It took me a long time to actually realize I struggled with anxiety, and by the time I realized it, depression had also joined the club. In my experience, I don’t know that the church has done the best job of addressing mental health issues like anxiety and depression; they either weren’t talked about much or the attitude was that I needed to have more faith and pray more to experience God’s peace and joy. Yet after studying psychology, sport psychology, and holistic wellness, I think it’s vital to honor all 3 elements of our beings in combating any issue – the spiritual, physical and emotional.
While it is true that prayer is powerful and God does pour out his peace and joy in difficult circumstances, the scriptures given to help in these situations, especially from those who had never struggled with anxiety or depression, were typically as follows:
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged; for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)
“Tell everyone who is discouraged, Be strong and don’t be afraid! God is coming to your rescue…” (Isaiah 35:4)
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” Luke 12:22-26
These are all wonderful verses, please don’t think I am saying otherwise. However, in my experience, while these verses do speak the truth of God, they did not always bring me the peace I was seeking. As I meditated on Paul’s words to the Philippians – “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” – I found myself more anxious because instead of experiencing the peace of Christ, I was now also struggling with the guilt of continuing my sin because I was still anxious and couldn’t just turn it off.
Was I not praying enough? Was I not thankful enough? How could I turn my mind off and stop worrying about things that seemed so small to others?
The same was true for God’s words to Joshua – “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged.” Growing up in the church and memorizing a number of verses from a young age helped me know God’s promises, but what about the times I wasn’t strong and courageous? The times I was exhausted and could only muster up the strength to get out of bed and take a shower? This verse didn’t help bring me peace – it highlighted my shortcomings and made me feel overwhelmed at how far I was from the life God was calling me to. I knew what I believed and I knew God told me not to be afraid, but what I was lacking was the understanding of why God says over and over again to not be afraid of the future.
Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, describes these three components as The Golden Circle of human motivation – what, how, and why. The foundation of inspiring action and change all starts from the inside and out, and begins with answering the most critical question – WHY. Sinek applies this concept to leadership and how great leaders can inspire action, but I think it’s equally as applicable in our spiritual lives.
The verses I listed above address the WHAT and the HOW of anxiety, moving from the outside in. When I am anxious and jump straight to the WHAT that is happening (anxiety) and the HOW (differentiating how the life Christ offers is better), I skip the most important part in this equation – the WHY . Why does my anxiety exist? What are my underlying beliefs fueling my anxiety? When I can get to the root of my anxiety and the fear that’s fueling this belief, then I can move into effective HOW and WHAT, but it has to start from the inside and move out.
When I can put words to my fears that are fueling my anxiety, then I can choose applicable scriptures that address those specific fears. Do you see how the HOW changes? If my underlying fear is that I will never succeed and be financially free, for example, the scripture I choose to apply in that situation is going to be much different than Paul’s words in Philippians that simply say, “Do not be anxious about anything…” In this situation, I would meditate on how God provides for his children, focusing on verses such as:
“Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!” (Luke 12:24)
“For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11)
“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (Malachi 3:10)
Do you see how this is completely different? By starting from the inside and moving out, my HOW and WHAT actions actually address the WHY at the root of the issue, and I am not focusing on the “simple” command, “do not be anxious about anything” or “do not be afraid.”
This was a huge breakthrough for me, and as I started applying scripture from the inside out, I started to experience the peace and joy of Christ that had previously seemed so far out of reach. However, feelings of anxiety and depression still find their way into my heart and mind sometimes, and I found it to be difficult to go through this process when I am in the middle of feeling overwhelmed, anxious, hopeless, distressed. Realizing this, I decided to create a series of meditation sessions that address this very issue. They were written to combat feelings of anxiety, depression, and unworthiness at our core and use scripture to cut straight to the WHY, focusing on how God’s character meets our very needs. I personally use these meditation exercises on a weekly basis, and have made them a regular part of my Life I Now Live classes!
If you’ve ever found yourself going to scripture and experiencing guilt, shame or inadequacy instead of the peace and joy we know Christ offers, I encourage you to listen to these meditations. Start with the WHY and experience for yourself the peace and joy of God at your very core.