“The wind ran out of breath; the sea became smooth as glass.” -Mark 4:39
This morning, anxiety slapped me in the face before I even opened my eyes. Like a glass of freezing water, it jolted me from restful sleep. What a bully.
There are times when I feel such shame because the anxiety persists. Sometimes, I say harmful things to myself: Here I am, seven years after a suicide attempt, still struggling with this stupid anxiety. I do all the right things, and yet, anxiety sometimes greets me before my feet hit the floor. It doesn’t seem fair - because it’s not.
Will it always be this way? Probably. Hopefully not, but mental illness is chronic, no different than arthritis.
I got my wife and children off to school and work, and then I grabbed my prescriptions and sat down at the piano with my Bible. What a combination, right? Sometimes when I feel really anxious - even if my hands are shaking - I sit down at the piano and play. David played for Saul when nothing else would soothe his soul, and it often works for me, too.
I’ve been reading the Bible a lot more than usual lately. My biggest question: What does the Bible say about mental illness?
I read about Elijah, lying down next to a tree, praying to God to die. Ever heard of Ahithophel? He’s the first Biblical account of suicide. We just talked about the anxiety of the disciples in a storm-tossed boat.
Even Jesus became so overwhelmed at the neediness of the crowds that he had to withdraw and catch his breath. One account of the Garden of Gethsemane says an angel came to comfort Jesus while he was sweating drops of blood, but as soon as the angel was gone, Jesus went right back to his same, anxious state, being pressed like an olive into oil. God made flesh, it seems, had fears, worry, and anxiety from time to time.
It seems that just below the surface, the Bible has much to say about mental illness. And I’m so grateful for that.
Sometimes you can pray, meditate, exercise, go to therapy, take your meds, hope for better days, believe for healing, and reach out to your trusted friends, but the symptoms of your mental illness remain. Sometimes we’re shaky scared and feel all alone.
If you live in the tension between, Jesus, can you help me right now? - and - I’m going to take this prescription while You work, please know that you’re not alone.
God of Peace, still my anxious thoughts,
Comfort my weary heart,
Hold my shaking hands,
Whisper goodness and mercy to my soul.
I trust you,
And as you do your work,
I’m going to give my brain what it needs,
To function as clearly as possible.
I hate this anxiety.
Mental illness sucks, to be honest.
But I believe in a God who met three little Hebrew boys in a fiery furnace,
I trust in a God who showed up in the middle of a storm-tossed sea.
You sent angels to comfort Elijah when he wanted to die,
You gave Paul the strength to endure in all things,
Your brand of inner-calm can’t be contained or explained,
And your never-ending grace is the cornerstone of my wounded heart.
As my fragile frame rocks back and forth,
Find me here, meet my fear with love,
Wash over me with truth and grace,
And quiet my spun-up mind.
As I swallow this medication,
Guide me into the truth,
That You love me as I am,
Your love never fails.
Sometimes the waves of anxiety rock us back and forth. Much like the Disciples, we can’t seem to stop the storms. We cannot capture the wind or refuse lightning. Claps of thunder still startle our unsuspecting bodies in the middle of the night. Panic knocks us to our knees, and waves of depression threaten to drown us. But we trust in the God who walked on water to prove that He would never let us sink beneath the weight of our own woundedness.
Can you hear the voice of one who promises to never leave you? "Peace," he whispers, "be still."
While I was sitting at the piano this morning, I recorded a song. It’s my prayer for each of us who live in the tension between faith and mental health. For immediate access to the video and .mp3 downloads, plus a printable prayer, sign up on Patreon today. Just click here.
Do you fight daily anxiety? Me too. If you go to the doctor, take your medications, and see a therapist regularly, but want some natural/practical tools to help manage your anxiety, this is the bundle for you.
It’s time to live life to the fullest and minimize your stress.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
Podcast: When You Feel Like You Can’t Go On
Suicide Survivors: 7 Things to do the Day After You Leave the Psych Ward
Living with Depression & Anxiety: 7 Coping Strategies that Work (e-book)
Guest Blog – Worthy and Unashamed: Facing Mental Health Stigma in the Church Head-On
Stressed Out? Free Course: 11 Proven Ways to Calm Down
This was Supposed to be the Last Day of My Life
When Your Brain is Lying to You, Read This.
Hope for the Forsaken: A Doxology in Darkness