By Caitlin Meadows
“When a person struggles with anxiety, that person is not living in the victory of Christ.”
That’s what I was told by someone with spiritual clout. During our first conversation, he picked up on the fact that I deal with anxiety. In an attempt to encourage me with the reminder of the victory I have in Christ, I ended up leaving feeling condemned.
“If I’m struggling with anxiety and thus, not living in Christ’s victory,” I surmised, “then I must not have Christ.”
With that thought, my anxiety quickly flared with hopelessness. For the Christian who deals with mental illnesses like anxiety disorder and depression, shame is quick to confront the already haunted mind.
We’re reminded by well-intentioned Christians of Philippians 4:6-7 and 1 Peter 5:7. The Bible says not to be anxious about anything and provides a formula for fighting it. It tells us to abandon our worries at Jesus’ feet, because He cares for us.
What our Christian encouragers, who themselves have never dealt with anxiety disorder or depression, do not realize is that these exact verses are the truth to which we who struggle cling.
With our lives.
These are the truths we recite in the morning before our eyes open and all through the day. It is beneficial to be reminded, but those doing the reminding would do well to understand that the fight against anxiety disorder and depression is real and it is often ferocious.
NORMAL ANXIETY VS. ANXIETY DISORDER
Christians who deal with anxiety disorder and depression can no more make it go away in an instant with a prayer and an attitude choice than a Christian suffering from cancer can.
To be clear, there is a difference between normal, human anxiety and anxiety disorders. This difference is explained by the University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center,
Anxiety is hardwired into our brains. It is part of the body’s fight-or-flight response, which prepares us to act quickly in the face of danger. It is a normal response to uncertainty, trouble, or feeling unprepared. However, if common everyday events bring on severe and persistent anxiety or panic that interferes with life, you may have an anxiety disorder.
You may have heard that mental illnesses result from a chemical imbalance in the brain. The University of Maryland Medical Center describes what the medical community currently understands about these chemical imbalances,
Studies suggest that an imbalance of certain neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) may contribute to anxiety disorders. The neurotransmitters targeted in anxiety disorders are gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine. Serotonin appears to be specifically important in feelings of well being, and deficiencies are highly related to anxiety and depression.
God certainly can heal one’s mind, heart, and body in an instant. There’s no doubt about that. For many, He has done so. For many others, He allows healing to take time as the sufferer’s trust in Him is strengthened through the suffering. For many still, complete healing never comes this side of eternity.
NOT LIVING IN CHRIST’S VICTORY?
Does this mean, then, that these Christians are not living in the victory of Christ? After speaking with the individual who meant to encourage me with his words, I believed him briefly.
As condemnation set in and despair overwhelmed, I was reminded of who Christ is through the exhortations of those who know me and the circumstances of trauma that have triggered my battle with anxiety disorder.
Christ is: my Rescuer, Rock, Shepherd, and King. When I feel condemnation and despair, the cause is not from Christ and is not true.
“For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.” – John 3:17 (KJV)
EVIDENCE OF CHRIST’S VICTORY
The reality of anxiety that I have lived through as a follower of Christ has become my evidence that I am living victoriously through Him. Because I am alive, thanks to Jesus.
I can still genuinely smile and laugh and praise Him. My bed doesn’t swallow me in the morning, though it has tried.
With every prick of anxiety that has threatened me, I have turned to my Rescuer, Rock, Savior, Shepherd, and King. He has liberated me one moment, hour, and day at a time.
His grace enables me for this moment, and the next, and the one after that. He is victorious; I am His, and He is mine.
The fact that I mentally have an inclination toward anxiety does not mean I am without victory. The fact that I know Who to cling to for strength through anxiety, even before it rears its nasty head, proves Christ’s victory through me.
My battle with anxiety disorder causes me to be continually attentive to Christ’s presence and to what He is doing in and around me. For this, I am blessed.
TAKING THE LEAD TOWARD VICTORY
I desire complete healing from these mental issues for every believer who battles them. However, only our faithful Lord knows how long He will allow us to battle these issues before complete healing is realized. And should He allow the battle to last until our earthly lives end, we know that the battle will be won and over in His eternal Kingdom.
Like Paul, we are confident that He who began a good work in us will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
The hope, as always, is found in Jesus because He has re-created all who choose Him to lead through their daily lives on His behalf. Christ-followers who live with mental illnesses like anxiety disorder and depression are no exception. We do not have to wait until we’re healed to intentionally point our circles to Christ. We do not have to sugar coat our struggles or conceal them in shame, either.
Rather, we can lead through our mental struggles as we rely each moment on His enabling grace. For the Christian with a mental illness, this is the context of his/her calling. While we pray and wait for healing, we can be content to lead from this context, knowing that our unique perspective on life and faith will not only help to create understanding for those who have never experienced what we go through but also help to comfort those who are sharing in our suffering.
The reality of mental illness in the life of a Christian is not evidence of defeat. It is an opportunity at leadership and Kingdom victory that goes far beyond our individual lives.
Do you struggle with anxiety disorder or depression and want to better understand your unique leadership strengths? Download Artios Christian College’s free guide on Discovering Your Leadership Strengths.
One final note: If you are a Christian dealing with ongoing symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, please discuss it with your primary doctor and seek out professional counseling from a counselor who shares your faith.