I know the title sounds like a contradiction. How can anxiety and blessing even be uttered in the same breath? My goal isn’t to be insensitive or to undermine anyone’s struggles, only to share my own experiences. That being said, anxiety is something that should be taken seriously and if you are struggling with it I urge you to seek medical help in your battle if you feel overwhelmed and hopeless. Seeking therapy or medication is not a weakness, but a strength and I can tell you first hand that anxiety disorders can be managed and they don’t have to control your life.
Anxiety disorders are increasingly common in the United States. According to the ADAA, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States and only one-third of sufferers receive treatment. The anxiety I am addressing is not the normal nervousness felt during a test or a first date, but a real, crippling mental disorder caused most likely by a chemical imbalance. Though anxiety disorders are painful, I have found several ways mine has been a blessing. I pray that if you are struggling, your anxiety can one day be viewed as a blessing too.
Before we get started with the list, I should share my story. I have struggled with anxiety from a young age. I remember my mother taking me to a therapist when I was 6 or 7 years old because she knew something wasn’t right. My anxiety was rampant until 6th grade. Then my anxiety nearly disappeared for 6 years. But when it returned it returned with a fury.
I had what I like to refer to as a textbook mental breakdown my senior year of high school. A few weeks before graduation I had a panic attack that led to a solid two years of grueling, constant panic attacks. Between the panic attacks and the intrusive thoughts and the obsessive thinking, it felt like I was losing control. One therapist led to another and before I knew it I was diagnosed with two anxiety disorders (GAD and OCD) and prescribed two medications.
I believed everyday tasks like getting out of bed or going anywhere outside of my house were impossible. I doubted everything, obsessively questioned everything, thought of everything, and seemingly lost everything that made me who I was. The anxiety led to depression, depersonalization, and derealization. I thought life as I knew it was over. But I was wrong. Slowly, through the means of mindfulness and exposure-response prevention, my anxiety disorder became more manageable. It is still a daily struggle, but by the grace of God, it is easier.
Trying to look at my situation through gospel-tinted lenses, here are some ways my anxiety has been a blessing.
1. Humility/ Dependence on God
There’s nothing quite like a solid year of crying yourself to sleep every night to help you realize that you aren’t Superman. Admittedly, before my breakdown of 2014, I thought I was in control. I thought I was the man. I thought God needed me more than I needed Him. I was mistaken.
Paul, while discussing his unknown-to-us thorn in the flesh, wrote the following:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:7-10)
I am not saying that God sent me an anxiety disorder, or that my GAD/OCD is a “messenger of Satan.” My point is that, in Christ, the extreme weakness of my anxiety disorder is a strength. The nights of tears and days of fears taught me, above all else, that I need God more than I need anything. It is still a daily struggle, but it took my anxiety disorder for me to realize that when I am weak, then I am strong.
Whenever I get down about my continued struggle with anxiety, I remember that in my panic attacks and sleepless nights, Christ’s power is being made perfect and resting upon me. And for that reason, my anxiety has been a blessing.
2. A Refined Faith
I’m far from perfect and am in no way seeking to brag about how big my faith is. I still struggle and pray daily, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mk. 9:24). In the midst of my anxiety, the faithfulness of God was on display. The sun still rose in the east every morning and He continued to bless me through the storm.
I believe it would have been easy to allow my anxiety disorders separate me from God. However, every time I made a decision to go to God my faith was strengthened in the crucible of anxiety’s fire. Peter wrote the following to dispersed Christians:
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 1:6-7)
My anxiety disorder has acted like a crucible refining my faith, and for that I’m thankful.
3. Helping Your Ministry
A close brother who also struggled with anxiety said something that would change my life. He told me to turn my mess into my ministry. His mom had told him the same thing in the midst of his struggle with anxiety and depression.
While my anxiety was at its worst, day after day I asked God one question, “Why?” Of course, God didn’t explicitly answer this question for me, but I am under the impression that the “why” is the ability to help others. Having been in the throes of an anxiety disorder, I can offer my experiences and aid others in the middle of the storm.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to talk with brethren who are struggling with my same struggles. If I can help one soul through the uncertainty of an anxiety disorder, then my years of discomfort were worth it. I am not a professional psychologist or counselor, and I can only let people know that they’re not alone, I’ve been there too, and what has worked for me. Thankfully, sometimes that’s enough to help. I’m thankful that my experience with anxiety enables me to minister to my peers.
One Last Thing
There are some Christians who see anxiety disorders as a product of demonic activity. In this view, anxiety disorders are a spiritual problem and not a physical problem. These individuals contend that one may not be fully saved by Jesus if they experience any mental disorders or struggles. This is simply not true. Paul, Job, and Elijah are among the faithful to experience mental turmoil (2 Cor. 11:27-29; Job 3:1-4; 1 Kgs 19:4). There is no necessary biblical connection between faithlessness and mental vexation.
Further, it must be maintained that there is a difference between an anxiety disorder and the type of anxiety or worry that is condemned in Scriptures like Matthew 6:25-34. While God certainly desires His children to live peaceful lives, casting their worries on Him (Phil. 4:6-7; 1 Pet. 5:7), He understands the difference between willing, prideful worry and a physical disorder of the brain.
Though I was prescribed two medications, I chose not to take them. However, I believe Christians should have no stigma towards these types of medicines. A licensed psychologist/counselor or even your personal doctor is a great place to go if your anxiety has reached the point you want to seek medical help. There are also great Christian counselors and church leaders who can offer great help.
The biggest help for me personally was a number of books, the links for which are posted below.
Know that if you are a Christian struggling with an anxiety disorder, you are not alone. It may seem impossible now, but your anxiety disorder can be a blessing.