Chris Robinson is a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern and member of Trietsch. He has a deep understanding of anxiety and depression, and shares his perspective through the lens of faith and relationship with God. To learn more about his counseling practice or make an appointment visit cjrcounseling.com and join us in worship this Sunday as we start week 1 of "Reality Check," a worship series centered around mental health.
As a counselor of many clients who are Christians I often hear them say that, because they are experiencing depression or anxiety, their faith or their relationship with God must not be strong enough. They take upon themselves an unjustified blame for feeling separated from God. Others, feeling that their prayers are either unheard or unanswered, adopt a belief that they’ve been abandoned by God. For those who suffer from either of these views of God, I’d like to take a walk with you - a walk through a couple of wilderness experiences which may sound familiar.
Jesus was well acquainted with feelings of loneliness, abandonment and hopelessness. At the very outset of his ministry he was sent by the Spirit of God into the wilderness. For forty days he experienced hunger, thirst, a threatening environment and destructive thoughts. Maybe you can identify with these feelings of being alone and isolated. You may know the feelings of hunger for self-worth and thirst for restoration. You may know the feeling, as Jesus did, of either perceived or real threats from your environment or even from your very own thoughts. Jesus, throughout his ministry, knew suffering. At the conclusion of his ministry he cried out from the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He felt alone, isolated and abandoned by God.
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
- Matthew 27:46
Likewise, the Old Testament prophet, Ezekial, had a wilderness experience. He was sent by the Spirit of God into a valley where there was no life. In fact, the only thing remaining in this valley was death. As far as the eye could see were the dried up bones of human remains. Alone in the valley he witnessed this symbol of mass suffering.
I am convinced that it is not and has never been God’s plan or desire for his children to suffer. This is contradictory to a God of love. God would no more plan our suffering than loving parents would plan their own children’s suffering. Yet suffering exists. Why?
Our environment has changed. Ecologically, biologically, societally, culturally, technologically, and in countless other realms. Our environment has changed.
As loving parents we want to protect our children from suffering. We want them to experience the simplicity and innocence of the environment that some of us enjoyed as children and that others of us wished for. We try to navigate for our children a safe path through an ever-changing world that has the potential to hijack that innocence at every turn. It’s as though there is a tug of war waged against parents by strong and unyielding societal and cultural forces and our children hang like the red flag on the middle of the rope. Whether the pull of parental influence or societal influence will win is determined by the strength of each and our children are tied to the point of highest tension between the two.
This point of tension is the place where our youngest and most promising generation lives. With this level of stress in our children’s lives there is more at stake now than ever before. Gone are the days when those who passed notes in class, chewed gum in school, smoked cigarettes at lunch, or wore their hair too long or their skirts too short were considered "at risk." Common to our children’s experiences now are merciless cyber and physical bullying, violence, abuse of all kinds, hate crimes, increased substance use, addictions, and suicides. The pressures of life and speed at which they hit our children can cause them to feel that they’re spiraling out of control. Parents can only attempt to hold on tighter and pull harder against these forces. The effect for both parent and child has been an increased experience of worry, anxiety and depression.
Our nation is experiencing a mental health crisis. We see it daily in the headlines and on the news. Because of this we must each…every one of us…remain vigilant in observing the behaviors, or changes in behaviors, of our friends and loved ones. Signs that could indicate mental health concerns include any of the following symptoms. Individually they may not signal a serious problem but in combination can be a red flag for a disorder:
Diminished interest or pleasure in activities
Changes in body weight
Changes in appetite
Inability to sleep or too much sleep
Either very slow body movement or agitated/erratic body movements
Feelings of fatigue or loss of energy
Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt or shame
Inability to concentrate or make decisions
Thoughts of death or suicidal ideation (either with or without a specific plan)
Excessive anxiety or worry with an inability to control the worry
The experiences of traumatic events, acute stress or chronic stress can lead to mental health issues that make us feel our soul and spirit are being devoured - that we are being slowly emptied of life. Accounts of Jesus’ time in the wilderness indicate that he was being pursued by a devouring force. However these same accounts remind us that he was not alone – that angels were constantly attending to him. In his vision of the dry bones in the valley, Ezekial is asked by the Spirit of God “…can these bones live?” Then God, as demonstration of the fullness of life he desires for his children, proceeds to physically restore and breathe life into the dried up pile of bones. He does not abandon even what appears to be lifeless. The agonizing cry of Jesus in his final moments on the cross was his recitation of Psalm 22, a prophecy that was being fulfilled in his crucifixion. This Psalm that was in his mind, on his lips and written in his heart goes on to state:
"For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help"
- Psalm 22:24
If you are experiencing depression or anxiety know this: God hears the cry of the afflicted. You are not abandoned and never will be. You are surrounded by angels who will attend to you. Jesus overcame and so can you.
Whether you are young or old, if your current walk has you feeling isolated in the wilderness please reach out to someone today. You are surrounded by angels. It’s okay to say I have anxiety. It’s okay to say I am depressed. It’s okay to say I am suicidal. Let’s walk together, side by side, out of the wilderness.
As members of the faith community who are able to walk with those who are struggling and guide them toward help it is important to remember that God uses us to attend to those in need. Because we are God’s angels and because he does not abandon his children we cannot overlook or bypass even one person who we suspect or know to be struggling either physically, socially, mentally or emotionally. He knows that we will all have wilderness experiences because of the world in which we live. It does not mean that this is his plan for us or that he wants us to live in isolation. His plan for each of us is spoken through another prophet, Jeremiah:
"For I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
- Jeremiah 29:11
Let us walk with each other into the hope-filled future that God desires for each of his children.