Yes, Even Christians Can Suffer From Anxiety, Depression, And Suicidal Thoughts

I'll never forget my very first experiences coming face-to-face with people who suffer from anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

First, it was when we were newlyweds, only 1-2 months married, when my dear wife found herself in such a deep, dark, downward spiral (ironically, leaving me and the rest of the family in the dark until it became completely too much for her to handle) that I came home from work one day to find her sitting on the couch crying and begging me to check her into the local Psychiatric Hospital for immediate emergency treatment. Those were the hardest and longest 3 weeks of my life, but faith and hope in Jesus Christ got me through.

Second, it was when I had the Look Up Fellowship blog. Back then, complete strangers would email me daily about all sorts of subjects. I woke up one Saturday morning to find sitting in my inbox a virtual suicide letter! Without hesitation, I tracked down the individual's location through Facebook, called the local police in that area to explain the situation, they went out to check on him at his residence, and by the sheer grace of God that individual is still alive and making memories with his beautiful family today. That was a tense morning for sure, but faith and hope in Jesus Christ got me through.    

Third, I was getting ready for work one morning when I heard the phone rang. Seconds later I heard my wife scream and knew something horrible had happened. I came down the stairs to find her sitting on the stairs overwhelmed by her grief over the news that her uncle had hanged himself. He too did not give us any "warning signs" that we could look at as the reason why he would do such a thing. That was a brutal day, week, month, and year, but faith and hope in Jesus Christ got me through.

Finally, I'll never forget the conversation I had with a Non-Denominational (though heavily influenced by the Assemblies of God/Pentecostal/TBN style of churches) friend who insisted that the reason why people suffer from anxiety, depression, and/or suicidal thoughts (Christians in particular) is not only because it's a kind of spiritual warfare (ok, I was with him so far...to a point), but because they haven't figured out how to "unlock" or "release" themselves from the bondage of those sins (what!?!).

I wonder if this same person would consider St. Paul a failure then (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). He's hardly the only man of God mentioned in the Bible who struggled with anxiety, fear, and/or depression too. David anyone (see the Psalms)? What about "The Weeping Prophet" named Jeremiah? I guess all of them just weren't "Living The Victorious Christian Life" like they were supposed to, huh?

Of course, maybe it's a little "unfair" for me to criticize them. I mean, after all, my wife and I still have a difficult time understanding it (and even explaining it to others) so I guess I can understand how other people with no exposure to these illnesses can't seem to grasp them either.

That's just it though. Anxiety and Depression aren't often viewed as the "mental illnesses" that they most certainly are. There is an actual "chemical imbalance" in a person's brain that makes the irrational seem rational while also wreaking havoc on common everyday feelings in general. It truly is a "living hell" to those who suffer from it.

Plus, the stigmas that come along with such an illness only makes things worse, because people who suffer from it most often won't reach out for help as they should since they fear being branded "crazy" and a "lunatic" and "unstable" which leads them to assume that family, friends, and co-workers will distance themselves in response instead of being supportive and praying for them.

Truth be told, unfortunately, some people will respond that way. Others may surprise you by admitting that they struggle with the very same thing, but they were scared to death to say anything and admit it to anymore for the very same fears.

The bottom line is that this is a very real (and sometimes life-threatening) illness that afflicts many more people than most reading this right now would even realize. And yes, it even happens to Bible-believing, God-fearing, faithful Christians too.

Back to my ignorant and sadly mistaken friend. 
After probing a bit, he revealed his belief that those Christians who suffer from such things may not be "spiritual enough" because they haven't figured out how to "tap into God's healing powers," they don't have enough faith, or they might not be a "true" Christian (whatever that means)This guy even cited the famous Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, and his highly public battle with depression and tried to claim that Spurgeon was failure when it came to submitting to the Lord (are you kidding me!?!). Truth is, many prominent Pastors from various denominations throughout the ages have admitted to a life-long struggle with both anxiety and depression so are we to conclude that they all weren't really Christians either? That was a disturbing conversation, but faith and hope in Jesus Christ got me through.

All of these experiences should, hopefully, communicate to anyone reading this that I am not someone who takes this subject lightly, because I am responding to it from a unique perspective as someone whose life has been touched (and continues to be touched) by such people and their struggles sins.

Being married to someone who has been diagnosed with Anxiety and Clinical Depression, who needs to see a doctor and take prescribed medication, and who wakes up each and every morning wondering, "Is today going to be the day I completely lose it?" is truly heartbreaking (and humbling) indeed.

