Integrating Physiological Components of Anxiety with A Christian World and Life View
Great hub, but...
My last hub on anxiety got the following response.
"How timely of a hub, when we stalwartly put on faces of Christmas cheer, all the while wrestling against these terrors within ... How will I pay for this? Will she come to the family dinner? Does anyone really care? What happens if ... If ... If ...
"Wonderfully balanced perspective, Doc. Greatly enjoyed reading this hub.
"A question for you: how do you balance the spiritual approach here with the organic manifestation of anxiety / depression / other disorders? In other words, there are often identifiable, quantifiable physiological issues that create or exacerbate such things as anxiety, things like brain structure irregularities or chemical imbalances in the neuro-chemistry of the brain."
How would you integrate these phenomenon into your perspective above?"
That's a great question deserving more than a sentence or two.
My car broke down
I've often breathed a thank-you prayer for a car that has served me well for over 100,000 miles. But the other day, my friendly mechanic informed me that it has a serious disease: "strutitus." One strut was totally dead, the other three were on life-support. It would cost over $1,500 to cure her. I was shocked, copped an attitude toward the world for a while and then repented. I reasoned that the same Lord who had made it possible to purchase my vehicle brand new back in 2005 would provide now. I had long ago figured out that the most inexpensive car to drive is the one you already own. So I bit the bullet and took it for treatment. I'm grateful for a mechanic I trust.
What's that have to do with anything?
Just this. It never occurred to me to lay hands on my car and pray that God heal it. While for me there are spiritual dimensions associate with my car's condition, the car desperately needed the skills of a mechanic. What I mean is that its breakdown created opportunities for me either to trust the Lord or to ignore Him.
So it is with our bodies. Advances in medical science have offered us tremendous opportunities to understand how our system works. Physicians are able to treat injury and illness in the confidence that our bodies will heal. And yet, behind it all is the Creator and Sustainer of us all. So we gratefully accept medical treatment and humbly seek God's healing and grace. Remember that all healing in this life is temporary. And that's good. I have a living will instructing my family and physicians not to use heroic medical measures that would keep me form entering the presence of the Lord.
It get's complicated
It's clear that our emotions and perspectives are affected by the condition of our bodies. I can pray more effectively when I'm not sleepy. Is that a spiritual or a physical issue? Both. Spiritual, in that I may have abused my body, not allowing it proper rest (a violation of the sixth commandment); or I may be under the impression that God requires me to offer a ten minute prayer (a total misunderstanding of grace). It's a physical issue in that it can be scientifically shown that sleep deprivation affects emotional and cognitive performance.
I had a brother who suffered most of his life from schizophrenia, a mental disease with symptoms that look a lot like spiritual disorders. The schizophrenic will often hold to beliefs that are not true. He has trouble trusting anyone and has grandiose notions of himself. I saw these in my brother. Schizophrenia is incurable but its symptoms can be managed. As long as my brother took his medications he was able to function socially and hold down a job. But then, he'd think he'd whipped the illness and stop taking his medications, only to end up in a hospital for the umpteenth time. Physiological or spiritual? Both. It was physical in that he had a condition that clearly responded to medication, a physical treatment. But it was also spiritual in that when medicated and able to function he often failed to accept his condition (a faith issue) and neglected his medications.
It is significant that Paul instructed Timothy, "No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments" (I Timothy 5:23). Frequent ailments? Why didn't Paul just urge Timothy to pray more fervently? Instead, Timothy is to take a little wine. Twice Paul refers to associates who suffered illness. Trophimus he left ill at Miletus (II Timothy 4:20). He reports to the Philippians that Epaphroditus was ill and had almost died (Phlippians 2:27). I'm sure prayer was offered for both these men. Wonder why Paul didn't just heal them. He had healed others, even brought Eutychus back to life.
I address God's habit of using means to bring about a desired end: Cataracts, Lasers and Divine Spittle and Omnipotent Power Married to Patient Process. When God uses means, the outcome is often delayed.
What to do
You or a friend is feeling depressed, suffering from anxiety or finding it hard to focus. I suggest the following course of action. Assuming you are on talking terms with God, your first step is to consult Him. Seek his mercy and healing as did Paul, not once but three times. You pray humbly recognizing that God may choose to give you grace to deal with the malady rather than heal it right off. You also pray for guidance regarding whom to consult and what measures to take. Sometimes the answer is obvious. You know of a reputable counselor (preferably Christian) who can help you think through what's happening. He may recommend you see a physician who might prescribe medication. By all means, take advantage of whatever tools for healing that are available to you. Be alert that our contemporary culture has a tendency to medicate too quickly and to over-medicate. This is why I'd seek counsel before going to a doctor. If you are in a church where the leaders takes seriously the Scripture's call to pray for the sick, consult your pastor or elders.
What if the answer isn't so obvious? There's a counselor but she's not a Christian. The counselor, though not a Christian, may have some significant insight into mental health that would be useful to you. You'll need to filter it through the lens of a Christian world and life view. That's all the more reason to stay close to your pastor or small group of brothers and sisters. Perhaps there is no counselor or you're not connected to a faithful church. You may find a good counselor through the American Association of Christian Counselors. You'll see a "find a counselor" feature at its website.