Are Depression and Anxiety a Choice?

Anonymous asked a question:

A lot of hurting young people on my dash. Is depression and anxiety a choice? My pastor believes it is. “Generational curses”, “biblical strongholds”, etc. Thoughts?

All right, dammit: Who is this pastor? I’m a fifth degree black belt and I can break into a house by scaling a wall, so give me an address and a picture and I’ll have a friendly interrogation with him. I’m trying to see what he means — but no.

Seriously though, most people who don’t suffer from depression or anxiety just don’t get it. It’s like telling someone you have a migraine and they offer you a glass of water. You sort of want to punch their face off.

Pseudo-biblical language that doesn’t even speak to reality only shortcuts a huge issue. You can tell me to “rebuke it in Jesus’ name” all day long, but I need some freaking help.

Let’s get this part right: while not all our emotions point to legitimate choices, having feelings is NOT wrong. You’re allowed to feel your feelings, all right? It’s okay to be a human being and no one should ever blame you for that.

If you’re denying your emotions, you’re also denying your humanness. Even the spoiled little princess on the latest reality show gets a fair hearing on why she flipped a desk about getting the wrong-colored car (hint: it’s not about the car, but her emptiness). What’s important then is to examine why this is happening and how to react in the moment.

People go through different seasons and occasionally experience severe internal weather patterns that you don’t just “choose” your way out of. There’s no easy off-button for those cloudy emotional fogs that suddenly overtake you. A lot is at work here — upbringing, situations, spiritual warfare, personality — so blanket-answers will not help.

But for a moment, let’s assume that depression and anxiety are “curses” or “strongholds” or whatever. You still need to know how to battle it. That’s where this kind of thinking falls short. If I told a depressed person, “Just snap out of it” — that could work for a day, at most. If I also told them, “Pray off that curse” or “Refuse the stronghold,” that’s not equipping anyone for the daily war of the heart.

I’ve had a lifelong struggle with depression, and can I tell you what works? Having a great community of friends who are there for me, who can handle my craziness, who still love me through my humiliating, whiny, ugly, slobbery, overdramatic bouts of unfiltered emotional explosion.

I’m grateful for friends who sometimes force me to get dressed and go out and get ice cream and pamper me way beyond what I deserve. They just sit next to me without lecturing me or throwing around verses or saying trite pick-me-up cliches. Jesus is the same way: he doesn’t condescend when I’m depressed. He loves me right through it and meets me where I’m at.

What also works: just straight worship, and talking with Jesus, and exercise, and re-listening to that one sermon that encouraged me so long ago, and serving in a place of broken people. To do what you’re made to do will move you past the hurt, even if it’s just one step.

The truth is that actually battling depression is a messy task of digging deep and getting dirty. That’s why a lot of ignorant ministry workers use half-baked language to escape the gritty work of diving in the deep end. Almost no one naturally moves towards a depressed person because we think, “Well he’s rich, he’s good-looking, she’s got it together, why would she cut herself, why would he be on meds” — and that’s really a way of saying, “I’m too selfish to serve that person. I only serve people that are nice and clean and pure. I’m too lazy to understand.”

The church has got to be the safest, most gracious, loving place on the face of the earth. No one should ever be shamed for their brokenness. No one can be left behind. No one’s sin deserves more or less attention, and we all have equal access to the Heavenly Father by way of His Son.

It was Jesus who stepped into the mess without qualifying anyone, and he calls us to do the same. He didn’t just tell us that our sin-broken condition is bad: he showed us a way out and a path forward towards him, to the greatest joy. If you can help someone make even a step in that journey, they will be grateful forever.

Also read:

– Helping A Friend With Anxiety and Depression — What To Do and NOT To Do

– Five Simple Truths About Fighting Depression

– Why Did God Make Me This Way?

– Everything Is Killing Me

9 thoughts on “Are Depression and Anxiety a Choice?

