(Photo courtesy of Biscuit Media Group)
Trusting The Lord to Fear No More
A Q&A with The Afters on Overcoming Anxiety
By Sarah Komisky
According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the U.S. Affected by 40 million adults, ages 18 and older, America is in panic mode. In a time that offers more demands, more busyness, and more noise, more craziness, it’s no wonder we are stressed as people. However, the Bible brings hope with the words “fear not.” This is the solace bandmates The Afters found while working together through their own battles with worry and anxiety. The result is the concept album, Fear No More. The single “Well Done,” as well as the nine other tracks on the record are a whole new collection to add to hits like “Light Up The Sky,” “Broken Hallelujah,” and “Every Good Thing.” However, these songs all point to a singular anthem, a declaration, a resolve, to trust God. Today, I caught up with bandmates Joshua (Josh) Havens and Matthew (Matt) Fuqua to talk about their new music and the culture whose dealing with this mental health issue. Here’s what they had to say.
Sarah: Fear No More is your 6th studio release after a three-year hiatus. Your band has released so many amazing albums with hit singles. How does this album differ from the others?
Josh: The titles and subjects of our previous records have been very hopeful and happy, but as we approached writing and recording over the last couple years, we realized we all struggled deeply with fear and anxiety – things that aren’t happy. We went into this record wanting to be more vulnerable about the things going on in our personal lives – to pull back the curtain a bit and share some of our own struggles in hope that it starts a conversation. Ultimately, we wanted those who listen to realize that they’re not alone. In sharing our own personal struggles, it’s been incredible to see how many people have reached out and have shared the same pain. Through telling our stories, we can encourage each other and remind each other of the hope that we have in Jesus.
Sarah: Let’s talk about the hiatus for a bit. Overcoming fear is the central focus of the new release. What were some of the real things you guys were dealing with that were a catalyst to writing and recording these new songs and how did you deal with them?
Josh: Early in the writing process we started to gather together and talk about life – and that’s actually how we write most of our songs, by talking about what’s happening in our lives. During one of these times our drummer, Jordan, was sharing about his struggles with anxiety. He had been going through a season of panic attacks and anxiety that would keep him awake at night. As he shared that, I (josh) shared that I knew the feeling he was talking about – I’ve struggled with those things since I was a kid. When I look back, I see that it robbed me of so much joy. So, we decided to write “I Will Fear No More,” which became an anthem for trusting God and not letting anxiety continue to rob joy from our lives. Then, when I started talking about that song in concerts and with people, I noticed how many people would come talk with us or write in to say they related. We learned that when we’re vulnerable and open up about the things we struggle with, it allows others to be honest about those same struggles. It was then that we decided we wanted to be more vulnerable and open – and get real. Ironically, even vulnerability can be a source of anxiety – it can be painful to access difficult memories in the past, and so the writing process can be really hard. But, to be honest, accessing those places and writing about those things feels pretty good. It’s a form of therapy for us.
Sarah: So many experience anxiety on a regular basis and it is crippling. Yet, you said in a recent press release that the Bible has 365 passages saying, “fear not.” Most of us hear, “fear not,” and don’t really know the intent behind it. For you, what did you discover about God’s heart when He says to “fear not,” that helped you and why don’t we have to fear?
Josh: Ultimately, God wants us to trust him and know that our lives are in his hands. Fear and anxiety is an amazing ploy from the enemy – there’s no better way to distract people from living their lives to the fullest (God’s desire for us) than to fill people with things that are paralyzing. God wants us to believe what HE thinks of us and so often we come up with these thoughts about ourselves or our lives that aren’t true – we believe lies. He wants us to live with trust in him. He wants us to live knowing his plans for us are best – and there’s so much freedom in that. Not letting worries paralyze us and make us numb.
Sarah: In a quote I read about this album, you said that you wanted to write a song that was words people could sing over their struggles. How has art and music been a practical recovery tool for you in overcoming anxiety?
Josh: Songwriting is like therapy for us, and has been a great tool for healing along with things like counseling. So many times we write songs because WE need to hear them. “I Will Fear No More” is one of these songs – we wrote it because we needed it in the moment.
Sarah: You have said that anxiety “robs us of our joy” and “robs us from seeing and understanding how God loves us and protects us.” How have you been able to see this in your own life?
