Do we choose to be overwhelmed? To suffer depression an anxiety? Yes and 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.
About six or seven years 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, and 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 or 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.
Is all of this a result of choice? Yes and no.
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, and this isn’t your fault. Chemical imbalances can be caused by heredity, by trauma and 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 emotional 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.