"For better or for worse / In sickness and in health" right? Absolutely! Yes, it's hard, but it's incredibly harder for her than it is for me. There's simply no debating that point.


After our post about the Robin Williams suicide, I thought it was important to follow-up with a brief commentary on this very important topic. Better yet, I wanted to provide everyone with some helpful Biblical resources as it pertains to this subject, especially since I have a feeling that everyone reading this worries about "the big, the small and the outrageous" from time-to-time even if they don't fight this raging battle within during every waking moment.

You know, personally, I think it's bad enough that we use the word "depressed" to describe this very serious health issue that millions of people struggle with worldwide.

People who don't have it, or who don't know anyone close to them who does, just don't quite understand that it's a daily battle to just get out of bed in the morning sometimes. This is actually quite normal.



"Just cheer up! Get over it! Everyone's got problems they're dealing with! What are you worried about? What are you so depressed about? Shake it off!"


My wife and I have heard the above words from family, from friends, from co-workers, from neighbors...from other Pastors.

Such words sting the heart and mind of the person who suffers from anxiety and depression. Worse, they feel even more alone and isolated than ever before since these are the things often coming from the mouths of their nearest and dearest family members and closest friends who they believe should know better and know them better (or who should at least try to understand and show a little more compassion).


In my humble opinion, Christians who suffer from anxiety and depression have it even harder. Why? Because of the spiritual component that they readily acknowledge each and every day that their Old Adam wallows in a fresh cesspool of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Far too often, Christians with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts will have a slightly more challenging situation on their hands. Why? They will be forced to battle the "fiery darts" (Ephesians 6:16) of Satan himself who will whisper lies and negativity into their ears, which leads them to begin to question the hope, mercy, and salvation that is found in Christ for them. What a devastating and heartbreaking place to be!

There's DEFINITELY a spiritual component to this medical ailment though that shouldn't be ignored. My wife and I learned that recently when she woke up one night from a deep sleep and was immediately overwhelmed with "a wave of intense fear and panic" and thoughts that everyone she knows "would be better off if I weren't here!" to the point where nothing I did or said would calm her down!

In fact, when we prayed together, read God's Word out loud, and/or listened to some hymns it actually intensified the attack and increased the kinds of destructive, hurtful, and negative thoughts flooding her heart and mind! Talk about scary!


At their lowest and worst points, sufferers might even think, "If Jesus is my Lord and Savior, and only He can release me from this torture, then maybe it is better to just go be with Him today and put an end, once-and-for-all, to this unbearable pain and suffering!" I get that kind of thinking, but please don't misunderstand me, because while committing suicide is not the so-called "Unpardonable Sin" like so many Christians would have you believe, it is still a sin nonetheless.

But I don want to focus too much on that aspect of this discussion. I'd rather look at the unique challenges faced by Christians who suffer from anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts mainly since it's other Christians who are telling them all the wrong things, or forgetting to show grace, love, patience, and mercy to their afflicted brothers and sisters in Christ.

Far too often, it's other Christians who make the Christian dealing with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts feel even worse than they already do (if you can believe that such a thing is possible).

Just think about it for a minute.



"You know, if you're still struggling with anxiety and depression in your life, then you might still have some 'unconfessed sin' in your life somewhere and God is putting you through this to try and get you to admit that and to repent. You know, God promises to answer your prayers, so if this is still a problem for you, maybe you're 'praying wrong,' or maybe He doesn't want to hear or help you for some reason. You know, a 'true Christian' wouldn't be battling anxiety and depression, so you might want to look at yourself in the mirror and truly examine your heart and mind to see if you're really a Christian like you think you are. After all, only a weak Christian, or a non-Christian, would rely on prescribed meds rather than upon the all-powerful blood of Jesus Christ Himself!"


No, no, no -- none of this is "helpful" to anyone let alone another dear Christian brother or sister who is suffering from this!

I'm certainly no Pastor, I'm just a layman, but do have 11 years worth of experience in this area (not just with my wife, but with other family members too), and my experience tells me that what people need to hear most in such dark and uncertain times is a message of hope that can only be found in confessing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them and in receiving the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper!

In other words, I firmly believe that in such circumstances they need to hear the Gospel and hear about grace as opposed to the Law and about condemnation. The best thing they can "do" is to "do nothing" and to simply rest in Christ and receive Him, His Word, and His Sacraments.

I'm not saying we should ever "water down" the Word to suit our audience and/or rip Bible verses out-of-context to help them in the moment (never!), but I find it odd how much of the "advice" that's often given is in the form of some kind of Law-based "tough love" when, really, it's more "tough" than anything "loving" as far as I can hear.


