With mental illnesses on the rise in North Americans, and increasing in numbers in today’s society, I thought it would be fitting to write about my own experiences with them. From a Christian point of view, I think these things are often hard to talk about within the Christian community because we think that we shouldn’t be suffering from depression or anxiety if we have all our hope in Jesus Christ. But that’s not true.
We night have strong hope in Jesus, we might truly believe that he is in control. But even though we might believe those things, the feelings don’t go away. If the enemy can tempt a faithful Christian and recovering alcoholic with alcohol, he can get inside a faithful Christian’s mind and torment them with thoughts and feelings that are not of the Lord.
One of the many sad things about mental illnesses is that it festers in our minds and, like any illness, can lead to death. Mental illnesses, in my opinion, can be even more detrimental than physical illnesses because it can cause a spiritual and emotional death first, before a physical death. When people become depressed from grief, they experience a certain numbness to the world. Of course, I can’t speak for everyone because everyone’s experience in suffering is different. But I can say that a person can become so hurt that they choose to cut off all feelings because they think that it is better not to feel than to feel the hurt that they are experiencing.
And if human minds are capable of choosing not to feel, then think of all the dangerous thoughts they are capable of making! We all worry and we all fear things from time to time. But anxiety and depression go far beyond that.
So let me just start by saying: IT IS OKAY TO FEEL SAD. Or concerned. Or hopeless. Often as Christians, we think we have to have this endless joy that bubbles from the “fountain of goodness” or whatever from within us. But let’s get this straight: yes, the joy of the LORD is my strength. Yes, not my joy, but the joy God provides, is my strength. This joy doesn’t just pop up out of no where because we have the title of Christian! It comes from the Lord. And yes, there can be joy in suffering. Like how James says to consider our trials “pure joy” (James 1:2), and how Paul rejoiced when he was thrown in prison for spreading God’s word (Acts 16:25). But don’t you think that there were still times when they felt down and discouraged? Of course!
As Christians, we will get tormented and tortured in ways rhat we may never understand. And so it is entirely normal to feel sad. Let yourself feel sad, let yourself grieve. It’s when we choose to stay in that grief for a very long time that depression arises. Or when we let our fears take control of us to the point that it becomes uncontrollable, it becomes anxiety. Because just like joy comes from the Lord, anxiety and depression are roots of the enemy we battle every day. He uses them as tactics to get us down and destroy us.
I am definitely no psychologist and I certainly do not know a lot, but I do know that a lot of us have legitimate fears. Dr. Meberg, a Christian psychologist and author, writes about how the fear of abandonment is prominent in us all: “One of the greatest driving forces in our nature is to feel connected to other human beings. To truly experience connection is to experience oneness; without it, we can withdraw into a world of lonely isolation. To avoid isolation, rejection and abandonment, we deny our left – side realities; they are simply too threatening to acknowledge” (42). Fear of abandonment can be the root of the decisions we make without even realizing it because it can create other fears, anxieties and feelings of shame within us. Consider this: “…at the very core of shame lives the fear of abandonment and rejection. If you really knew me and the nature of the stuff that lives in the dark corner of my heart, you’d not only be shocked, but worse yet, you’d be appalled. If you’re appalled , then I have every reason to assume you will reject me. If you you reject me, then I will experience abandonment, which is the most devasting emotional state in which to live” (Meberg 42).
This fear is what causes us to withdraw from people and close ourselves off before we even give someone a chance. OR it causes us to become extremely anxious in trying to earn the love of others. We might do whatever it takes for someone to not leave us, or try everything in our power to get people to like us. Dr. Meberg continues to write about how it keeps us from sharing our inner secrets with people, and how those inner secrets cam actually eat away at us internally if we don’t tell anyone.
Holding those secrets in can fester up a depression in itself as one might begin to hate themselves, or it can fester up an anxiety that people will find out who you really are if they know your secrets. In her book Tell Me Everything, Dr. Meberg shares with her readers “how to heal from the secrets you thought you could never share”, and I highly recommend this book if you’re looking to learn more about yourself, and why you are the way you are.