  1. The best way for me is to get out and do the Lord’s work daily. I am not ashamed of my mental disabilities. I have only with God overcome them to do his purpose for me. Forgetting about myself and my troubles has set me free to Love and grow and cherish what I have now, salvation. In 2010, I would never have thought I would be free of the depths of this. Little did I even comprehend the the strength in his Love and Wisdom, because I did not know him then.


  2. J.S., I want to give you a high five! Seriously! I never felt so alone and more depressed than when I was constantly bombarded with name it claim it jargon. I was scared that if I opened up about my feelings I would be seen as less spiritual by all the happy Christians wrapped up in “holy” laughter. It was like a circus where everyone had painted faces. Still, even in a place with good theology and a true love for God’s word…still it’s hard to open up. But I know that there are real people…bleeding inside around me but afraid to show it. We had two people commit suicide within a year.

    I’ve dealt with depression on and off and I praise God for my family and mainly for Him. Sometimes it’s just Him that listens.

    Naphtali, I agree for sure. I deal with OCD…..obsessions and compulsions also scruples. The pat answers don’t work for OCD. For anyone interested, I found this book that has actually helped me:

    It turns out that Luther and John Bunyan had OCD and scruples. It’s not surprising that it was the gospel of grace that helped them. Sadly, many church people are scared of grace. Legalism feeds pride and makes us feel in control. Some people think grace is weak and that the theology of grace means sin without consequence. Not so…..not so. The grace of Jesus is the only way we can survive! It is the only way we can walk in the Spirit.

    I think it baffles people that it’s possible for someone to completely love Jesus and still be tormented by inner demons so to speak. It baffled me for awhile that I could read my word and pray constantly yet still have terrifying nightmares and still struggle with compulsive picking.

    This may sound shallow but I’m just gonna be honest. There were times that certain scriptures left me more depressed and watching My Little Pony cheered me up. Before anyone points the finger let me say that I deal with a constant guilty conscience….even for things I’ve never done. It’s a part of scruples I guess. It was a relief to learn that Luther had this happen too but by God’s grace the very scripture that tormented him actually helped free him once he understood it’s true meaning in the Greek.

    So many preachers take scriptures out of context and shoot them at people. It’s awful for people like me who are ready to repent for sins not committed and on occasion other people’s sins too!

    Ha! Wow, I wrote a lot…..this just hit the nail on the head. I’ve been wanting to say what you’ve said for the longest, J.s.!


    1. Thanks for sharing this and for baring your thoughts. I totally agree that even in a “good church” where there is honesty and grace, it’s tough to open up about depression. The church gives the church a hard time, but people are just people, too. Honesty doesn’t happen in a day, or one service, or one sit-down.

      You’re also right that nearly every “Bible hero” either in Scripture or church history has suffered from some terribly tough affliction. Great point. When pastors talk numbers and achievements and spin out heroic stories, it makes the rest of us nervous. It’s nice to know the devoted get hung up on stuff, which at once humbles me and makes me chuckle with wicked satisfaction.


    2. Thank you for this! I too, have suffered from depression/anxiety/OCD/insecurity/inferiority at different times in my lifetime or all at once. For whatever reason, this is my thing to work out and work through, but nothing has helped me like the grace of God and the comfort of His Word. I’m actually getting to the point where I can be a little thankful for the struggles that send me running back into His arms.

      Thank you J.S. for sharing your personal struggle and for this refreshingly fabulous blog! Thank you amberdover for recommending this resource – I will definitely look into it.


  3. I have suffered from depression, to the point of suicide. Meds just made things worse for me. I discovered that in my case, depression and suicide, were DEMONS that had attacked me!

    Sometimes demons can refuse to leave, even when we cast them out in the name of Jesus, because they are claiming a legal right to be in your home. This is usually because there is an unclean item in one’s home. Spiritually clean your home, and then try casting them out again…

    This has worked wonders for our family!

    May God bless you,
    C. Dunamis


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