It’s not something we like to talk about, and yet the number of people who battle with their mental wellbeing is extremely high.
I’ve struggled with anxiety on and off for the past three years, but the last few months have definitely been more on than off. While I wouldn’t say that it’s been the most severe episode I’ve experienced, my mind has still been in a constant underlying state of fear and worry for months.
Sometimes it rears its head for a few hours or a few days and completely consumes my thoughts, and sometimes it just sits in the back of my mind, passive but palpable, biding its time before the next trigger.
No matter the severity though, the symptoms are still there in varying degrees - loss of appetite, shivers, not being able to sleep, nausea, exhaustion, and numbness. I know that anxiety is often irrational, but its effects on my body are real.
Crying out to God
The thing that I’m finding the hardest though is the sense that God has somehow betrayed me.
Where are you, God? When you love me so much, why do you let me feel like this? When you have the power to break me free from this, why do you let me suffer? When you’ve placed a calling ahead of me that feels impossible when anxiety is raging, why do you not take it away?
Thankfully, I think these questions are natural and God honestly doesn’t mind when we ask them. After all, the Psalms are full of these exact same thoughts! There are countless instances of David, the man after God’s own heart no less (Acts chapter 13, verse 22), crying out in desperation to God.
I do find it interesting that in the church, people’s response in time of anxiety or depression is often to suggest that we need to pray more, have more faith, or rely more on the truth of the scriptures. While I know that these suggestions are often genuine and heartfelt, they are also largely not helpful.
Why do we assume that someone struggling with mental wellbeing is not doing these things? Would we suggest that David’s desperate cries in the Psalms were because he didn’t pray enough? The Psalms are so wonderful for this reason, displaying a full showcase of human emotion against the backdrop of faith.
And so I take comfort in the fact that in the Psalms, and for generations since, people have been crying out to God with exactly the same cries as mine. But more than that, I take comfort in the fact that in all these situations, the cries are followed by praise, and that faith and hope prevail every time.
Choosing to worship
One of my favourites throughout the years has been Psalm 42.
It is so raw with heartbreak and desperation and yet in the face of this, the writer repeatedly makes the conscious decision to praise - “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.” (Psalm chapter 42, verse 5 NIV).
Though I’m in the midst of this dark season, I’ve been challenged and inspired to still choose praise and to sing through these shadows. Even though I can’t see the end at the moment, I choose to worship nonetheless, because God is worthy to be praised for who he is – good and holy.
But I also choose to worship him for what he has already done, because he has shown his faithfulness to the people who have gone before, like David in the Psalms, and I know that he will show his faithfulness to me.
Breakthrough is coming
“Worship is the prelude; it becomes before the testimony.” Brian Houston recently said this at Hillsong’s Worship and Creative Conference, and it has truly resonated with me ever since. Not only will I choose to worship for who God is and for what he has done, but for what I know he is going to do!
I worship with faith and expectation and confidence that breakthrough will come. I worship in the knowledge that my testimony is coming. I worship because I know that despite my anxious thoughts, God will empower and enable me for the calling he’s placed ahead of me.
There’s always a reason to worship, so I continue to make a conscious decision to praise, and to keep singing through the shadows.
Rebecca Howan is from Wellington, New Zealand, where she works as an Executive Assistant in the humanitarian sector. She worships and serves at The Salvation Army, and is passionate about music, travelling the world and building community.