What if God Doesn't Heal My Anxiety and Depression?
- Heather Holleman Author
- 2016 20 Oct
When the dark despair descends or the tight fist of anxiety clenches, I stew in all my disordered thoughts and wonder when and if I’ll ever feel right again. This past year, I started asking what at first seemed like hopeless questions. But these questions actually connected me even more deeply to God. I asked, “What if I’m always going to struggle? What happens if I don’t ever feel God’s peace and hope? Can I still worship God and believe these spiritual realities if my mind betrays me?”
God is called the God of Hope (Romans 15:5) and the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), but Christians who never experience hope and peace as an emotional reality might wonder, like me, how to think about God in these ways. As someone on a journey of mental health whose highest priority was once emotional well-being, I have also asked the question, “Does something else matter more than my mental health?” I began to prioritize intimacy with Jesus as a goal even greater than mental health, and this astonishing shift has changed me into someone finally more settled and mature, even when confronted with a depressed or anxious season.
I’ve been learning this year about the indwelling Christ within my soul who imparts all the characteristics of God’s loving, tender, guarding, and keeping care of my inner being that’s often (though not always) separate from the emotions in my mind. Right now, Jesus guards my soul with peace and hope whether or not I feel it. As I searched the scriptures and collected stories from heroes of the Christian faith, I began to understand the fascinating reality that it can be well with our souls when our circumstances and even our own minds fall apart. It suddenly made sense how Paul prays for us to be “strengthened in our inner being” (Ephesians 3:16) and how we might experience a kind of knowing that goes deeper than knowledge or understanding (Ephesians 3:19; Philippians 4:7). In Romans 7, too, Paul talks about the “inner being” that delights in God’s law while something else is happening in the mind. He even describes his own mind as being at “war” with the spiritual truth he now believes.
A therapist once told me, “You are not your thoughts.”
I then wondered, “If I’m not my thoughts, who am I?” I considered a deeper, more Biblical view of identity founded on what God was working into my soul as a Christian. This work of conforming me to the image of Christ included maturing my mind, but I fell into the category of people whose mind didn’t work quite the same way as others in the church. I thought of the novel by Elizabeth Goudge, The Scent of Water, where her main character fears she’s losing her mind. She asks a priest about this fear that God would never heal her mind. The priest says, “If you lose your reason, you lose it in the hand of God.”
Those words brought so much comfort to me. If I lose my mind, I lose it into the hand of God.
My mind is safe in His hands. Even if the anxiety returns, I’m safe in His grip. Even if the depression returns and remains for a lifetime, I’m safe in His hands, and nothing can snatch me out of them (John 10:28). Even if my aging mind succumbs to dementia or memory loss, I’ve lost my mind into the loving hand of God who is keeping and guarding my soul by His hope and peace.
I’ve concluded that our souls, indwelt by the Holy Spirit who is hope and peace, are realities whether or not our minds access the emotions associated with them. As I age, too, I’m learning this: “Outwardly we are wasting away but inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16), and for me, the outward wasting of mind and body arrives more quickly with each passing decade. But inwardly—in my soul—I’m renewed by the indwelling Christ each new day.
When I tell myself that my soul is completely kept and guarded by Jesus Christ—no matter what’s happening with my moods—I can worship Jesus as the God of Hope and Peace even if I can’t feel it. The shift has helped me realize that peace and hope exist as a Person—not as an emotional experience. The closer I am to the person of Christ, however, the more I experience the fullness of joy described in Psalm 16 and peace that passes understanding even in the midst of emotional lows. I’m able to stay more calm and less overwhelmed.
Jesus is here. He’s with me, and that’s what matters.
Sometimes God uses a simple event to remind me of my journey with Him as it relates to mental health. Five years ago, my elementary aged daughter couldn’t find anyone to play with at recess. The girls excluded her, and she walked alone on the track with her head buried in her puffy pink coat. As I continued to watch her suffer emotionally, I cried out to God one morning, with fists clench in fervor. I read about how God could “anoint [her] with the oil of joy” (Psalm 45:7) and He could “fill [her] heart with joy” (Psalm 4:7). So I begged God over and over: “God! Bring Sarah joy! You’ve got to bring this child joy! You promised that You bring joy! Bring her joy! God, please bring her joy!”
That same afternoon, Sarah returned home smiling ear to ear with a joy I hadn’t seen in months. “Mom!” she said, breathless with happiness, “A new friend came to find me on the playground, and she asked if she could play with me! We played the whole time.”
“Well, who was this little girl? What was her name?”
Sarah looked up at me and said, “Her name is Joy.”
I asked God to bring Sarah joy, and God brought a person.
I wanted the emotional experience for her, and God brought a person. This answer to prayer—Joy not joy— reminds me afresh what it is my heart really wants and needs. It isn’t emotional well-being or happiness; it’s a Person. And this person is named the Prince of Peace and the God of Hope. I will draw near to Him when my mind hurts, and I will direct my attention to my soul that’s kept and guarded by Jesus. I am more than my thoughts; I am different from my scattered and unpredictable emotions. One day, maybe soon or maybe in eternity, I’ll experience that peace and hope fully. For now, I’ll take care of my mental health, but I know it’s not the most important thing about me. I know a God who is bigger than my mind, and He guards my soul with peace and hope.
Heather Holleman’s new book, Guarded by Christ: Knowing the God Who Rescues and Keeps Us explores the five ways God guards souls: by righteousness, peace, hope, power, and by an invitation to live Savior-focused instead of self-obsessed. Available from amazon.com or moodypublishers.com.
Publication date: October 20, 2016
Image courtesy: Unsplash.com.