...to ignore the rich provisions and helpmates He’s given us forfeits the full life He calls us to live.
When I was twenty-three, a well-meaning individual told me my anxiety, depression, and physical pain were in my head. “If you just stop thinking about them and fill your mind with God’s Truth instead, your problems will disappear.”
They claimed they’d lived my story: traumatic events during childhood, intense verbal abuse, and crippling diagnoses that left deep wounds and suffering. And yet, the mental and physical casualties I felt were written off with mere Christian cliches.
I don’t think they truly knew what I was experiencing. I doubt they do now.
While young adults are one of the top groups to suffer from mental health issues, I believe there are three negative and often untrue assumptions being made about their suffering. These statements were made about me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve been said to you. And that’s why I want you to be able to identify and rebuke them.
1. "Anxiety Is a Failure to Trust God"
The first time I experienced anxiety, I was ten. I picked up the phone, and someone I dearly love threatened to kill me. You can imagine how I felt when a sermon said, “Anxiety is a failure to trust God.”
This belief mainly stems from Matthew 6:25-34, 1 Peter 5:7, and Philippians 4:6. In each verse, Jesus essentially tells us, “Do not worry.” Worry comes from the Greek merimnaō/a. It’s translated as being anxious/careful with your thoughts or troubled by care. But here presents three types of anxiety: worldly, human emotion, and clinical disorders.
When Jesus asks us not to worry about food, drink, clothing, or security, in Matthew 6, He’s referencing worldly things. We’re called to trust that God will provide — not to be obsessed with earthly gain. This is where anxiety can be sinful if we aren’t careful. It happens when we care more about gaining materialistic means than the Kingdom.
Jesus’ call to “cast our anxieties on Him,” however, makes it known that we very well may be anxious regardless of our trust. Especially when we’re anxious about things that aren’t earthly gains. The presence of anxiety is not the mistrust of God. One can trust, pray without ceasing, and endlessly give thanks to Him, yet still be anxious without sinning. How?
Because the Lord Jesus Himself did it. On the night He was betrayed, Jesus knew anxiety. Sweating drops of blood, He’d face the most horrific death known to mankind. With earnest supplication and prayer, He asked God three times to remove the cup if possible. That wasn’t the Father’s will, and Jesus humbly accepted that. Yet, I’m convinced, at that moment, and many others, He knew anxiety. He knew physical and mental pain, too. He knew the second type of anxiety well; a human emotion and response.
Jesus experienced everything we as humans experience, and yet He was spotless. He knows our pain and cares. But if that’s true, would we say His pleading was in sin? His anxieties a failure to trust God? Of course not! Then why would we say the same about ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ amidst their sufferings?
Anxiety is a human emotion and response to life’s stressors. If I wreck my car, I will be apprehensive about driving. Individuals who go away for college have every right to be nervous! Everyone, to a degree, will experience anxiety in their lifetime. But for those who suffer from mental disorders, it can be much more severe.
The third type of anxiety isn’t always a choice. This describes clinical anxiety. Disorders like generalized anxiety (GAD) or obsessive-compulsive (OCD) create unnecessary fears that aren’t the same as someone choosing to worry about everyday stressors or worldly securities.
If you were to catch a cold, would someone say it’s a sin? What if you developed cancer? Absolutely not. This truth that sickness and disease aren’t sins also applies mentally.
While there are tools and resources for anxiety, like talk therapy, reciting Scripture, praying, deep breathing, and getting plenty of sunshine, this process requires gradual healing. Trauma takes time. Clinical anxiety takes time. Wounds take time.
I can get help and do what’s within my control (like caring for my body, mind, and soul). But clinical anxiety isn’t a choice issue—it’s a health and healing issue, often found outside of myself.
2. "Depression Is a Sin"
The second Christian cliche that hurt me deeply was “Depression is a sin.” Depression is a group of conditions associated with the highs and lows of a person's mood. And like anxiety, there can be two types: human emotion and clinical disorders.
When depression is a human emotion, it’s typically brief and/or circumstantial. For example, if your pet or loved one dies, the sadness you feel is typical. In the book of Job, I believe Job faces this type of depression. He goes from blessed to cursed in a day’s time and has every reason to mourn. Yet after a period of suffering, God blesses him, and he rejoices.
But clinical depression is an emotion far beyond the Monday Blues, as it’s characterized by sadness and apathy for at least two weeks. These feelings typically don’t go away even after time or circumstances change. Dr. Mark Riley, co-founder and executive director of SoulCare Counseling, notes that the Prophet Elijah may have illustrated characters of this diagnosis.