Josh: 14 years ago when I lost my dad to cancer – I felt like my compass was gone. I was very close to my dad. The season after that was really hard, that’s when my anxiety was the worst and I would lie awake worrying. Anxiety would then manifest in physical symptoms, so I would go to the doctor a couple times a week. They kept telling me that it was all because of anxiety, and I was told that I needed to find better ways to deal with my stress. My first child was about to be born and I was so caught up in my struggle with anxiety that I wasn’t as present as I should’ve been. Life was changing, I had new responsibilities, and I didn’t have my dad to guide me through it any more. Anxiety paralyzes, and it’s crippling. This is very real to all of us.
Sarah: The Bible is one of the most incredible antidotes to stop fear in our lives and bring peace. How has God’s Word been transformational in this new album and how do you hope others will begin to tap into the Word of God themselves to help them in their own personal struggle?
Matt: One of the things that’s been most transformative for me is learning to listen to God. Our culture has created a generation of terrible listeners. We can’t sit and listen to anyone without looking at our phones or just listen quietly to someone else talk without forming our own argument in our heads. I just did a spiritual retreat with 5 hours of complete silence with no devices. We prayed, read the scripture, and just listened. Not having my phone for 5 hours was crazy – it was really great – but it was eye-opening. There’s so much noise in our lives, and we can’t expect to know God unless we learn to stop and listen. Perhaps we’re all trying to escape realities of fear, anxiety, our jobs, our struggles – but instead of seeking God we fill those waking moments with noise. I would like to see a return to spending time in the Scriptures. If we would spend time with transformative things, they would transform us. I don’t have to change anything about my life expect to know God. If you want to see radical change in your life – spend more time with God.
Sarah: Anxiety for some can be looked at as a weakness. Culture can still have a major stigma when it comes to mental health. It is not something we can just “stop” or “get over.” What would you say to the person who feels shame facing anxiety or feels like they aren’t having “enough faith?”
Josh: Oftentimes Christians can have an incorrect view of struggle in light of God’s plan for our lives. We all struggle with different things – we tend to think that our struggles are worse than everyone else’s. But God doesn’t see it this way, and when we see ourselves as he does, we realize that it’s not worse than anyone else’s, it’s just different. The Bible is full of stories of people feeling anxiety and fear – these aren’t new phenomena. The Psalms show examples time and time again of deep fear and worry, and what we learn is that these Psalmists don’t tell themselves “just have faith,” they wrestle with their fear knowing that the creator of the universe is with them as they struggle. God wants us to draw near to him in our struggles, and they won’t immediately disappear just because we “have faith,” He will continue to strengthen us as we draw near to him.
Sarah: We, as people can feel less than because of our struggles yet heroes in the Bible like David struggled with anxiety and depression. How do you want readers to know that God is OK with our weakness?
Josh: When we read the lineage of Jesus, we see very flawed people telling his story over the generations. God’s lineage and story is littered with the most broken – God’s family is full of dysfunction. God’s Kingdom is so upside-down. He even said that He chooses the weak. Jesus didn’t come in strength, and He wasn’t heralded by kings and princes, he was welcomed by shepherds. When we are weak, God can use us for His purpose. God’s love is greater than all our flaws and weaknesses and dysfunction. The biggest difference in our struggles is how much we allow them to shape our lives by not talking about them, pretending like they’re not there – and then they grow. This is why community is so important. Your struggles are not “you,” but it often feels like that when you don’t have someone in your life to remind you otherwise.
Sarah: Tagging on to the prior question, how do you want others to know that their weakness doesn’t disqualify them to be used by God and that their weakness could actually be a strength?
Josh: We would encourage anyone feeling like God can’t use them to dive into the Bible. As you do, read it looking for clues of fear and anxiety in the lives of those it tells us about. From Moses to Elijah to David to Jeremiah, even Jesus – we see time and again that God uses the weak – struggling with fear – for his purpose. Jesus himself was called a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Jesus knows our pain, and God used Jesus in his most vulnerable moment to rescue the whole world.
Sarah: As summer approaches, what’s up ahead for The Afters?
Matt: We are doing a lot of touring this summer, both in the US and overseas. We’ll be doing a lot of events with Billy Graham Evangelistic Association across the globe, which will be so fun. Because of this, we’re launching a new travel vlog on YouTube called “Around the World with The Afters” – so that launch will take up a lot of time. Looking forward to all that lies ahead!
For more on The Afters visit theafters.com