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A Letter to the Church about Anxiety and Depression

Dear Church,

I prayed before I wrote this letter today. I read Psalm 23 and asked God what He would have me say about one of my favorite passages. When the thought of anxiety and depression came to mind, I said an extra prayer. I know only a fraction of all there is to know about mental illness – the causes, the symptoms, the treatments. I can only speak from my own experiences, but God gives us our story for a reason, and I’m doing my best to use it for good.

Psalm 23:1 – “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

Growing up in evangelical culture and attending a contemporary Southern Baptist church, I heard plenty of exhortations to read my Bible, pray as much as I could, and go to church every week. When we spoke of sadness, we always ended with God is our joy! When we spoke of worry, we quoted Philipians 4:6-7 to “not worry about anything.” In fact, some said, it is a SIN to worry and not be content with God’s provision!

I was first introduced to the idea of anxiety and depression as a physical condition in my AP Psychology class senior year of high school. Synapses, neurotransmitters, hormones… I never knew so much of the body was controlled by the release of specific chemicals. What I did know was how it felt to struggle for breath and white-knuckle a steering wheel as I started driving over a small mountain I had not intended to cross in the pitch dark. I knew what tired felt like when I got home from a band-trip-turned sour and all I wanted to do was lay on the couch and snooze. I knew how it felt to toss and turn and pray for hours at night but not fall asleep, and to do so for weeks or months at a time.

Psalm 23:4 – “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

I can’t say whether David ever struggled with anxiety and depression, but I think many people who have experienced mental illness could relate that heavy darkness to the “valley of the shadow of death.” Even so, David points to God as his hope in a horrible situation. God is not necessarily the almighty fixer in this passage. He is more than that. He is the reason David keeps fighting the darkness, the reason that David can lift his head when he really doesn’t want to. God doesn’t just take the problem away; He gets David through it.

To those in the church who would say that people struggling with mental illness should pray or read their Bible more, I ask that you consider 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. Paul says,

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Anxiety and depression is not deserved or a consequence of not being faithful enough. Mental illness is a shard of brokenness in this fallen world, just like painful childbirth and weak bodies (Genesis 3:16-20.) Instead of piling more rules and guilt on those struggling with mental illness, we should embrace them and guide them to a wholistic approach to coping. We do not deny cancer patients medical treatment; we pray that God will extend the efficacy of the treatments and wait on Him to do a miracle. If the cancer does not go away, we do not blame the patient for being unfaithful; we learn to accept God’s goodness even if the healing miracle never comes.

Why don’t we do the same for mental illness?

Sincerely,

Ashton

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13 thoughts on “A Letter to the Church about Anxiety and Depression

  1. Beautiful words Ashton! Thanks for putting your thoughts and experiences on paper in your blog! I’m proud of you!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comments and for reading!

  2. Being able to identify it, put it into words, and be open to sharing is the beginning of improving. Proud of you! God’s blessing continue! ❤️

    1. Thank you so much! That means a lot!

  3. Wonderful

    1. Thank you!

  4. This is so so true. I have tried to explain to people that some of the anxiety I deal with is partially hormonal and physical but still I get tossed the “be anxious for nothing” as if to say “knock it off. What’s wrong with you?” So frustrating! This was the perfect letter and I can’t wait to share it with others.

    1. I’m sorry to hear you’ve experienced that! It breaks my heart to hear the stories of what people have gone through because of a misunderstanding in the church. Thank you for reading and sharing your experience!

  5. Good thoughts. I think Elijah in 1 Kings 19 is one of the best examples. I did a blog called, “When you feel like giving up.” Elijah wanted to die.
    He was ready to quit.
    He was isolated. He told his companion to let him be alone.
    What God did for him I believe is powerful.
    – he needed some rest
    -he needed some food and water
    -God reminded him He was not alone.
    -God reminded him he had purpose. There was more for him to do.
    After a while, Elijah would get up. He would keep going.

    1. That is awesome! I appreciate you mentioning how God provided for Elijah’s physical needs in addition to the emotional and spiritual. Thank you for sharing!

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