There’s an unfortunate stigma in the church that you can’t be a Christian and also struggle with anxiety and depression. This is a thought that has run rampant in my mind ever since I was a little girl, and as I’ve grown older this thought has increasingly grown more and more confusing to me.
We live in an age where mental health is an issue that plagues about 18.5% of the adult population— that’s almost forty-three million people. With such numbers in mind, I probably wouldn’t be wrong to say that there’s a chance that you, reader, have experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression, and it’s possible to have even felt both. Wherever our mental health issues fall on the spectrum—mild or severe—it’s a serious issue that affects many different people, including Christians. Just because we believe in Jesus doesn’t mean that we’re exempt from having chemical imbalances in our brains.
Can I be vulnerable with you?
The truth is, I’ve struggled with anxiety since I was seven years old. I struggled with it before I even understood what the term “anxiety” even meant; I didn’t know why I was so scared all of the time, or why whenever conflict rose, my immediate thought was “I’m gonna die.”
As I’ve grown up and fallen in love with Jesus and joined the great commission, I’ve learned that my experiences with anxiety are totally valid in that they’re real and I’ve felt them, but at the same time, my anxiety is not how I’m intended to live life.
The Truth that I’ve read in the Word of God doesn’t suddenly take away from the fact that I’ve felt something my entire life. And it would be invalidating to say that because I’m a Christian, I can’t have anxiety and I can’t experience seasons of depression. And it doesn’t mean that I don’t find full satisfaction in Christ.
I want to get deeper into this.
For a book that was written before our time, the Bible has a lot to say about mental health. And believe it or not, it’s not condemning.
Luke 12:22-34, 1st Peter 5:7, and the all famous Philippians 4:4-7 are probably the most prominently known passages in the Bible that confront anxiety. It seems like everytime I talk to a Christian about my experiences with anxiety, the first thing they have to say is, “Jesus said for us not to worry,” or, “but, ‘be anxious about nothing’” and, “you should just give that to God and stop being so hung up over it.”
I want to be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with offering scripture to a friend with anxiety. Nothing. I know that for myself, I find it encouraging. At the same time, I have to be raw with you here, friend, the gift of scritpure cannot be where you stop trying to help.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Matthew 9:35-38, and it’s in this passage where Jesus explains the plentiful harvest and the lack of harvesters. My favorite verse in this passage is verse 36:
“When Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were harrassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
What I love about this verse is the word compassion; it sticks out to me, and for me, I see it as a call from the Lord. It’s really easy to speak Philippians 4:6 into existance and consider that enough, but when we stop listening to the cries of our struggling brothers and sisters, and attempting to have compassion on them, we stop answering the call to love our neighbors.
It would be really cool if anxiety and depression were cured with a few kind words, but that’s just it, isn’t it? Kind words are a treatment, a medicince of sorts, but they aren’t the cure.
This is a touchy subject in the church community, and it’s incredibly difficult to confront because no one (especially myself) wants to step on toes and hurt feelings. Many people with mental health issues have been told that they’re sinning because they have anxiety and that depression is just being sad, and as if that’s not heavy enough, I’ve heard people say heavier. Enough is enough, my dudes, Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, He came so that through Him, the world could be saved (John 3:17). In the same way, we aren’t called to condemn the world, we’re called to point them to Jesus! We have got to stop invalidating our brothers and our sisters for what they’re feeling.
They aren’t making it up. We aren’t making it up. I’m not making it up.
More and more people are coming out of the mental health closet and talking about how difficult it is for them. This is an amazing opportunity to love on others and show them where Life begins. I know Jesus pretty well, I think, and I don’t think He’d ever tell His sister with depression and anxiety that she’s going to Hell if she doesn’t start to turn it over to Him. I think He would’ve hugged her. I think He would’ve told her that He loves her, and that He’s taking care of it, and that she doesn’t have to live that way.
So what can I do? What can we do? How can we confront this epidemic with a heart full of love and compassion?
Holly Gerth, a Christian author, explains that in the Bible, everytime it says “don’t be afraid,” it’s usually to someone who is already afraid. Meaning this: “don’t be afraid” is not a rebuke— it’s a reassurance.
I think this is the first step: reassuring.
This is for you and for me: the next time one of our friends (or even a stranger) approaches us with their mental health struggles, let’s hear them out. Let’s try to get some background. Let’s hear their heart. And before we remind them of all the scripture, let’s remind them of all the times God took care of it— that this isn’t God’s first rodeo, and that He hasn’t failed them yet, and He doesn’t have intentions of failing them anytime soon.
Yes, it’s easier said than done, but I think it’s worth it in order to show a broken, hurt world that there’s a better Way.
In my favorite show, Grey’s Anatomy, Meredith Grey said to a patient with an eating disorder and a verbally abusive parent something I’ll never be able to forget: “You don’t know this yet, but life isn’t supposed to be like this. It’s not supposed to be this hard.”
I think everytime I talk to Jesus about my anxiety, He gives me a sad smile, and then He tells me that same thing.
If there’s anything I know for sure, it’s that Jesus really, and I mean like really cares about us. And I think that’s an understatement. I know He doesn’t want us to be plauged with anxiety and other disorders, but He knows that we are still experiencing them. When Jesus saw people with leprosy, He didn’t just acknowledge the fact that they were hurting. He had compassion on them. He went and sat with them. He went and healed them. He showed them a better Way.
Let’s do the same thing. The distance between the head and the heart can be long, but I
have to get to believe that it’s worth the journey. Let’s start loving them through the anxiety, through the depression, through the pain. Throw away the stigma and throw up some love.