For Jill Kelly, the wife of a former Buffalo Bills quaterback, this fear of abandonment was so strong that it nearly killed her. Her son, Hunter, had died at age 8 from Krabbe disease, which effects the nervous system and causes it to break down at a faster rate. While trying to stay strong for her busband and two daughters, she fell into a deep depression and came close to taking an overdose of her medical prescription. In her book Etched…Upon My Heart, she writes about her experience in the pit of dispair:
“While most of what I had experienced was part of the normal grief process, this moment was the closest I came to actually giving up the fight and acting on my feelings. That night in the hotel room, when choking darkness billowed over my soul, I had absolutely no control of the lies and fear stalking my mind, body and spirit. Honestly, I felt as if my only hope lay in death… Like a hurricane, [my desolation] continued to strengthen, the fury of its doubt hammering my faith relentlessly, eroding it like a storm wears a way the beauty of the coastline. The temptation to reject and buy into the lie that God had abandoned me was overwhelming. So much so that I actually began to believe that I was no longer His. It scared me to death. Literally. At the time, my grief was so crippling that it undermined my ability to reason and believe. Somehow I began to swallow the lie that death was a legitimate course of action, a game changer, an escape. Certainly part of what I was experiencing was the deep anguish of souls over the loss of my precious son, but there there as more going on… I had been strong in my faith and keenly aware that people were watching, acknowledging my strength in the Lord. Consequently, when this episode unfolded and I found myself in the Valley of the Shadow, I became more concerned about people seeing me so frail and weak than following God humbly through it. I fought what God was providing through medical help in the most spiritual terms in which I could frame my stubborn heart. Eventually, I had to die to my pride and spiritual posturing, despite how ugly ‘real’ appeared” (173).
Here, Jill shares what many of us face today. We believe the blatant lie that God has abandoned us and “we doubt God and his perfect love for us. It’s almost like we’re fighting against who He is” (Kelly 173). But when Satan Satan throws those lies around in our heads that we’re not good enough, that God doesn’t love us and that he has left us, we can shut it down with the fact that He sent his only son to die on the cross for us! If that doesn’t show love, I don’t know what does! And that fact comes straight from the Bible (John 3:16). “Our life circumstances may be beyond our ability to endure, but they’re no match for God. He is our hope. Every time. Not sometimes. Not when we feel strong enough. Not when we’re at the top of our game. Every. Single. Time” (Kelly 173-74).
Everyone has doubts. Everyone faces hardship. You are not alone in this. Battle those raging deathly thoughts with the truth from God’s word. Honestly, scripture verses speak power to the devil that makes him flee. The Bible is literally the sword of the spirit, man! (Ephesians 6:17). I remember a time when I was going through a particularly hard time, and I had honestly thought the only way out was to join our heavenly father in death. I didn’t want to tell anyone because I didn’t want to burden anyone with my problems, or make anyone else worry or feel depressed because of me, so I kept it to myself for while. I didn’t know what to say or even who to talk to about it when I started feeling that way, so I thought it was best to keep it to myself.
But when the circumstances seemed so unbearable, I ended up fearfully telling someone. I remember praying that God would just allow me to be with him that night, that He would take me to my heavenly home because I just couldn’t bear the pain I was facing here on earth. But the person I told reminded me of the verse I have tattooed on my arm: 2 Corinthians 4:17. It says: “For our light and momentary troubles achieve for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all”. Ironically, I had it tattooed on my arm as a reminder, but in that moment I had forgot! I had forgotten because I had let the lie that God had left me here on earth by myself and abandoned me here fester and grow in my mind. But this verse is so beautiful because it often does remind me that our troubles here on earth are nothing compared to the amazing eternity we will have with our saviour one day!
And while my heart still aches to see Him face to face one day, I have hope that I will, and hope that God will use me while I’m I’m still here. As Mandisa sings: “I’m just unfinished”. He’s not finished with me yet and he’s certainly not finished with you yet either! And encouraging Psalm my really good friend had shared with me that night was: “I lift my eyes up to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming both now and forever more” (Psalm 121).
Though you might not feel it, God is watching over you and protecting your right now. He has not abandoned you, he loves you SO much, and he never wants depression or anxiety for any of his children! And honestly, if you feel depressed and anxious a lot and you haven’t told anyone, please do not keep it to yourself. Don’t hold it in until you can’t any longer like I did. God places people in our lives for a reason. Tell a trusted friend, or even try counseling. (I know from experience that there are some really amazing Christian counselors out there!) No one wants you to go through this alone.
“From the darkness of this decadent, fallen, fading race to the light of His eternal love and amazing grace. I can hardly wait. And every time the sun goes down, it’s one step closer to that day” (Kelly 177). I can’t wait to see Jesus one day! Thank you, Lord, for providing that amazing hope for us!