14 Let all that you do be done in love. – 1 Corinthians 16:14 (ESV)
Please consider this a plea to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, on behalf of we, your fellow believers – fellow parts of the body of Christ – who do not have it all together (so to speak).
Even if we appear that we do.
If you have never dealt with anxiety and depression, you cannot possibly have a firm understanding of how it feels to be in the midst of such hurt. And it makes facing people with depression daunting and uncomfortable. What does one say? How should one act?
I want to help you understand. You need to understand. And I will tell you why. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, around 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety disorders. That’s 1 in 18 people in the USA age 18 and over. Statistically, if you attend a church of 200 people, 36 of your brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering from anxiety (statistically speaking).
So, I ask you, please… if you love those of us who suffer from anxiety and depression as much as you say (and, trust me, I truly believe you do… I wouldn’t write this if I didn’t…), take a few minutes and read this and try to understand.
1. We are not pariahs
Dealing with anxious and depressed thoughts and feelings will make a person feel very isolated. Even in a crowd. These feelings are only intensified when we feel shunned. Please don’t let not knowing what to say or how to act stop you from interacting with someone who is dealing with very complex (like anxiety and depression).
2. You do not have to know all the right words to say
Just love us. Hugs work wonders. Even letting us cry on your shoulder (sometimes figuratively, others literally) can be very cathartic. Listen. Love.
3. This is not necessarily the effect of some secret sin…
There are a lot of factors that contribute to anxiety and depression. Sin is one of them. However, there are also physiological contributors (such as one’s brain being unable to produce the proper amounts of serotonin or dopamine). A huge contributor is stress: major life changes, overwork, troubles in life… Do not be so quick to play the “sin” card. Judge not, friends…
4. Do NOT tell us to “get over it”
Nobody who deals with anxiety and/or depression enjoys it. It is no fun. In fact, it can be downright agonizing. Personally, my low point was a hellish bout of fear that terrorized me for nearly a month. I couldn’t sleep. I was so exhausted I couldn’t think straight. I had fits of anxiety that felt like lightning bolts surging through my body. If overcoming anxiety and depression was as simple as simply bucking up and getting over it, I would have done it. So would anyone else who can relate to what I’m writing.Again, just love. If you can’t understand, that’s all right. Just be there. Just love.
5. Don’t give us grief about counseling and antidepressants
It has been said so many times before, but it is so true that I have to say it again. You would not condemn a cancer patient for taking chemotherapy. God created the medical profession for our benefit. Just because we have a medicine that helps right our serotonin production and makes us feel and function better does not mean it is any less the work of God. And as for counseling… we put too much on the plates of our pastors. They are spiritual counselors, not mental health workers. Sometimes the source and strength of one’s anxiety and depression is outside of our pastor’s wheel house. We often expect too much from these already overloaded men of God.
I could go on, but I think I have hit the high points. The main point I feel the need to stress is love. Love one another. Understand this if nothing else. If you don’t know what to say or how to act, just let love lead. Say nothing more than “I love you brother / sister. I’m here.” Be supportive. Be loving. Be normal.
Just love. With all that agape entails. Don’t try to make things all right. Just love.