Athletes have brought mental health into the public conversation in recent weeks. Tennis player Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open in May because of anxiety and depression. More recently, the greatest gymnast of all time, Simone Biles, pulled herself from the Olympics team competition in Tokyo for a similar reason. Both ladies put the sports world on its heels with their decisions and pulled opinions out of most of us in the process.
After all, aren’t athletes supposed to be wired in a way that they can push all their fears and anxieties aside and perform on command? Isn’t that what they are trained to do?
The answer, clearly, is no. At the end of the day, Naomi and Simone, and the countless other athletes dealing with mental health issues, are people first. People living in a fallen world where our mental health can be fragile, despite what we try to tell ourselves.
I know because it’s a struggle I have too. I deal with Tourette Syndrome and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. For me, it’s not as bad as some. I don’t rub my hands raw trying to clean off the germs, for example. But it’s still there. Other members of my family deal with other forms of anxiety as well, and we are all grateful for God’s provision through doctors and modern medicine.
But we don’t ignore what the Bible says, either. My wife’s favorite passage is Matthew 6:25-34. She has a tattoo that reminds her of Christ’s words about anxiety.
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin.
A lot of people think anxiety is either/or. Either you have to trust the Bible and believe that God’s got you and the anxiety will just go away, or you have to seek medical help and only rely on doctors to “cure” you.
But what if it’s both/and?
What if there are times when we can rest in the promises of God? We can remember the words of the Psalmist when he says things like:
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
We can know that God is for us, so who can be against us (Romans 8:31) and there is no condemnation for us who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Reciting those promises may be able to help us when we feel anxious or afraid. They may be just what we need to not be anxious for tomorrow.
And there may be times when anxiety is more and depression is more. And that’s ok too. Yes, God gave us the Bible and it is sufficient for all life and godliness. But God also gave us doctors and medicine and the knowledge of how our bodies (and minds) work physiologically. He gave us the ability to treat physical disorders and permission to do so. Luke, the author of one of the gospels and the book of Acts was a physician, for goodness sake!
So let’s pray for each other. Remember God’s promises. And don’t be afraid to ask for help!