Anxiety and the Sacraments

Emilyann Pool

As someone who has anxiety, the most annoying bit of advice I've gotten is: "Just trust God!" It's like handing a person with a cold a list of Bible verses about "having faith" and saying "Here, try this." Christians often don't seem to understand disorders such as depression or anxiety. We've been infected with this Platonic (and pagan) idea that our mind has nothing to do with our bodies, and so when we find out our bodies have a chemical imbalance that causes our brains to do weird stuff, we're lost.

Sin is a condition, not just something we do or don't do. And that means that illnesses happen, not as God's judgement on our personal sins, but because when Adam fell, the whole world was affected. Like any other illness, the physical symptoms of anxiety should be treated by doctors and therapists. And as Lutherans, we are well-equipped with an entire arsenal for handling the spiritual symptoms of anxiety. We call these weapons the Sacraments.


Anxiety confuses our identity, while Holy Baptism roots us deeply in our identity as God's children. For me, panic sets in most when I feel like I am not going to live up to an expectation that I have for myself or that I perceive others have of me. By remembering our baptism, we remind ourselves that the only identity as adopted sons of God does not change. Through baptism, we are clothed in Christ and made new creations (Galatians 3:27; 2 Corinthians 5:17).

Anxiety is a part of the Old Adam, and baptism drowns the Old Adam. We are drowning anxiety over and over again. Just like Christ delivers us from the grasps of our Old Adam, He delivers us from the snares of anxiety. If we belong to Christ, it is not only our actual sin that dies, but also our sinful nature (Galatians 5:24).

The Lord's Supper

Anxiety produces fatigue and sleepless nights, while the Lord's Supper gives us the blessing of rest in Christ. In the Large Catechism, Luther says we should see the Lord's Supper as "soothing medicine which aids and quickens us in both body and soul. For where the soul is healed, the body has benefited also" (V. 68). Christ instituted the Lord's Supper for the weak in faith (which means all of His children), so that all who were tired and unsure could rest at His table (John 6:37; Matthew 11:28).

Confession and Absolution

Anxiety produces guilt and lies, while Confession and Absolution are the source of repentance and forgiveness. While anxiety is not an active rebellion against God, no one is without sin and therefore without guilt (1 John 1: 8-9). And nothing feeds anxiety more than secret sin and hidden faults. Healing comes from confessing our sins (James 5:16). Through Confession and Absolution, Christ delivers you from the emotion of guilt and the lies that anxiety allows to fester. The words of Absolution, "You are forgiven", are for your benefit.

The active ingredient in the Sacraments is the Word. Through the Scriptures, we can know Christ who is the ultimate balm for all effects of sin, including anxiety. Christ is well acquainted with suffering--Luther says that Christ is hidden in suffering, especially suffering on the cross. (Heidelberg Disputation 21) Any symptom of anxiety you feel, Christ knows through His own suffering and He delivers you from it through Word and Sacrament. Jesus Christ is the Great Physician. After all, He did not come for the healthy, but for the weak (Luke 5:31-32).

Emilyann Pool is a junior at New Saint Andrews College and a member of St. John Lutheran Church in Clinton, Iowa.

Created: April 2nd, 2016