“The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
—Philippians 4:5–7 (NIV)
Growing up in church, I was well acquainted with God’s command “Do not be anxious about anything” (Phil. 4:6 NIV). And while the rest of the verse explains how believers are able to let go of their worries, emphasis is often placed on our responsibility.
That’s why, as a young Christian, I felt the words were one more expectation I lacked the power to meet.
Spiritual To-Do List
When I was growing up, high expectations were placed on obedience, whether to God’s commands or parental instruction. A person achieved holiness, it seemed, by an act of will.
Achieving excellence felt like a worthy life goal. Like my mom, I was organized, academically inclined, detail oriented, and delighted to meet and exceed expectations, especially in my spiritual life.
My mom’s example of Christian womanhood set a lofty standard I tried hard to follow. I had no idea that anxiety was the foundation of my — and my mom’s — need to please, to be perfect. Both she and I expected much of others and more of ourselves. When worry plagued my mind, I felt only guilt and failure at being unable to “let go and let God,” try as I might.
Understanding the Cause
I read every spiritual self-help book I could find. I poured over Scripture, longing to find a key that would flip the switch to illuminate the path from worry to freedom.
I know now my mom struggled in the same way. A child of the Great Depression, she grew up in a time when people didn’t speak about mental health. She never had open conversations about anxiety or depression and therefore perceived both as weaknesses to be overcome.
As a product of a later generation, I was more aware of mental health challenges but mistakenly felt believers should pray harder, study more deeply, or simply allow God to remove anxiety or depression.
After years of trying to do this on my own, I reached a point where I felt unable to leave worry behind, even while on vacation. When I finally sought professional counseling, I learned I could find help and hope for healing.
Freedom Found in Grace
My mom never spoke about her mental health struggles. I now believe she never fully understood the battle she fought with anxiety and depression. After she died, her Bible revealed her journey and declared the hope she had found in Christ.
Mom didn’t believe in writing in her Bible, so discovering she had underlined these words was profound: “O Lord my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me” (Psalm 30:2 KJV) and “Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me: Lord, be thou my helper” (v. 10).
I discovered she had also scribbled these words in the margin, “Christians may have depression. God does not want us to lose hope. In due time, He gives the answer.”
Mom never felt comfortable discussing her worries, fear, and loneliness, but she found the answers she needed in God’s Word. Those same words began to illuminate the truth in my heart as well. They eventually helped me offer myself the grace to surrender from trying to fight on my own. Instead, I learned how to trust God even in my battle with anxiety.
Open Conversations Cultivate Healing
Since then, I have learned to ask God for help with anxiety, and He has provided Christian counselors, mental health professionals, rest, prayers, and medication.
I wish Mom and I could have talked about our struggles. By God’s grace, I now share my journey with others who need to hear it. By engaging in open conversations, I find myself giving and receiving Christ’s love and compassion and helping others understand it is “OK not to be OK” because God knows, understands, and loves us despite our frailties.
We can find hope and healing in the knowledge that God is greater than our struggle and delights in helping us. He does not promise to remove anxiety, but I have found that every prayer I offer for increased faith and the ability to fall into His loving arms is answered with yes every time.
If you are wrestling with giving yourself and others the grace to surrender the fight and release worries to Him, know I am praying for you. If you know women struggling with anxiety, offer to walk alongside them on the journey. Be a safe place for them to be vulnerable, and pray God would strengthen you to share your faith journey.
Lanell Downs Smith is a freelance writer living in Lapine, Alabama. She is managing editor for Greenville Newspapers Inc. and serves as vice president for the Alabama WMU board of trustees.
Disclaimer: The information shared on this page is not meant to diagnose or treat a mental health condition. We encourage you to follow up with your health-care provider and seek a mental health professional for individual consultation and care.