same of the same blog link-ups I participate in. I always enjoyed what she had to say, so when I saw she had written this book, I got it. It sat on my shelf for a while, then I picked it up, then set it aside for another book. When I finally delved into it in earnest, I knew God had led me to read it at just the perfect time. The coronavirus pandemic began just after I started this book, and the chapters I read then helped me immensely in the uncertainty and anxiety of that unprecedented situation.
Here are just a few of the principles that most helped me:
Dealing with worry, anxiety, and fear isn’t a one-time event: it’s a process.
I’m not in control. God is. He knows best and knows the big picture. What He allows may not be what I would have chosen, but He has a purpose in it for my good.
“When concern about the future comes, we can recognize it and then refuse to entertain it. We can determine to stay in the present and in God’s presence, trusting in his perfect plan” (pp. 70-71).
We can reframe our worried thoughts to focus on God’s provision: “Instead of saying, ‘I’m worried I won’t be able to make ends meet,’ exert your trust in God and declare, ‘God, I’m trusting you to provide because you promised to supply all my needs according to your glorious riches.’ Or instead of saying, ‘I’m afraid to be alone,’ look to his promises and declare your trust in him: ‘Thank you, God, that you promise you will never leave me and will always be with me so I won’t be alone'” (p. 119).
“God’s peace is not the calm after the storm. It is the steadfastness during the storm. It is in his presence that we can find peace in the midst of the storm” (p. 140).
“When self-protection is our goal, there’s no room for trusting God’s protective love. That self-protective stance leaves us lonely and unwilling to invite others in, including God. Fear is not from God. It is a direct attack from the one who wants to prevent us from drawing close to God or knowing his trustworthy love. In reality, we are powerless to protect ourselves. Fear doesn’t protect. So self-protection is futile. What we really need is a sure protector—and only a trustworthy God can be that for us” (pp. 171-172).
“Emotions are the outward manifestations of the thoughts we believe. So when we feel anxious, it’s because we’ve believe the thoughts that prompt anxiety. Instead of acting on our feelings, we must speak out against the thoughts that caused them. We must recognize that the thoughts are from the enemy, refute them, and speak back to them” (p. 186).
2 Timothy 1:7 says, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (the KJV and NKJV says “sound mind”). Michelle spends a lot of time unpacking and applying those verses.
There were just a couple of places in the book where I had a question mark or maybe would have had a somewhat different view. And I wish she would have said a little more about anxiety that seems to come out of nowhere, not triggered by worry, as described here. But whatever the cause, the solution of taking our thoughts captive and applying God’s truth would be the same.
Overall, however, I found this book a great encouragement to my faith. Much of it was truth I already knew, but as was said earlier, fighting against anxiety is an ongoing process rather than a once-for-all victory. This book is an excellent tool and help in the fight.