How Anxiety Can Feed Anger, Irritability, and Frustration

But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “You are worried and upset about many things…” – (Luke 10:40-41)

There is a fine line between anxiety and anger. And when this line is crossed, we usually don’t recognize it for what it is. Instead we excuse it as irritability or frustration. But could something more be going on?

Anxiety often results in becoming annoyed with other people who don’t appear to be as concerned as we are. When this occurs it typically spawns other sins. This is the case with Martha. Luke sets the stage: “Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” (Luke 10:38-39). Because of the timelessness of Scripture, Martha is forever remembered for her hospitable spirit; she welcomed Jesus into her home. Nonetheless she’s also famous in a not-so-positive way for being preoccupied with the tasks associated with her hospitality, rather than the person to whom she was being hospitable.

There are many tasks to complete before welcoming someone into your home, but once your guest arrives he or she should be made to feel valued. Your guest is more important than the details surrounding their visit. This is where Martha went wrong, but her sister Mary got it right. Mary knew whose presence she was in, and cherished every moment she had with her Savior. So she “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.” Martha, on the other hand, “was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” At first, Martha seemed able to keep her emotions in check. But when her anxiety conceived annoyance it gave birth to an angry response.

We typically recognize Martha’s displeasure with her sister, but miss the deeper issue. Martha vents her frustration at Jesus: “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Martha was uptight about Mary’s seeming lack of concern for “the important stuff,” i.e. Martha’s to-do list. But when her inward focus made its presence known outwardly, she took it out on Jesus, and used her emotions to try to manipulate him. In a round-about way, Martha accused Jesus of lacking compassion or personal care for her, and then commanded the Son of God (think about it!) to tell her sister to get busy. But Jesus responds with such patience: “Martha, Martha…you are worried and upset about many things.” Jesus does not harshly rebuke her, but corrects her gently. He helps her to discern the source of her anxiety: her preoccupation with lesser things. Only “one thing is necessary,” Jesus says, “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42). Martha’s anxiety caused her to miss out on spending time with the most important visitor to ever grace her home!

If we submit our thinking to the authority of Scripture then we must acknowledge that emotions are not neutral or amoral. They are either godly or ungodly. They are either self-centered or God-centered. Physical or medical considerations notwithstanding, there is always something going on in our heart in relation to God at the time we experience anxiety. We are never fully passive, but our heart (the control center) is always active. It’s always choosing between the lesser and the greater. Martha chose her to do list over Jesus. When your anxiety is provoked, what do you chose?

*Checkout my new 31-Day Devotional: ANXIETY: Knowing God’s Peace

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