Note: This book review is for a Christian book. I expect to review a Christian book about once a month, this year. You have been warned.
When I was a teenager, I found my way to Max Lucado. A pastor and Christian writer, I read everything of his. Why? Because he’s an image-painter, a word-player, a writer whose prose frolics about in fields of alliteration and metaphor as he helps even the dullest of Christians understand things on an emotional level. I went from high school to a Christian college and was surrounded by the more cerebral types of Christians, largely. I ended up in the philosophy department and, well, I had to quickly hide my battered old copies of Lucado (just as I had hid my well-loved copies of Anne of Green Gables and—yikes—Frank Peretti from the English department). I read giant tomes like Republic and Ethics (which one?) and A Prayer for Owen Meany and One hundred year of solitude (which, actually, are two of my favorite books of all time). Over the years, I have lost all the old Peretti, re-read Anne more than twenty times, and let the Lucado sit stolidly on the shelf between my Philip Yancey and Ragamuffin Gospel. (I’m a little retro in my religious reading, it seems.)
Tell you what. I have had an anxious year. I had a couple friends swoop me into a book club pretty early in the pandemic to read something edifying. I was not a huge fan of the book. However, while poking around on the internet I found a book by my good ol’ friend (nostalgia wafted into the room) Max Lucado, called Anxious for Nothing. Now that sounded like the book I needed. And I hadn’t read Lucado and his easy-speaking, Bible teaching in years and years. I couldn’t seem to convince these same friends that they also needed this book in their lives, so I left it in a file at the back of my mind (and on my Amazon wishlist). The pandemic worsened and worsened. The new year came ‘round. I started a book club for pandemic mental and emotional health. Being full of other Christian women (sort of on accident), I plopped this book into slot number one: January.
It’s a quick read. There is nothing in the Lucado library that is not a quick read. He likes short. Short sentences. Short paragraphs. Short chapters. Short books. He is concise and to the point, except for the well-placed stories, which well up everywhere. True, I’m not flipping out about his writing the way I did when I was fifteen and was writing poetry about ants and journaling with gel pens. But there’s nothing wrong with it; it’s nice, pleasant, easy writing which occasionally rises up to paint you a picture and suck you into the idea. What is it, even, that was embarrassing when I was in college? He’s not rigorous enough? He’s not traditional enough? Compared to all the stuff most Christians are reading today, I would back his stuff first just about every time. I guess what I mean to say is, no, he’s not going to argue the “finer” points of theology with you because he’s sticking with the basics of the Bible. He has said he “writes books for people who don’t read.”
For this book, we’re sticking to Philippians 4:4-8. Well, I mean he uses other Scripture, of course, but this provides the structure of the book. How do we be anxious for nothing? We celebrate God’s goodness, ask God for help, leave our concerns with Him, and meditate on good things. (Gratitude, prayer, trust, and worship/obedience, sort of.) While a ride so smooth and brief over these four tactics that it seems almost over before you’ve begun, there is still great wisdom in applying these Bible verses in anxious times. I found a lot of really good stuff here, and if you could find a friend or ten to go along with you, this book would probably work best doing the reflection questions and scripture memorization after each of the eleven chapters, taking it a little slower than I managed before I realized all that was there at the end of the text.
There have been some complaints that Lucado undermines anxiety as a disease with this book. I have to disagree. He mentions near the beginning that some people will need professional help to deal with their anxiety. Certifiable anxiety is not really what he’s talking about here. There is a difference between Anxiety Disorder and anxiety. He does not speak directly to the first. And if you have Anxiety Disorder, this book could help you along your much longer path or it might annoy you because you’d think, “Not that simple, bud!” No, it’s not that simple. The truths in this book—the truths in the Good Book—are long-haul truths, which take practice and surrender and trust, and for some people, therapy and medication. Even those of us with garden-variety anxiety will need to revisit the ideas in Anxious for Nothing more than once or twice to find calm. Or peace. I did find his generalizations and hyperbole a little annoying sometimes, like he wasn’t really relating to me for a minute. But a study of Philippians four escorted by a chill, pleasant-sounding, reassuring, story-teller—in my case, an old friend—is a great way to get from point A to point A+1.
“Fear is the pulse that pounds when you see a coiled rattlesnake in your front yard. Anxiety is the voice that tells you, Never, ever, for the rest of your life, walk barefooted through the grass” (p4).
“We want certainty, but the only certainty is the lack thereof …. That’s why the most stressed-out people are control freaks” (p24).
“You thought the problem was your calendar, your marriage, your job. In reality it is this unresolved guilt” (p45).
“God’s sovereignty, on the other hand, bids us to fight the onslaught of fret with the sword that is etched with the words but God” (p57).
“The Lord is near! You are not alone. You may feel alone. You may think you are alone. But there is never a moment in which you face life without help. God is near” (p70).
“…they had the audacity to tell the Creator of the world that nothing could be done because there wasn’t enough money” (p73).
“Do not think for a moment that the power of prayer resides in the way we present it” (p85).
“Let this ‘throwing’ be your first response to bad news. As you sense anxiety welling up inside you, cast it in the direction of Christ. Do so specifically and immediately” (p85).
“The good life begins, not when circumstances change, but when our attitude toward them does” (p93).
“Worry refuses to share the heart with gratitude” (p95).
“Your problem is not your problem but the way you see it” (p117).
“Make it your aim to cling to Christ. Abide in Him” (p132).
“I can make myself miserable, or I can make myself some lemonade” (p150).