Do we choose to be overwhelmed? Or to suffer with depression and anxiety? The answer isn’t as simple as yes or no.
Depression and anxiety are epidemic in our culture. Suicide, the most tragic possible end of these conditions, is all too common today; and the church has had a mixed and mediocre track record of dealing with it.
Close to a decade ago, I entered a period of depression and anxiety that I didn’t see coming, and didn’t recognize until I was in fairly deep. I had made the choice to say yes to “opportunities” that wound up crowding God and other people out of my life. As a result, I descended into a bit of a pit. My soul suffered. My wife and kids suffered. My church suffered.
After moving to the West Coast and getting plugged into a church and a small group that forced us to get real, I finally began to understand where I was and make the slow and difficult climb out of the valley. I’d been overwhelmed.
What does overwhelmed look like in the life of a Christian?
First, you can’t keep God happy, so you stop trying, or at least slow down. Prayer becomes minimal. Our problem is that we often revert to being legalists who focus so much on rule-keeping that we decide it’s impossible to keep God happy, so we give up out of exhaustion.
But God never intended us to keep on trying to be good enough to make him happy.
Second, you can’t keep others happy, so you isolate, turn inward, and reject the love and help others could offer. At this point, we’ve become conformists. We give into feelings of shame, loneliness, and rejection, all amplified by a false belief that we must earn the approval of everyone around us.
But God never intended us to live life to please others nor to strive for their approval.
Third, you can’t keep yourself happy, so you give up, stop caring for your own soul, and wither emotionally. You become a perfectionist with unreachable standards for yourself. Since nobody else approves, why approve of yourself?
But God made it clear – it’s not about you. Life isn’t about self. Our unhealthy self-focus as a perfectionist pulls us further from God’s purposes.
I’m a firm believer that depression and anxiety must be dealt with in a holistic manner. We are body, soul, and spirit. We have intellect, emotions, and will. So we must address every aspect of who we are to overcome being overwhelmed.
Your physical body affects your spiritual and relational health. I mean this in at least two ways.
First, your brain produces chemicals that are supposed to be balanced, and sometimes they’re not; this isn’t your fault. Chemical imbalances can be caused by heredity or trauma; they can develop for totally unexplainable reasons. Because of this, if you experience any kind of depression or irrational thinking, it’s important to talk to your doctor.
The church has had a rather mixed track record in this arena. We’ve often sent the message that depression ought to be overcome by more prayer, more faith, repentance of sin, and decisions of the will. All of these are good, but won’t ultimately cure a chemical imbalance in the brain. So again, if you have a family history, can’t shake the irrational thinking, or can’t climb out of an emotionally dark hole, talk to your doctor.
A second way our bodies affect our spiritual and relational health is in a more basic sense. When we reject sleep, starve ourselves of a healthy, nutrient-rich diet, and remain sedentary without activity, we’re making a choice about our energy level.
The condition of your soul affects your spiritual health.
Sin, not repented of, weakens us spiritually, keeps us distant from God, and prevents us from standing against the attacks of the enemy. Confession and repentance bring the fresh freedom of grace and forgiveness from God. So when you’re overwhelmed, address the physical factors, but definitely look for unconfessed sin, a lethargic prayer life, and a lack of a steady diet of God’s truth as well.
Further, you absolutely must nurture relationships even when it’s difficult to do so. I’m a huge believer in counseling. I’ve sought it myself and reserve the right to do so again whenever I need it. I’m also a huge believer in the power of small groups as a community of fellow strugglers. Despite our Americanized individualism, God intended us to live as part of his family. He never meant for us to do life alone.
If you really want to overcome being overwhelmed, you have to make some choices. You don’t choose to be depressed, but you can always choose to start doing something about it. Here are 10 choices you can make to start overcoming.
- If you haven’t already, begin a personal relationship with Jesus Christ by expressing your full trust in him as Savior.
- Seek God’s forgiveness of any sin he brings to light.
- Talk to your doctor about the physical and chemical issues possibly at play.
- Intentionally open up and lean into your spouse, close friends, and your church through a small group.
- Get up in the morning and tackle the day, even when it feels overwhelming to do so.
- Soak up God’s truth with a steady diet of his Word.
- Live to please an audience of one (hint: it’s not you, your friends, or the neighbors – it’s God).
- Discover who you are in Christ. Your new identity as God’s child is everything.
- Shift your focus from your happiness to the happiness of others by serving and encouraging others daily.
- Tell your story. Giving others permission to acknowledge their brokenness may change or even save a life.
Do we choose to be overwhelmed? Not always. But we can always choose to face it head on in community with others and in the power of the Spirit.
Photo by Milada Vigerova.