Facing fear, failure, fatigue, and futility, Elijah is overwhelmed and exhausted. He asks God to take his life because he simply doesn’t want to face it anymore. Perhaps you’ve felt that way? This depression goes beyond a feeling as it often presents despair, desperation, and even suicidal thoughts. And though this may look different from person to person, it’s still clinical. King David, for example, is also said to have had some type of mental disorder (Pub Med) because of his laments in the Psalms. In just a few sentences, he would praise the Lord for His goodness but also ask to die.
In these examples, individuals don’t choose to have depression, just like they don’t choose to have anxiety. Depression is often a clinical diagnosis. An illness—not a sin. And just like physical illness, mental illness needs to be treated, not reprimanded. God illustrates this best in His response to each of the three scenarios:
When Job was stripped barren, he remained faithful to God amidst his suffering. And though others may have told him, “You’re sinning,” that was never God’s reply. In the end, he was more blessed than he began.
Elijah faced great turmoil and persecution in his lifetime. So many people wanted him dead that he, too, wished to die. But when God heard his pleas, he said, “Rest and eat, this journey is too much for you.” He’s always in the business of providing what we need.
David felt many emotions yet was known as a man after God’s own heart. He was always authentic and vulnerable with his Creator, and though his suffering was also great, God praised him for his commitment.
I hope you can see that in each of these examples, regardless of emotional or clinical depression, God gave help, not shame or judgment. And while some took longer to receive healing, answers, rest, or providence, God was and is faithful to provide.
Christ has also taught us how to provide for those who’re suffering. Sometimes this includes listening and encouraging someone to go to counseling; for others, it means sitting with them, pointing them to Jesus, or encouraging them to care for their physical health. Regardless of the measure, each includes supporting one another in triumph and tragedy—not criticizing their struggles with cliches.
3. "You Just Need to Pray and Read Your Bible More"
While spiritual life is crucial to your overall well-being (including prayer and Bible reading), it’s not the only thing we need to heal our mental health. It’s a common misconception that people who’re struggling with mental health just lack faith. For most, this certainly isn’t true.
Although things like anxiety and depression have impacted my walk with Christ, they haven’t caused me to turn away from Him but rather cling closer. In fact, it’s in these most painful times that I remember our forefathers in the Scriptures or look to Jesus, who suffered greatly on my behalf. There’s a reason 1 Corinthians 12 tells us that His power is made strong in our weakness.
But this cliche makes the assumption that individuals aren’t reading their Bibles and praying, or if they are, they need to do so more. And as Sarah Robinson notes in her profound book I Love Jesus, But I Want to Die, "Seeking medical care for mental illness—or any illness—is not a lack of faith or a rejection of God’s provision. Good doctors, scientific research, and advances in health technologies often are his provision" (pg.134).
Sometimes God sends us resources outside Scripture—fresh air, exercise, church families, doctors, medicine, and counseling. Of course, the spiritual resources He’s provided are life-giving wells we can’t do life without, but to ignore the rich provisions and helpmates He’s given us forfeits the full life He calls us to live.
If I could go back to my past self, I wish I could tell her that the words she heard from that individual were not from Jesus. And though they had well-meaning intentions, God isn’t peering down from heaven waiting to hit me with a lightning bolt for every emotion or illness I face.
He’s not ashamed of me. He doesn’t think ill of me. And He certainly isn’t mad. But He does love me. He sees me. He cares. And He wants me to seek help for my struggles using the resources He’s blessed me with. Beyond reading my Bible, praying, or talking with trusted families and friends, He wants me to know that healing is possible—but it’s often not a one-size-fits-all answer. Sometimes it takes time and tapping into the life-giving wells He’s placed on this earth.
Over the last decade, I’ve heard cliches like these that have harmed my mental health. But statements like these help no one. If we can recognize and refute them, we will be one step closer to healing. One step closer to relying on Jesus and the blessings He’s developed within the world around us. One step closer to ignoring and refuting misconceptions and living in truth, wholeness, and wellness as He intended.
Photo Credit: ©RNS/Road Trip with Raj/Unsplash/Creative Commons
Amber Ginter is a teacher, author, blogger, and mental health activist who resides in the beautiful mountains and cornfields of Ohio. She loves Jesus, granola, singing, reading, dancing, running, her husband Ben, and participating in all things active. She’s currently enrolled in the Author Conservatory Program and plans to pitch her book: Mental Health and the Modern Day Church for Young Adults, soon. Visit her website at amberginter.com.
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