Yesterday I wrote a post suggesting that we need to talk more openly about anxiety and depression in our churches. The post seemed to strike a nerve with a lot of people, and many people thanked me for writing about the subject. In light of that, I want to write a little more on the subject in the hope of helping us more effectively serve those who labor under anxiety and depression.
Depression vs. Unbelief vs. Anxiety vs. Worry
In order to serve the anxious and depressed, I think it’s helpful to distinguish the difference between anxiety, worry, depression, and unbelief. Worry is a sin involving the thought life. I worry about my finances and the health of my children and that mysterious pain in my foot. My thoughts are always involved in worry.
Sometimes when I worry, I also feel anxious, which is a physical manifestation of the worry taking place within me. Under normal circumstances, I will repent of my worry, change my patterns of thinking to reflect my trust in God, and the symptoms of anxiety will go away.
This isn’t always the case however. Those who are familiar with anxiety know that it can take many different shapes and shades. There are times when changing my patterns of thinking does not relieve the anxiety that I am experiencing. I can be trusting God with my mind and yet still experiencing the symptoms of anxiety, such as a rapid heart beat and high levels of adrenaline.
This is really important to understand. The feeling of anxiety doesn’t necessarily mean that I am sinning.
Or, there are times when I experience anxiety without any associated thoughts of worry or fear. I will simply wake up feeling anxious, like there is a large animal sitting on my chest and squeezing the breath out of me. On these days, it’s obvious that my body is just out of whack for the day.
I don’t experience clinical depression, but from what I have been told by those close to me, depression can work in a similar manner. There are times when depression is obviously the result of some form of sadness, discouragement, or unbelief. But this isn’t the case for everyone. Many times a person can be thinking God-honoring thoughts and yet still feel very down. Other times people simply wake up feeling awful. Our bodies and minds have been affected by sin and don’t work as they should.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
What this means is that we need to be careful in the way that we counsel the anxious and the depressed. We need to listen carefully to them and seek to understand the exact nature of their struggle. We need to, if possible, avoid giving “quick fixes” like, “Can’t you just stop thinking about this?” Or, “Don’t you know that God works all things for good?” The experience of anxiety or depression doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is in sin.
The first step in helping the anxious or depressed is to listen carefully to them. Then, after listening carefully, we need to communicate our love and the love of Jesus. Jesus is our High Priest who sympathizes with us in our darkness, and he deeply loves us, even when we can’t feel it. We can serve by communicating these simple truths and then by praying for the person. This isn’t all we can do, but it’s a great start.
I realize that this post is far too simplistic to address all the different scenarios, but it’s a start. I’ll shoot to write more on this in the next week or so. Until then, let’s listen carefully, communicate the love of God, and pray for our friends.
+photo by kudumomo