A question I’m often asked is, “How did you stop having anxiety?”
Then comes the inevitable follow up: “You mean, you still feel anxious?”
Every now and then, yes.
“You mean, God hasn’t healed you from it?”
These questions are not uncommon to me and I imagine they’re not uncommon to others in the church.
The giant chasm which exists between faith and mental health would suggest that this will always be a difficult topic to discuss. Many Christians, including myself, do not understand how these two things, God and GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), could possibly co-exist.
I’ve had numerous conversations with people who ask me about my faith and its role in regards to how I cope with anxiety. Where does God fit in?
They might expect me to give them cookie-cutter” answers like “Because I’m a Christian, I don’t struggle with my anxiety.” Or “trusting in God removes all anxiety.”
But as someone who has suffered from anxiety and is still affected by it at times, I can only tell you that there are no simple answers.
Instead, let me offer you five things to keep in mind if you’re a Christian struggling with anxiety.
1. God can heal us from anything, even anxiety.
As a Christian, I believe that God can do anything. Nothing is impossible for him (Luke 1:37). Does this include healing people from illnesses, including mental illness? Yes.
I know people who have personally experienced God’s healing from different neurological or psychological disorders.
Yet for me, and perhaps to others, the question remains: is there room for God amidst an anxiety disorder when He hasn’t taken it away? Where is God when the breakthrough hasn’t happened yet?
The answer is not so black and white.
2. Having anxiety is not a reflection of your lack of faith.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard well-meaning churchgoers tell me, “You just need to pray about it more; you really need to go before the Lord.”
Let me tell you about my going before the Lord.
As someone who dealt with panic attacks and anxiety disorder throughout college, I can say that I wasn’t only just going before the Lord, but I was face-down-lying-on-the-bathroom-floor going before Him.
If you have been there before, you will know what I mean. Our body meets the end of ourselves. All dignity is pushed aside, and we beg and plead, often on our knees. Or in my case, on my hands and my knees.
Take this from me, God. I cannot do this anymore. It’s just too much.
3. Healing comes in many forms.
The night that I lay face down on the bathroom floor of my apartment, God did not take away my anxiety disorder. He did not miraculously heal me from my anxiety in one instant act of extraordinary intervention. I didn’t automatically stop having panic attacks. I still had to catch my breath and count to 10 in the middle of a work meeting to avoid a potential breakdown.
My experience wasn’t one of immediate relief. It wasn’t a miraculous healing that some encounter in church pews. Instead, managing my anxiety was a long and drawn-out process.
It was the result of many months of intense counselling sessions and emotional energy. But in that process, I found relief. And I experienced some healing.
It all started by going to speak to a complete stranger about my fears. She taught me tools to help stop the onset of a panic attack. I slowly learned how to manage overpowering feelings of anxiety.
As I accepted the fact that I struggled with a disorder, I also began the frightening process of opening up to my family and friends. I took a step back and observed the bad habits I needed to break, and I even had to say goodbye to some unhealthy relationships. The process was anything but easy or formulaic, but it allowed me to slowly regain that peace of mind that Philippians talks about.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
So did God heal me? Did I achieve breakthrough?
Not in the way you would think. Not in one heavenly instant.
I have no shame in admitting to you that my prayers didn’t result in the end of my disorder. Healing takes place in many different ways. Sometimes, it’s the immediate relief from anxiety during a worship service, and sometimes it’s ongoing treatment from a doctor.
What I can attest to is that God gave me the peace and determination to manage those days where anxiety was too close for comfort. And through that, I found grace, and ultimately, freedom.
4. We are not alone in our anxiety.
It’s important to recognize that God does not promise we will never experience hardship.
I would still feel a sense of nervousness from time to time, even after attending a counselling session. I still had the occasional random panic attack in the supermarket (bless the dear woman who consoled me in the freezer aisle). We will never live a life free of adversity.
But God does promise that He will be right there with us when we go through those difficult times.
How comforting it is to know that I am not alone in those moments of darkness! I have the companionship of one who has already overcome anxiety. He’s been there, done that.
In Matthew, it says that Jesus overcame the world. He knew what it was like to feel overwhelmed. To feel anxious. He knew pain and suffering. I don’t know about you, but that’s a huge relief to know I am not isolated in this fight.
5. The road to recovery can be slow and messy.
I’ll be honest with you: today, I still struggle with anxiety from time to time. I still have those moments of uncertainty. My faith does not remove the voice of negative self-talk.
But I do have confidence in one thing: God meets me where I am. He has been with me every step of the way, from diagnosis to recovery. And looking back, I can certainly attest that I am not the same person I was several years ago as I sat in the doctor’s office discussing different side effects of anti-depressants. I can confidently say that the worst is behind me.
When I hear that there is no room for God in the whole “mental health” debate, I want to remind those people of one of the key issues at the centre of this whole conversation: God loves people in their humanity and we are to do the same of one another. Despite our perceived “weakness” and our human tendency to fear and to feel insecure—God still uses us to inspire, to lead and to love others. He uses anxious people.
I am the most peaceful I probably have ever been on my journey, but every now and then, I still feel a little off. But it’s encouraging to know that I don’t have to be perfect.
I don’t have to feel perfectly. I can just be. And that’s perfectly okay.