Anxiety and Depression—these words and the difficult realities to which they refer can seem omnipresent in our society. Of course, the mental health crisis is not ubiquitous, but the data is clear: people are hurting, including people in our churches.
Seeing people, especially young people, suffering from chronic anxiety and depression over the last few years has grieved me deeply. Thankfully, as Christians, we do not mourn the current mental health crisis without hope. Indeed, as Tim Keller said, the Christian faith gives us “unparalleled spiritual resources” for dealing with suffering, be it physical or mental.
The world is in desperate need of the spiritual resources the Christian faith provides those suffering from mental health problems, as secular therapy and medical intervention are not resolving the issue. We certainly need to address the biological contributions to the mental health crisis (sleep, nutrition, chemical imbalance, etc.), but it appears what our “secular age” is missing is an antidepressant for the soul.
In this article, I don’t plan to address all the causes of the increase in mental health issues (e.g., smartphones, secularism, community distance, work/rest imbalance, etc.). Instead, I want to explore how God’s presence, power, and promises provide a unique remedy for the dark night of the soul.
I used to live and work in New York City. I spent three years working in the fashion and entertainment industry—an industry that is undoubtedly familiar with mental health struggles. You deal with a lot of scrutiny and rejection in the entertainment world. It is a cut-throat business, and there are definitely no participation trophies.
One of the loneliest places in Manhattan can be the casting or audition room. You are surrounded by competition and people (typically strangers) who are paid to evaluate your looks, fitness, and ability to perform under pressure. In the arts—like in sports, academics, or dating—fear of rejection can cause anxiety, anxiety often produces poor performance, poor performance often results in rejection, and rejection can lead to depression. It’s not a great cycle.
One time, I was at an audition for an eyewear commercial, and, to my surprise, one of my roommates was at the same audition. We got lost in conversation, so much so that I forgot how nervous I was. We ended up being paired together for our on-camera interview. Our camaraderie carried over into the audition room. He and I were so comfortable with each other that we might as well have been at a family barbecue instead of a one-take audition.
Later, it dawned on me that my roommate’s presence had stabilized me in a moment of heightened anxiety and given me much thicker skin. I wasn’t immune to disappointment, but the prospect of disappointment had lost its controlling power over me. Why? Because of the presence of someone I knew loved me unconditionally. (If you were curious, we actually ended up being offered the job, but both had scheduling conflicts.)