Updated: Aug 20
When I was a young detective working the streets of Portsmouth. VA, I always wondered what the draw was for young men to commit serious crimes. You might be surprised to know that police officers get to know many of these “at risk” teens. There was often a tension within me between showing these young men the love of Christ and also protecting the community from crime. As a result of frequent contact with them, I got to know some of them pretty well. In these times together, I tried to be a friend to them. I tried to reason with them about the futility of dealing drugs, stealing cars, etc. Why were these kids into using and selling drugs? One of these young criminals, whose nickname was “Fatboy,” was one of the worst of these offenders. After spending some time with Fatboy, I realized that one of his major problems was anxiety.
Fatboy’s demeanor was seemingly easy going and he often had a smile on his face. Oftentimes, after arresting Fatboy, I would talk and listen to him. I could tell that he liked the attention and I really liked him too in spite of his terrible record. I remember one pursuit in particular where Fatboy led me on an adventurous chase after he had abandoned a moving, stolen car (that eventually struck a house). As I chased him on foot, we weaved in and out of various backyards in the Portsmouth, VA neighborhood which brought me into contact with several cranky canines. Having been stirred up by the fleeing Fatboy, they would then shift their focus on me which gave me plenty of motivation to increase my speed to clear the next backyard fence. To my chagrin, the large meal that I had recently consumed was working against me. After keeping him in sight for most of our “run,” I rounded the corner of a house and it was as if Fatboy had vanished. But wait a minute… there was a large bush in the center of the field. He had to be in that bush. I was so glad to see several detectives who had arrived to assist me in my chase and with labored breathing I pointed to the bush. I could not help them as they retrieved Fatboy from the bush as I was so winded from the “steeple chase” that had just ended.
I bring up Fatboy because it was clear to me after talking to him on several occasions that what led him to use drugs was a broken home where positive role models were not present. Furthermore, the dysfunction of his home life gave him anxiety that, among other factors, led him to drugs which paved the way to an early life of crime. In a recent article in Psychology Today entitled “7 Reasons Why People Do Drugs,” the author mentions that one of the uses of drugs is to help cope with the stress of anxiety coming from the inability to experience pain, frustration, and fear.1 In other words, many of us try to avoid these negative emotions by chemically dulling them. It is in this sort of scenario where many get trapped by drug abuse. A New York Times article entitled “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering from Severe Anxiety?” also discusses the plight of inner city kids like Fatboy who are trying to cope with abusive families, poverty, and violent streets.2 Not only is anxiety a problem in urban neighborhoods, but also affluent suburban areas as well. In this article, Benoit Denizet-Lewis tracks the journeys of several extremely anxious teens as they seek help to turn things around. The constant stress of online social media, the pressure to excel at school, and social anxiety can be overwhelming for today’s teens in suburbia.
Related to the increasing anxiety in the U.S. a study by Joshua Smith and Sarah Book indicates that illicit drug use and anxiety disorders are linked statistically.3 In other words, if you are having a problem with one, you are more than likely going to have problems with the other too. Moreover, Smith and Book also mention that research indicates anxiety normally comes before drug use. In addition to these two, our featured scripture also links drugs and anxiety as well.
In past OMG! blog posts, I mentioned Jesus’s words as being quite relevant to today’s culture.4 In Luke 21:34, Jesus warns us to be careful about not living a life characterized by “carousing, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life.” Not only do we see a problem today with improper sexual advances/addiction, and drug abuse, but we also observe an ever increasing trend of anxiety among both teens and adults. Here in this one verse, Jesus puts his finger directly on several major problems that our culture wrestles with still today. He warns that it is very easy to fall prey to these traps. These vices can very easily overwhelm someone. If Jesus is in fact God Incarnate as he alluded to a number of times in the New Testament, then his words should be great advice about how one can flourish in life and I believe that they are. Luke 21:34 is still relevant nearly 2,000 years after it was penned.
Elsewhere in the New Testament, there are other words of Jesus that give advice about being weighed down with anxiety. In Matthew 11, Jesus encourages all to come to him with their burdens because “his yoke (another word for a heavy weight) is easy and his burden is light (vv. 28, 30).” If one would do this, Jesus states they would find rest for their souls ( v. 28). In essence, Jesus says if one will heed his words and release their burdens to him, then he will help shoulder these burdens in tense times. Being God, he has the ability to communicate directly with an unlimited number of people and to take upon himself an unlimited number of burdens. Most of us are trying to unload our burdens one way or another. We really don’t do well when we are weighed down. But He wants to carry our burdens! Amazing isn’t it?
When dealing with the challenges and the stressors of modern life, instead of resorting to destructive habits for relief, Jesus encourages us to find solace in Him. In past blog posts, I’ve talked about the efficiency and effectiveness of Jesus’s words. After contemplating about his resurrection, it would stand to reason that the words of Jesus would be in themselves a proof of his deity. After looking at only several verses, it becomes clear that Jesus’s words are every bit as relevant and every bit as needed today as they were when he spoke them 2,000 years ago.
1 Heshmet, S. “7 Common Reasons People Do Drugs.” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-choice/201711/7-common-reasons-why-people-use-drugs Accessed 16 August 2018.
2 Denizet-Lewis, B. “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering from Severe Anxiety?” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/magazine/why-are-more-american-teenagers-than-ever-suffering-from-severe-anxiety.html Accessed 16 August 2018.
3 Smith, Joshua P. and Sarah Book. Anxiety Substance Use Disorders: A review https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2904966/
4 Other words of Jesus about anxiety that are also germane and relevant to our current culture are Matt. 6:25-34.