I don’t talk a lot about my faith because I feel extremely unqualified to do so. I haven’t studied theology and I’m by no means the “ideal Christian”. But it is part of who I am and it does have effects on how I handle and think about anxiety (and life in general!), so I do want to share a little bit about it in some of my posts. Please don’t take my thoughts as truths, please compare them against what the Bible says.
The other week I started reading a sample of a devotion focused on anxiety. The devotion was written by someone who says he has anxiety as well. I didn’t get far into the sample (and sure didn’t buy the book) because a couple of pages in the author claimed that “any problem with anxiety is a worship problem” and that “your anxiety is first a problem with God”. The book goes on to talk about medications and state that “for some people, using a symptom-relieving medication for a limited time may help them to get control of their escalated emotional state.” This is more or less where I tapped out (and pretty well where the sample ended, anyway).
What the author has expressed in the intro to his book is a common theme I’ve often come across as a Christian with an anxiety disorder. All too often, people with anxiety disorders are made to feel that our anxiety is our fault. “Apparently” our anxiety is signaling that we haven’t done enough, we haven’t tried hard enough, we haven’t prayed hard enough, we haven’t gone to church often enough. And if we are to “resort to” medication, we are just weak and haven’t trusted God enough.
And I don’t think this is quite true for those with anxiety disorders.
There are multiple different anxiety disorders and many different causes for them. Research has shown that anxiety disorders can be caused by many different things, including chemical imbalances, past experiences and genetics. This post isn’t to go into the numerous different possible causes of anxiety disorders; there are thousands of helpful articles and studies that address this. I do believe, however, that it is important to note that anxiety disorders are defined medical disorders that often have biological causes, the same as numerous other “accepted” medical disorders. I haven’t come across criticisms of people with diabetes or cancer or fibromyalgia for their medical conditions being caused by their lack of faith or some sort of a problem with God…so why are anxiety disorders still termed like this? Why is it accepted that people can use inhalers for their asthma and insulin for their diabetes but that medications for anxiety disorders are not acceptable or are only short term solutions? Some posts I’ve read have even gone so far as to tell readers that experiencing anxiety is a sin, which really upset me, because the last thing we need is another thing to feel anxious about, especially when it is something that is (to an extent) out of our control.
The Bible does talk a lot about anxiety, how we should not be anxious and how we should give our worries to God (Isaiah 41:10, Matthew 6:25-34, Psalm 94:19) – and these are biblical truths that can help us, even if we are living with an anxiety disorder. But I think often, people are quick to assume that “anxiety” (or the process of worrying) described throughout the Bible are the same as the visceral, uncontrollable feeling of anxiety, as experienced by those with anxiety disorders. For someone who hasn’t experienced an anxiety disorder, it’s difficult to truly understand what it consists of and how it can be absolutely debilitating. An anxiety disorder is not just “worrying too much”, just like obsessive compulsive disorder is not just “washing your hands too much” and depression is not just “crying too much”. As we approach and seek to understand these Biblical truths, we must do it with a thorough understanding (or at least some understanding, coupled with a respect for what we do not know) of the medical condition that is an anxiety disorder.
Additionally, I think that somewhere along the line, we have gotten it into our heads that if we try hard enough, if we do enough, if we “enter the proper code”, so to speak, God will dispense our wishes like some sort of spiritual vending machine. This isn’t the case. No one really knows why God allows each person to struggle with whatever it is that they do, although there are some hints throughout the Bible (2 Corinthians 12, Romans 8:28).
For me, personally, my faith hasn’t “healed” me, although I know that God is perfectly capable of doing so, if it is His will. But even while I’m still experiencing anxiety, I’ve also experienced His peace. They aren’t mutually exclusive. I’m also beginning to see how God is using my struggles to deepen our relationship and I know that this is all part of a bigger plan than I can even begin to imagine. My story, my struggles right now are one little string that is being woven into something so much bigger and so much better. And no, this knowledge doesn’t usher my anxieties out of the door or stop my mind from diving into a tailspin of worry. I don’t think it’s necessarily meant to. But it gives me hope. (John 16:33).
And so, if you are a Christian with an anxiety disorder (or any other mental health disorder), here is what I hope for you.
I hope you can accept that your anxiety disorder is not your fault. It isn’t a punishment, it isn’t because you haven’t tried hard enough and it isn’t because you aren’t “Christian enough”.
I hope you can find an educated, Christian mentor or counsellor who can guide you and help explain biblical passages and truths. I hope this person is well trained in mental health matters or that they encourage you to also connect with a psychologist to help you even further.
I hope that you surround yourself with friends and a community that challenge and convict you, but who never condemn you.
If you take medications (or are considering taking them), I hope you don’t see them as a sign of weakness or an admittance of defeat. I hope you can see the possibilities they offer you, the opportunities they give you to be the person God wants you to be.
And more than anything, I hope you can lean into God and seek Him to guide you, and not feel that you need to hide in shame. I hope you can experience His peace. I hope that you can find comfort in Him and guidance through Him, and at the same time, not feel broken or guilty if you don’t feel instantly “fixed” after praying or reading the Bible.
Additional readings that you might find helpful :