I have some history with anxiety and depression. But, they haven’t just affected me – I’ve learned to detect them behind pained smiles, hurting eyes and in surface conversations.
But, before we go any further, let me first make one thing clear: if you suffer from anxiety or depression, this is NOT another Christian blog trying to tell you that you don’t have enough faith, aren’t reading the Bible enough or that you aren’t praying enough. There will be none of that nonsense here.
You, my friend, are deeply loved and have landed in welcome company.
The Huffington Post released an article with statistics stating that 350,000,000 people across the globe are affected by some form of depression.
That’s a LOT of people.
That’s a LOT of Christians.
And I have to wonder, for a faith that claims to offer such freedom, why are so many Christians depressed? Is anyone else asking this?
I’ve given this a lot of thought and I think I’ve figured out a connection between the two…
When a person is fully loved, it changes them. It offers safety and peace. It opens the door for them to be the freest, most authentic version of themselves. But, often, very few people experience this kind of love. Especially inside of Christianity.
Why is this?
Well, there’s this subtle culprit I know pretty well too: fear.
And as we know it is the opposite of love – fear and love cannot occupy the same space.
Fear drives many things.
When fear is in the mix, a person shrinks back. They draw inward. They hide. And do their very best not to do anything to upset the order system. Unfortunately, fear drives many inside the Christian faith to be the very opposite of who God designed them to be (thus leading to loads of anxiety and depression).
But, what is it that is so scary?
What it is that Christians are so gosh darn afraid of?
Well, I’ll start with myself…
As many of you know by now, I’ve been inside the Christian world my entire life. I’ve attended, I’ve volunteered, heck I’ve even pastored – I understand this delicate system quite well.
So, I sat down and decided to be gut wrenchingly honest with you, and I came up with a list.
(okay, I can do this…deep breath)
Here’s a (eh, MY) list of the top 4 things that Christians fear:
- To be caught thinking for yourself.
Meaning, not just accepting what you’ve merely been taught, but thinking, questioning and talking with God on your own. Each denomination tends to have certain beliefs that you just don’t dare question. And if you do, it sends red flags to everyone around you and you are immediately put on a watch list. (watch list = someone who people talk about, confront, pray for, etc. All out of love and concern of course)
- Being seen for who you really are.
Inside the Christian world, I’ve learned that you are welcome to be who you are, so long as it fits inside their particular mold. If it doesn’t, there are programs, prayer groups, etc to help.
- Disappointing people.
Oh sweet baby Jesus. Out of all of them, this one is THE WORST. And I’ll tell you why: it’s rare to find Christians who can simply “agree to disagree” with certain life choices, beliefs or behaviors. Bucking the system can and often does become social suicide. If you take a stand, make a decision or choice that does not meet the standards of those inside your Christian group, two things can happen: 1. Most likely you will be confronted with Bible verses stating how you’re wrong 2. You will be given an opportunity to change. If you don’t come to your senses and change, you most likely will be ex-communicated. This is more common than people realize and can be utterly terrifying – especially if this is your primary social circle or as some may call it, their “spiritual family”.
- Disappointing God.
It is drilled (okay maybe that’s a bit much) it is strongly emphasized from the pulpit that God loves you but he has certain standards for how you should live. Each denomination emphasizes different standards, but if you disagree with your denomination’s particular convictions, it can feel very scary. Especially if you’ve been taught that your denomination is the ONLY one that speaks God’s truth. When men teach you that they have discovered the one true God opinion on certain matters, separating from that opinion not only scares you from disappointing people, but scares the living hell out of you from disappointing God.
Most of my personal beliefs came from spending time with God on my own – not from other people or sermons I was taught.
This has shaped me into someone I am proud to be.
But, that person doesn’t often fit the mold.
So, for most of my life, I’ve wrestled with those fears listed above. I learned to stay quietly in the background, doing as I’m told and keeping my personal convictions hidden.
Terrified of someone knowing everything I thought.
But, there have been times when my convictions screamed so loud that I had to speak out. I had to act. I had to be the odd man out.
And it landed me alone.
Even still – not once did I regret following that still voice inside me.
But those same fears that I faced, I watch tormenting others. These people play their parts, they do their roles, but you can see – if you really look close – they are terrified of someone knowing that they don’t fit the mold either.
Listen, NO ONE WANTS TO BE JUDGED.
No one wants to have another person’s interpretation of scripture thrown at them (and yes, everyone thinks theirs is right. But, at the end of the day, none of us are God. Done.) No one wants to be sat down and confronted by “leadership” or by those they thought were their friends. NO ONE WANTS THAT.
And yet, this is the fear that keeps so many Christians quiet, silenced and hidden. This is the fear that drives many to depression and suicidal thoughts.
This is also the fear that drives so many Christians to pick up stones and start hurling them at others. GOOD. LORD. (Don’t even get me started on that one)
To think that a certain church/denomination believes they understand the depths of God’s wisdom enough to determine his opinion on one’s identity, choices or behavior in every single circumstance is pride at the highest level (see my blog on 6 questions every Christian should ask).
That level of pride will drive others to fear and depression.
(If you are one of the sweet souls reading this, sinking with anxiety and depression because of all of those fears listed above, I’m going to take a minute and offer you some hope: first of all, you have the power to think, dream, make choices and listen to God on your own. God gave that to you! And, at the end of your life you don’t answer to ANYONE other than God. Having that said, if you are feeling scared or trapped in the denomination/church you are in, I promise you there are others out there. Yours isn’t the only one. I encourage you to explore and find where you are able to connect, feel safe and loved. The most free you will ever be is when you are comfortable in your own skin. The skin HE made you with. It’s beautiful. It’s YOU. (In the words of one of my favorite peeps: you do you boo. Just couldn’t help myself) 😉
Now, for those who sincerely believe that correcting and scaring others is how Jesus would want them to behave, I have to ask: what is the fruit??
The fruit is BAD.
One gay teen committing suicide SHOULD BE ENOUGH.
One murdered woman from domestic violence SHOULD BE ENOUGH.
Love is supposed to be the greatest commandment. But, instead fear has taken the place of mercy, grace, compassion and kindness.
My sweet brothers and sisters, we are ALL perfectly broken molds. ALL OF US.
Because, no two stories are the same.
So, there is no perfect mold.
And there never will be.
We should look for the lonely, the outcast, the unloved, the hurting, the wounded – we should wrap them in warm arms and love them out of hiding. ALL are sons and daughters worthy to be respected, valued and honored.
PS: if you’re hungry for more great reading on this subject, check out another super awesome pastor’s perspective from my friend Carlos’s blog on mental health.