Healing In Its Wings – Dealing with Anxiety
There is a difference between anxiety you can control (general worry and lack of faith) and a mental disorder that causes anxiety. Our English language has failed us in this regard. However, I do believe without doubt God can heal both. This article focuses on the “mental disorder” of anxiety.
A few things happened to me since coming home from the war. These are 2 of them: I developed PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and became a Christian. The order of when they accrued doesn't matter; all I know is that both are currently true.
Without wasting much of your time about PTSD, the 2 main takeaways from it are: Panic Attacks and Anxiety Disorder
The giant chasm that exists between faith and mental health suggests that this topic will always be difficult to discuss, so bear with me. Many Christians do not understand how these two conditions could possibly co-exist. Many have questioned my anxiety and its relationship with my faith. Where does God fit in?
Some might expect me to provide some “cookie-cutter” answer such as “Because I’m a Christian, I don’t struggle with my anxiety” or “Trusting in God removes all anxiety.” However, I tend to stray away from these reductions of our emotional capacities as humans. Instead, I leave room for something else... Something that needs to be said from someone who’s been there and sometimes who finds himself still there.
Here are three things to keep in mind if you’re a Christian struggling with an anxiety disorder.
1. Having clinical anxiety is not a reflection of your lack of faith.
I cannot tell you how often I hear well-meaning churchgoers tell me/others, “You just need to pray about it more; you really need to go before the Lord.”
Oh brother. Let me tell you about my going before the Lord.
When my first panic attack hit in my later 20's, I knew two things definitively in that moment. That is, I was having a heart attack, and I was going to die (not literally, but those that have had these little gems, you know what I'm writing about). I can only say that I wasn’t only just going before the Lord, but I was face-down-lying-on-the-side-of-the-road going before the Lord.
To those of you who have been there before, you are not entirely shocked. All of us have moments in our lives where our body meets the end of ourselves. All dignity is pushed aside and we beg and plead. Often on our knees, and in my case, on my hands, knees and face.
After the 5th panic attack in about a month, I knew miraculous healing wasn’t coming. Did I lose faith in our God during these moments? It waivered, sure. I was new to the faith but was lost in these moments of tribulation. Other avenues needed to be explored.
2. Healing comes in many forms.
God did not take away my anxiety disorder that day as I lay face down on the side of the road. He did not miraculously heal me from my anxiety in one instant act of extraordinary intervention. I didn’t automatically stop having panic attacks. Catching my breath and counting to 10 in the middle of a college class was still a necessity to avoid a potential breakdown.
God didn’t heal me instantly right on the spot. On the contrary, my experience wasn’t one of immediate relief.
Managing my anxiety was long and drawn-out. It was the result of many months of intense counseling sessions and emotional energy. During these sessions though I found relief and I experienced healing, but the process was anything but easy or formulaic. However, 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?
Absolutely! Look at the causality of my decisions… I prayed for help and He allowed me to find it! However, I have no shame in admitting to you that my prayers didn’t result in the end of my disorder completely. Healing takes place in many ways still to this day. Sometimes it’s the immediate relief from anxiety during a worship service and sometimes it’s ongoing treatment from a doctor.
I can attest that God gave me the peace and determination to manage these days where anxiety is too close for comfort. He gave me tools to get on with my service to His kingdom. Keep praying, dear reader, and find the answers and paths our Father is providing you.
3. We are not alone in our anxiety.
It’s important to recognize that God does not promise freedom from hardship.
I still have the offbeat random panic attack in the supermarket aisle or trying to fall asleep. I've even awakened from dreams to find it waiting for me (thank my wife for holding me during these times). We will never live a life free of adversity on this side of eternity.
However, God does promise that He will be right there with us when we go through those difficult times. Go ahead and find the comforting passages from King David on these topics.
How comforting it is to know that I am not alone in those moments of darkness!
I have the companionship of The One who has already overcome anxiety. He’s been there, done that. In the gospel, it says that Jesus overcame the world (John 16:33). He knew what it was like to feel overwhelmed and anxious. He knew pain and suffering. That’s a huge relief to know I am not isolated in this fight.
God meets me where I am. He has been with me every step of the way, from diagnosis to recovery. 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 antidepressants. I can confidently say that the worst is behind me. All glory to God!
When I hear that there is no room for God in the “mental health” debate, I want to remind those people of something that I think is one of the key issues at the center of this whole conversation: God loves people in their humanity, and we are to do the same of one another. Despite our perceived weakness, despite the things that would hold us back, despite our human tendencies to fear and to feel insecure... God still uses us to inspire, to lead and to love others. He uses mentally disordered people.
I am more peaceful today than I have ever been on my journey, but every now and then, I still feel a little off.
However, it’s encouraging to know that I don’t have to be perfect.
I don’t have to feel perfectly.
I can just be... in Christ.
And that’s perfectly OK.
"These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)