Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a live panel discussion between a number of people whose lives have been marked by anxiety, depression, or related mental health issues. I say privilege because for a person to be vulnerable enough to share their story with another (let alone a room full of people) shows remarkable courage, and the first words that come to my mind are thank you. We have all contended, are contending, or likely will contend at some point in our lives with issues that affect our mind, our psychology, or our understanding of who we are as human beings. To sit and listen to these shared experiences was a wonderful, astounding experience for which I am humbled and profoundly grateful.
As a Christian (which includes being both a member of society, and an active member of a local church) I was both impressed by and drawn to this event; that a church would create a safe forum for people to raise real issues in real lives is something there should be much more of. As the Church, we could do worse than forego the odd Sunday sermon or two in place of taking the time to expand the average Christian’s (often underdeveloped) theology of suffering. As I listened to each of the speakers, I knew immediately that I sat among those who still know nothing about the depth, darkness, and damage that can come without invitation, and sometimes seem to stay without end.
What struck me the most while listening to these four people share their stories was the incredible self-awareness that each of them had during their hardest times. As I have not yet experienced any significant struggle with anxiety, depression, or other ‘dark night of the soul’, I have no point of personal reference as to what it’s like when all the emotion, logic, and social parts of your brain simply shut down. While it isn’t everyone’s experience, one person reflected that when they’re in that place, they’ve learned to simply ‘ride the wave’ and wait for the worst to be over. I couldn’t possibly know what this is like, so I listened with my whole being to learn ways in which I can be a better help for those who are hurting. Weaved too into every story were powerful moments of victory. Celebrations of progress, of milestones, and of tangible benefits resulting from an increased dependence on Christ and his unwavering faithfulness towards them. Hearing acknowledgments like “I’m not where I want to be, but I’ve come a long way from where I was” showed me another way in which the gospel of Jesus Christ declares the most powerful message for us broken and frustrated creatures: there is hope.
The forum’s host church had many commendable things to say when it came to their position on mental health. Speaking from personal experience, the lead pastor shared about his gratitude for God’s common grace to us all: the benefits of helpful medical supplements, the practice of grounding techniques to help prevent oncoming anxiety attacks, as well as encouraging people towards compassionate Christian counselors and medical practitioners. As the forum drew to a close, it was in the stories of each individual that I heard clearly how Jesus is the steady anchor that holds them fast as the wind and the waves rock them. A strongly shared sentiment from the panel was “I don’t know how people get through this without Jesus”. And for far too many people, the reality is that they don’t. Taking Jesus’ words from Matthew 6, the lead pastor encouraged the room that God is our ever-present, unchanging Father, whose love for us is as unwavering as his very existence is sure. Jesus is the only light that can truly, lastingly penetrate this darkness, and the light of his love is brighter than any despair, depression, or even death. The hope that the depressed Christian can carry with them at every moment is the gospel that our world so desperately needs to hear. The gospel begins with the life-saving words of Psalm 56:9
This I know, that God is for me.
What a glorious truth that even when we don’t feel, don’t comprehend, don’t understand. Even then, we can know.