I am not going to lie or pretend. I have been struggling lately. While most of the things I face every day are “good problems”, there are some seriously stressful and worrisome things in there as well. I have struggled with just carrying the weight of these things, but also with feeling guilty about struggling. I know how blessed I am, and I can count blessing after blessing after blessing. But some days, I still just want to pull the covers up over my head.
The past few years have been a roller coaster! And just like roller coasters can be fun and exhilarating, sometimes you also feel like its all going to go flying off the tracks and can be completely terrifying. The problem is that, as Christians, there is an even stronger stigma around mental health problems than for the rest of the population, I believe. I had a young lady in my office one time crying and crying; she had tried talking with her pastor about how she was feeling, and he told her that her faith wasn’t strong and she truly wasn’t saved if she was having feelings of depression. I told her to tell her pastor he was ignorant, in the truest sense of the word, and that I would be glad to speak with him more about it. How are you supposed to ask for help as a Christian if that’s where the “church” meets you? It’s hard enough to have those depressed feelings, and then the guilt of having those feels, but then to have a “trusted counsel” tell you that you should feel that way because it was a lack of faith! Geez!
In the Bible, Jesus never chastised people for being honest about their feelings. Martha wept and told Jesus that if he had been there sooner, Lazarus wouldn’t have died. Even Jesus himself wept. On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus told His friends, “My soul is sorrowful, even to death.” (Matthew 26:38) Jesus understands when we feel depressed and overwhelmed! There is nothing He has not experienced that we experience!
Depression and anxiety are real medical illnesses, just like high blood pressure or diabetes. Are there things you can do to help yourself? Of course! Just like with those other medical problems, a healthy diet, plenty of exercise, etc. are all things we can do to improve our mental and physical wellbeing! But sometimes, those aren’t enough, and that’s OK! Sometimes as Christians, what we know is true and how we feel, don’t exactly line up, and that’s called a chemical imbalance. Sometimes medications, professional counseling, and other professional interventions are necessary to help get those things lined back up.
But, for me lately, the things that have pulled me through this struggle and back towards the light of a fulfilled life are friends and family that notice and care: a husband who takes on extra chores and calls my Mama to make sure she knows to check on me, a best friend who “oversteps” by taking some things off my plate without being asked, coworkers who bring me my favorite treats with a note telling me how much they love and appreciate me, grandparents who have prayed me through every hard time of my life. Encouragement is a powerful thing and often a life-changer! But some of the things that have occurred have been no coincidence; I heard a pastor once call them God-incidences! Waking up to a Facebook feed full of Bible verses and encouragement is somewhat unusual–there is usually tragedy or political arguing or complaining about trivial matters thrown into the mix, but lately, I feel God’s presence making sure that the things I see and hear have been encouraging and uplifting, reminders of His great love and plans for me and for my family. There have been obvious reminders in the sunrise and in a word or verse popping up over and over again that He is near me. The Bible tells us that He is “close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in Spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)
Going back to the night of Jesus’s crucifixion gives us some additional ways to combat the darkness that tries to overtake us. Not only did he express his feelings honestly to God and to his friends, but he prayed and asked that his friends pray with him. And they did. Then he rested in the knowledge that God is sovereign and that Glory awaited him. He knew that our God would not let his suffering be in vain or permanent. ALL things work together for good for those who love the Lord! (Romans 8:28)
Friends, whatever mental, physical, emotional battles you face today, know that you are not alone. Although darkness surrounds you, keep your eyes lifted to the Light of the World. I can’t promise you that things will improve immediately, or that problems will just disappear, but I can promise you that God loves you and He won’t let your suffering be forever. This is just a season. Even living in God’s will and on the path He designed for you can be hard. You may have peace in your soul, but still struggle with unexpected challenges–which is where I have been. I know everything is going to be OK; I know God is with me and my family and He has a bigger plan, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Life wasn’t designed to be easy. The struggles are what refine and prepare us. So, hang in there knowing that there are lots of us who DO understand, who ARE willing to listen and to pray for and with you. And KNOW that God’s got you in the palm of His hand, always.
Allison Key, MD