See, this is why rooting your faith in yourself, or your emotions and your feelings, like so much of contemporary Christianity tells you that you should, is both physically and spiritually dangerous. Your faith needs to be rooted in something and Someone that is outside of yourself.

At the same time, however, even if you don't do any of that and your faith is rooted firmly in Christ and His "Means of Grace" (His precious gifts to His people within His Church), you can still turn inward upon yourself and your circumstances because that's what this illness does to you. Your faith is not in "faith itself" or your "level of faith" even, but your sickness just won't let you believe any of God's blessings and promises let alone see them clearly as applying to you in your current situation.

Remember,


The word of God and the sacraments comfort us as we carry our personal crosses in this life. The gifts of God in baptism, communion, and confession & absolution strengthen our faith. These gifts help us resist our sin, the devil and the world. They help to keep our minds and hearts focused on Jesus Christ as the perfecter of our faith. Jesus Christ is no stranger to anxiety, as he took all our anxiety and sin to the cross. Only through the life and death of Jesus Christ is our anxiety forgiven. In the resurrection of our flesh we will live without anxiety. Our love will be focused directly where it was meant to be directed -- on The Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 
*- Nathan Redman 
Living With Anxiety – The 1st Commandment – You Shall Have No Other Gods.


I thought about that today.

I thought about how important it is to have some good Biblical resources to turn to that might give someone a glimmer of hope. I thought that one man's story in particular (another Pastor, believe it or not) and the book he wrote about it is just such a resource.

Whether you suffer or have suffered from depression (or simply know one of the many people who do) I highly recommend "I Trust When Dark My Road: A Lutheran View Of Depression" written by Rev. Todd Peperkorn and published by LCMS World Relief And Human Care.

The 100-page book "offers a rare glimpse into one LCMS Pastor's personal journey through depression while remaining reliant upon God’s grace." It also has tips for helping loved ones who battle this illness and spiritual warfare on a daily basis.

Best of all, it's FREE to you! You can get it either as a download to your computer or have a copy mailed to you by CLICKING HERE. Or, feel free to email me and I will send you the PDF version of this book via email. I have a copy on my bookshelf, but haven't gotten around to reading it just yet. Perhaps it's finally time.

(UPDATE: As of 5/29/15, I finally pulled this extremely helpful resource off my bookshelf and read it cover-to-cover in one day following an unexpected "episode" my dear wife suffered out-of-the-blue after months without any episodes whatsoever. I can assure you that this is by far the very best book I have ever read on this subject from a Christian perspective -- and not because it's "Lutheran" per se either. It's honest, raw, and unflinchingly accurate in every way, but it gave me and my wife a renewed sense of hope after 11 years of learning how to cope with this daily struggle. If you, or someone you know, struggles with anxiety and depression, then please get a copy for you and/or them and read it right away.)




I also recommend listening to the 45-minute interview that Pastor Peperkorn gave to Pastor Todd Wilken on Issues, Etc. earlier this week.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, yes, even Christians can suffer from anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts so please pray for believers and non-believers alike who find themselves engaged in this daily battle.

Most of all, please remind them that it is merely a battle, and that Jesus Christ has won the war by securing for them (for each and every one of us!) victory of sin and death through His life, death, and resurrection upon the cross as He paid the penalty for our sins.

Please remind them that there is hope and a future in Christ Jesus and that they're not alone in their anxiety, depression, fear, and struggle.



NOTE: I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or a Christian, Candy-Making, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this note, I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little over a year ago. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries. I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a dude's diary in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!

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3 comments:

  1. An excellent read from another Lutheran Pastor...

    "Thoughts About Suicide"
    http://pastorjameshein.wordpress.com/2014/08/14/thoughts-about-suicide/

    Grace And Peace,
    Jeff

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear Jeff,
    THANK YOU for trying to explain to people that if they have never experienced anxiety or depression they would not know what it really feels like. I too suffer from both and always seem to hear all the statements you have mentioned. It can be very frustrating and demeaning at times too. I don't think anyone with this Disease, (yes it is a disease) would ever choose to have it. And since we can't talk to anyone about this because they don't understand we have God who will listen to us. It can be very refreshing to talk to someone who will listen and not turn the focus back onto themselves. After all that is why God gave us 2 ears and one mouth isn't it?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well said. I can relate.
    Jeff
    Christian Healing and Restoration Biography

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with...Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all mature spiritually (myself included) then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!