I’ll always remember New Year’s Eve of 2017. NYE is one of my favorite holidays – I love reflecting on the year and planning for the future. But this year I wanted to forget. I wanted to bury it in a hole where I could never find it again. I was crumpled in the fetal position in my living room bawling. I’ll always remember what God spoke to me in that moment. “You don’t have to live this way.” It changed everything for me.
Because the truth was that I wasn’t doing anyone ANY favors by ignoring my mental health over the years. I was less present as a friend. My capacity continued to be depleted as I drained myself. I couldn’t serve fully or be effective in any sphere, all because I thought I HAD to live this way. There just wasn’t time to think about anxiety or depression. By not seeking help I was holding myself back from doing things I loved.
The church doesn’t acknowledge mental health enough. It’s something we shouldn’t be ashamed of, yet it’s absence in the Church’s conversation creates just that. I want to be quick to start the conversation. So hi, my name is Alyssa and I struggled with severe anxiety. I went to a doctor and was prescribed medication which I took daily and another medication I took as needed. I took a month off work to rest and reevaluate my ability in this season. I still have really hard days, but I’m doing better because I realized that Jesus actually cares about ME, and that it’s okay to take care of how I’m feeling.
I would get so frustrated by people who acted supportive when I could tell they disagreed with my choices. I’d read it and heard it all before – pray more, worship more, read more Christian books, spend more time with God, just be thankful for what you have. Push harder. Do more. God will heal me if I really work for it, if I keep showing up, if I say yes for him and his people. As long as it’s for him it doesn’t matter how I’m feeling when I get home. It doesn’t matter if I shed a few tears along the way. It doesn’t matter...
It is so easy to justify wringing ourselves dry when it’s for the Kingdom. It feels so easy to ignore ourselves. But this isn’t a Biblical approach to our mental health.In a culture that is so fixated on hustle,standing out, being the best, working hard, climbing to the top, not letting other people know what’s really going on, I had allowed the voice of God to become the same voice as the “inspirational” wall hangings that I saw on Instagram.
BUT – could it really be? Did God really not want me to live my life like this? I know that may seem obvious to some, but I think that this cultural mindset bleeds into our Christian culture as well. This giving ourselves away, this willfully choosing discomfort, this“sacrificial” living can get so distorted from the culture around us that we think that to be a good Christian we have to literally beat ourselves down into the dirt until there is nothing left. For others to see the light of Jesus WE need to be the ones staying late at the office, covering other people’s shifts, saying yes to that additional project, showing up at that birthday party. We have to keep pushing ourselves, whether we’re up for it or not. But I think it’s just the opposite. I think in order to serve people the best, to show up 100%, to really minister to people, we need to be healthy and at peace with ourselves.
And what if it’s really not up to us? What if the Jesus who is sleeping in the back of the boat during the storm is calling us into a place of rest? Because if you’re like me, you want to be the one who steers the boat to safety, the one that no one can call lazy for sitting this one out, the one who saves the day. But Jesus – the one who actually has the control - is the one peacefully asleep in the boat.
What if he wants us to stop pushing? What if he wants us to listen to our bodies and our emotions and seek help? What if he wants us to be brave and step into that therapist’s office? What if he wants us to be real with our friend when we get coffee tomorrow? What if he’s okay with us just as we are? What if being brave means doing less instead of more?
I think a lot of times when we read the Bible, we interpret it as “If I just pray and hand things over to God, then he’s going to completely take it away.” But that’s what I love about Psalm 23. This passage talks about walking with God and how when we do so, he leads us to places of peace, refreshment, comfort, and restoration. However, we experience this WHILE we are in the “valley of the shadow of death,” and “in the presence of enemies.” It doesn’t say that God removes those situations from our lives, it simply says that He will be there WITH us in those situations, and that he will provide for us emotionally and spiritually.
So what does that mean for us? That it’s okay to partner prayer and abiding with practical actions if our mental health is suffering. Jesus loves when we bring our anxieties to him, but we also see in Scripture that he healed people in many different ways. Sometimes it was on the spot, sometimes they had to put forth a little bit of effort to see it happen, but his desire is always to see us experience freedom.
Alyssa just moved to Salt Lake City, UT with her husband. She loves hiking, reading, trying new restaurants, and doing anything active. Vocationally she is an administrator at a church and does customer service for a local clothing company, but in those things she loves to empower women to live in confidence and freedom. You can learn more on Instagram at @lyss_stein - or just see cute pictures of her cat.