According to Beyond Blue, anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia, and it’s experienced by over 2 million adults across the nation each year.
So it goes without saying that in any given church on any given Sunday, there are going to be a significant number of people struggling with it. Yet despite its prevalence, for people of faith who suffer from anxiety, there may also be an added layer of guilt, shame, confusion, or denial.
A Christian can hear the famous Bible verse, “Be anxious for nothing”, and conclude that God’s only answer is to “Just stop it!”. Many Christians, believing that their trust in God should eliminate things like doubt and fear, keep quiet about their anxiety or try their best to ignore it, feeling like a failure because their mental health is less than perfect.
But the Bible and the gospel offer great compassion and answers for those suffering from anxiety, says Paul Grimmond, a teacher and Dean of Students at Moore Theological College. He’s been through his own seasons of significant anxiety, and he wants to help others let go of their guilt, and let them know they are not alone.
You’re Not The Only One
Paul says that anxiety among Christians is more common than many people realise.
It comes in many forms: anxiety over work or study; anxiety about purpose, calling and ‘God’s will for my life’; feelings of guilt and being ‘not good enough for God’; insecurity and fear about what other people are thinking; obsessive compulsive disorders; and existential questions about meaning and life itself. Faith, it seems, doesn’t shield us from the common struggles of mankind.
But whatever kind of anxiety a person is facing, one thing’s for sure: they’re not the only one.
“Every time I speak about this, there’s a lot of people who struggle in this space,” Paul said. “It’s very, very common. When I worked in campus ministry at the University of New South Wales I saw a constant stream of people who suffered anxiety and depression – among Christian students, students training for ministry, and ministry peers. It’s massively prevalent in our community, and the church isn’t immune.”
Hang In There, It Gets Better
As a deep thinker and theologian, Paul is all too familiar with the problem of “overthinking”. It’s common among people with anxiety. But he says the solutions often lie in letting your thoughts pass by, rather than trying to fight them.
“Lots of people in the space of anxiety think a lot and want to reason a lot,” he said. “But a lot of anxiety is unreasonable. Part of getting on top of it is to gently tell yourself it’s okay to not reason with the questions.
“God is sovereign and in control… He’s not going to leave you there.”
“One of the things I found helpful, when I used to get into a place where I’d just think and think and think and rethink about something, was to realise that I’m in a position of being overworked and that I need a break. I would reach out to friends, who would go for a walk with me, or remind me that God is good.”
For people who are despairing over their anxiety and depression, he wants them to know that they are not stuck in their condition forever.
“Over time I’ve seen lots of people gain significant progress,” he said. “It feels like you’re stuck there – but I don’t think you’re stuck. I’ve seen lots of people in that situation who aren’t any more. God is sovereign and in control, and you need to trust what He wants for you is better than what you want for you. He’s not going to leave you there. Keep going.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Get Professional Help
Paul is quick to reassure Christians that getting professional help, such as therapy with a psychologist, and taking prescription medication, are not at odds with their faith; after all, we’re all frail humans in a fallen world. He also encourages believers to speak to a pastor to help them work through their faith-related concerns.
Faith, it seems, doesn’t shield us from the common struggles of mankind
“The fundamental thing is, we are ‘embodied’ creatures,” Paul said. “How we think, and who we are physically, are closely interrelated. When I break my leg, I need to look after it until it gets better. But when the brain is the part of me that has a problem, with a chemical imbalance or unhealthy neural pathways, I experience those things as ‘me’ – which makes it much harder.
“Using medication creates a space where you can work on the solutions, for example a combination of medication and cognitive behavioural therapy. We need to work with both.”
Find Out More
To read more from Paul Grimmond on anxiety and faith, check out his blog post on the topic.
Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media. About the Author: Clare is a digital journalist for the Broadcast Industry.