Jessa Duggar’s Instagram Post Highlights a Message Anxious Christians Are Tired of Hearing
Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Juliette Virzi, The Mighty’s associate mental health editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.
Last week, “Counting On” Christian reality TV star Jessa Duggar Seewald posted a screenshot on Instagram of a sermon series called “Nine Arguments Against Anxiety,” from DesiringGod.org, a website founded by John Piper, a well-known Baptist pastor. Her caption read, “Three short videos. Well worth the time spent watching! Check them out— link is in my bio.”
Fans were not happy with this post, and Instagram commenters were quick to point out how easy it is to tell someone to “pray the anxiety away” without considering the mental strain someone who lives with anxiety goes through.
As a Christian who lives with anxiety, I was disappointed by some of these resources — primarily because they don’t reflect much compassion for people who live with anxiety disorders, but also because I have benefited from John Piper’s sermons in the past (his sermon on Psalm 42 was a huge encouragement to me in the midst of my depression).
Although I was disappointed, I have to say I wasn’t shocked. Because unfortunately, when it comes to mental illnesses like anxiety, Christians are consistently given this type of message.
Have you prayed about it?
Give it to God.
God only gives you what you can handle.
You wouldn’t still be experiencing this if you were really trusting God.
Anxiety is a sin.
This can leave Christians struggling with anxiety in a hopeless place — because many are praying, are trying to give their anxiety to God, are working to trust God in the midst of it — but are still not seeing their struggle lessen.
This is something Mighty contributor Gretchen Gales wrote about in her piece, “My Anxiety Doesn’t Make Me Less of a Christian.”
I have an anxiety disorder. I spent the majority of my life wondering what was wrong with me, why my faith wasn’t enough to stop the physically draining and destructive panic attacks that first plagued my adolescent body. I tried not to be infuriated when people told me to “just pray about it” when I brought up my disorder. Their comments (hopefully) stemmed from good intentions, but only made me feel worse. Going into situations that triggered my panic attacks felt like my brain had waged war against my body, and instead of enjoying things that would be exciting to everyone else (such as the view from the Empire State Building or a high-energy concert or show), I loathed and dreaded it. It felt like my brain was trying to murder me.
It’s vital that Christian leaders and Christians in the media (like Duggar Seewald) speak about mental illness with compassion rather than judgment. Folks in psychological distress are most likely to seek help from religious leaders than they are from mental health professionals. In a study examining help-seeking for mental health problems, researchers found that 30 to 35 percent of people seek help from a mental health professional, while 60 percent seek informal help from friends, family and religious leaders for mental health help.
Matthew S. Stanford, Ph.D. and adjunct professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine, wrote about this subject in his book, “Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness.” In an interview about his book with The Christian Broadcasting Network, Stanford said,
While pastors may have extensive training in interpreting the Scriptures, typically they have no formal training in the causes and treatment of psychiatric illnesses. In addition, many pastors have little if any training in individual counseling. The time available for them to provide long-term counseling is limited. However, the involvement of the pastoral staff in ministering to the mentally ill in the fellowship is critical. Much like the pastor and congregational leaders set the course for the local church, they should play that same role in ministering to mentally ill congregants. This is done simply by meeting with them (perhaps several times) and directing them to programs, services and individuals in the church that will then do the lion’s share of the pastoral care.
We as Christians need to do a better job of not only talking about mental illness, but also supporting people experiencing mental health difficulties. When we fail to lead with compassion, we are harming others and may be keeping them locked in shame and isolation.
Mighty contributor Gretchen Gales put it aptly when she said,
My faith is not ‘contaminated’ by my anxiety disorder, nor is it a sin to have a mental disorder. To say so implies I haven’t tried being completely faithful to God or that me praying to God every time to release me from a bad streak of anxiety is just me begging to be released from a grave sin. It is also not a ‘persistent little habit’ but an illness that should be treated as such.
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Screenshot via Jessa Seewald Instagram and “Counting On” Facebook page