Is Anxiety A Lack Of Faith?

A couple of days ago, Christian rapper Lecrae tweeted:

This tweet has been favorited and retweeted thousands of times. So people really like it.

And I understand why. It sounds good, right?

The only problem is, it’s not true.

The definition Lecrae gives for anxiety is actually the definition of distrust.

And distrust and anxiety are not the same thing.

Distrust often causes anxiety. But not all anxiety is the result of distrust.

Just like a broken leg can cause pain, but not all pain is the result of a broken leg.

I have anxiety, but not because I lack trust. And not because I don’t believe God is good, and not because I think God’s grace has run out.

Trusting God is good isn’t what gets me out of anxiety. It’s what helps me through it.

For me, trusting God is good means that I trust he is making me new, healing and redeeming the broken parts of me. It means I trust that his grace extends to me even when I am wracked with anxiety. It means I believe he will take care of me even when I don’t know how he’s going to do it.

Trusting that God is good is what keeps me going. Believing in God’s limitless grace is what gives me hope. But neither of them make my anxiety go away.

Trust and grace are not magical talismans that bring you out of whatever trouble you are in. You can’t collect trust and grace and then once you get enough, then (then!) your problems will go away.

Trust and grace, in whatever amount you have, are not what get you out. They are what get you through.

In Christianity, mental illness is often treated like a lack of faith, or like it’s the person’s fault for having a mental illness.

Just trust God and your anxiety will go away.

Just get your joy from Christ and you won’t be depressed.

Just hope in God and you won’t feel suicidal.

Don’t you know God loves you and wants to take care of you?

Mental illness is treated like something the person who suffers from it can control. Which is a ridiculous notion.

Insinuating that mental illness is the sufferer’s fault is a surefire way to destroy the person’s sense of worth, crush the person’s hope, and ruin the person’s view of God.

Mental illness is frustrating. Believe me, if I could make it go away, I would. In fact, I am trying to make it go away. But it’s frustrating when I can’t make it go away at the snap of a finger. It’s frustrating when praying doesn’t help. It’s frustrating when I have anxiety even though I know I shouldn’t.

I don’t have anxiety by choice. I don’t have it because I don’t think God is good. I don’t have it because I think God’s grace has run out.

Mental illness is because of chemical imbalances. It’s because of trauma. It’s because the world is broken. It’s because of a whole host of things.

But a choice is not one of those things. Being a bad Christian is not one of those things.

So, if you’d like to give a hopeful message to people who suffer from anxiety, don’t tell them to get more trust. Don’t tell them to get their beliefs about God’s grace and goodness straightened out. Don’t tell them to just stop worrying.

Instead, tell them anxiety sucks. Tell them God likes them. Tell them you like them. Tell them how you are also broken. Tell them there’s hope.

Or tell them nothing and just listen to them. Everyone’s experience with anxiety is unique, and fighting a mental illness can be isolating, so listening and trying to understand is often the most helpful thing you can do.

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  • Sam Brockmann

    “In Christianity, mental illness is often treated like a lack of faith, or like it’s the person’s fault for having a mental illness.”

    It’s not just Christianity that treats mental illness as if it’s the person’s fault for having a mental illness. There’s a lot of societal attitudes that are similar. Difference is, society as a whole tiptoes around the notion of faith, in an effort to not offend anyone.

    • http://www.joshualancette.com/ Joshua Lancette

      True. That attitude is not isolated to Christianity. It’s a broader stigma. Thanks for pointing that out.

  • Em

    Joshua,

    Thank you, thank you for posting this. Coming from someone who has both anxiety and depression, this was an encouraging and a wonderful reminder to me. I think you accurately said what thousands of Christians long (and need) to hear. Mental illness is difficult for many Christians to understand if they haven’t experienced it themselves. I hope this article can open up the eyes of many people! Thanks again!

    • http://www.joshualancette.com/ Joshua Lancette

      Hi Em, I think you nailed it on the head. The big reason Christians (or anyone, for that matter) incorrectly assume things about mental illness is because they can’t relate if they haven’t experienced it. To someone who hasn’t experienced it, it seems so easy to just stop worrying or just be happy. Thanks for sharing!

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  • mia

    Don’t take it personally but I love you! :)

  • Angel

    Joshua,
    This is beautifully honest and everything I’ve ever felt about my own anxiety. Thank you for your authentic words, and desire to let people know they are not alone.

    Also, thank you for your kind words about my article on Converge Magazine, I appreciate it immensely.

    • http://www.joshualancette.com/ Joshua Lancette

      Thanks, Angel! There is definitely a stigma around anxiety/depression in Christian circles. It’s hard to believe the truth about ourselves sometimes. Thanks for helping to fight the stigma!