When Guan Un gave a talk at his parish weekend away about anxiety and faith, it struck him that the thoughts and information he shared would make a useful little book.
He was right – but he certainly didn’t expect that, by the time Anxiety and Me (Matthias Media) was published some years later, countless more people would be experiencing anxiety and other mental health issues because of a pandemic.
“It’s been a while in the making – I think there’s one little story in the book where my daughter is six when I wrote it and she’s now 11!” he says.
“The thing is that, right or wrong, there are circumstances at the moment that might mean more people pick the book up or have it on their minds, [because anxiety] it is part of our natural response to something that’s so big and uncontrollable... it does remind us of our powerlessness.”
In Un’s own struggles with anxiety and depression he had sought out books for support but hadn’t really found what he wanted. Although he describes himself as “a big reader”, the effects of anxiety made processing slabs of information more difficult.
“What I didn’t want in those times was a tome that said, ‘Here’s every Bible verse about anxiety’, or ‘Here’s what’s happening in your brain’,” he says. “What I wanted was something small I could process in a quick amount of time, plus something that obviously pointed me back to the gospel.”
Thinking about what was most practical and helpful – not just for himself but for the Ted-style talk he prepared for his church – helped Un zero in on Psalm 131. It’s the shortest psalm in the Bible, but one that contains a “call for calmness and being reminded of God’s great things”.
He structured his 50-page book around the psalm to provide “something small that we can hide in our thoughts – in our hearts – for those anxious times.” Each section of the book is a meditation on the three verses of the psalm, with the flow of each verse directing the reader back to God and his goodness.
There are observations about things such as God’s power and ours, resting in him, keeping calm in difficult situations, and dealing with negative “self-talk”.
“It’s so common for the world to encourage self-talk: ‘you can do more, you can do everything, you’ve got this’, whereas the psalm and the gospel remind us that you may not have this and that’s perfectly okay, because God does,” Un says.
“I think the Christian community has got better at recognising mental health issues and helping to get stories out, as well as resources. There’s better education, but there’s also never enough in a sense. If it helps one more person to be able to share their stories, understand that they’re not alone in wondering why they have anxiety and what God is doing in that, then it’s worth bringing these things out.
“Ultimately, the last thing I want is for people to get this book thinking, ‘Oh, it’s going to solve my anxiety, I’ll be cured’ – or buy this book for a loved one with anxiety with the idea that, ‘this will fix you’. That’s absolutely the last thing I want, but I do want to be able to provide some relief, some reminders of how true the gospel is and what it says about God, his goodness and his grace, even when you’re anxious and that’s hard.”
Anxiety and Me is published by Matthias Media.