“How do you live as a Christian when you struggle with anxiety?” She asked me, looking hesitant, embarrassed even, of her question; like she was waiting for me to pacify her with mantras of “Just have faith” or “You don’t believe enough.”
I sighed, unsure of what to say.
It’s a question I ask myself, too.
All my living memory, I have struggled with this “sin.” And I know many think it’s a sin; I’ve heard that whispered throughout church halls and declared from the pulpit while I shrink back into my corner, trying to hide the tears that well up in stress and anger. I hear those voices in my head, reminding me that real Christians don’t struggle with anxiety.
Anxiety is a fierce, often irrational pest. Its origins, I think, are in what we don’t know. When I was little, I was afraid of the dark. In my teens, that fear stretched to cancer, illness, the future and death.
To some extent, we all worry about those things, a little fear tucked in the back of our minds into the Someday section. But those who struggle deeply with anxiety find that the Someday section has grown too big—the unanswerable fears and questions are let loose, gripping their hands around our necks in a way that paralyzes us with fear. Questions about faith, about God, about suffering can plague the anxious soul, until it is difficult to think about anything else.
But it is not in the Lord’s nature to send us through trials in vain. He can use our struggles to draw us closer to Him. Such is the case with my anxiety. In its ugly depths, I am finding treasures of hope that I will one day lay before the throne in the presence of all His angels, because I will know something of suffering, and something of His love, that even angels do not. Here are a few of the things anxiety has taught me about faith:
We Are Not Meant to Face Anxiety Alone
It is easy, in America especially, to think the Christian walk must be journeyed in solitude. We are individualists who keep our prayers and cries private. We find the long-term issues of our neighbors messy, and are hesitant to get involved.
When I first tried to talk with other Christians about my anxiety, I was met with very caring, but also dismissive, responses that I just needed to have more faith.
Anxiety is not a glamorous problem. It’s not one that we like to address, because it brings up all that we don’t and can’t ever know. And so anxiety has become a “quiet” issue, one that sinks its roots in our hearts and heads but rarely makes it to our lips. We’re afraid to talk about it because we don’t want to look like “bad” Christians, so we let it grow, untamed, in the dark folds of the night.
But sin loves dark places. Evil loves to make children of God feel like they are alone, like they can’t talk about what they are going through, like no one will understand. This, my friend, is an outrageous lie. There are people who understand. It may take a while to sift through the dismissers and the outliers, but they are there, they will listen and you should seek them out—whether in the form of a trusted friend, pastor or counselor.
Where we are free to shed light on our struggles, the darkness cannot flourish. I felt ten thousand times lighter the first time I told my sister that I was anxious, because she just smiled and squeezed my hand, saying that the Lord holds me anyway.
The Bible calls us, repeatedly, to pray together, to break bread together, to encourage one another daily, to serve one another in love, because the Christian life is meant to be lived alongside other Christians.
It’s OK to Ask Questions
Part of the problem with the “Just have faith” mantra against anxiety is that it not only dismisses valid questions and fears, it can also, in some circumstances, promote uneducated Christianity. As Christians, we are walking testaments to the grace of God, and we are to point others to the light. We cannot answer questions about death, life, God and suffering if we have not yet asked ourselves questions like:
Why do children get cancer? Why does it seem like people die randomly? Does a loving God really send people to hell? How come the God I believe in can seem so cold, unfeeling?
These are all questions that have fed my own anxiety, but as I’ve become more open to talking about it, I realize that there are so many people asking the same questions, Christians and non-Christians alike. Many non-Christians ask these questions to prove that God cannot be trusted—that He is outdated and out of touch. Many Christians shy away from these questions because they don’t have answers or because they are afraid in some way that their faith will be discredited.
The thing about Truth, though, is that it holds up no matter what you throw at it. Christianity has been around for so long because it can withstand the counter arguments. Christianity does require a measure of faith, yes, but it is not faith without reason. And yes, there are questions that do not have answers, but there are much larger questions that can be answered. It is OK to ask.
The Lord Does Not Abandon Us in Our Anxiety
One night, unable to sleep because of all the anxious thoughts racing through my brain, I turned to the Psalms. I had heard, somewhere along the way, that David also struggled with anxiety. And he was a king! I stumbled across this verse:
“When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,
your love, O LORD, supported me.
When my anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought joy to my soul” (Psalm 94:18-19)
David was not preaching a refrain of “Have more faith.” He was not, in fact, preaching a refrain of anything concerning his own merit. His anxiety was great, and the Lord consoled him. David did nothing, and the Lord did everything, not only saving him but restoring his joy.
The Lord knows our questions. He knows our fears. He knows the panic that can grip us in the night as we stack up all the unknowns on a shelf. He knows, and yet for this too, He died, that one glorious, victorious day, we might be set entirely free from it.
David’s anxiety may have increased or decreased depending on the season, but from the Psalms, it doesn’t look like it ever went away, even after the Lord proved Himself again and again. Yet, the Lord never gave up on him. He never drew away in disappointment. He answered him every time. God, it seems, has immense compassion for the distressed creases of the heart.
Being a Christian who struggles with anxiety has caused me to look at grace in a new light. It has filled me with wonder and thankfulness at a God who still hasn’t given up on me, who still hasn’t let me fall into the cracks of dark abyss. It has helped me begin to understand the weight of Jesus’ burden on the Cross—He who carried every sin and pain of the world, my anxiety included.
There are questions, yes, that don’t have answers, for we worship a God we can’t understand.
But we understand this: God is not sinister or unfeeling. He does not love us any less because of our anxiety, nor are we “lesser” Christians because of it. He does not shy away from our iniquities, but rather died to set us free from them. Our God is a God who saves, and we needn’t be afraid.
Rachael is working toward her MFA at Chatham University in Pittsburgh. She loves few things more than travel, interior design, running, literature and a good cup of tea. She blogs at Steeped in Thought.