So Whether You Eat or Drink or Take Xanax...
As the announcement rang out that my plane was about to begin boarding, I immediately shoved my hand into my right pocket. Just the feeling of the two round pills gave me relief. They were available if I needed them, if things became unmanageable.
I’ve never liked taking medication. Part pride and part skepticism, I’ve avoided it for most of my life except for the occasional headache or sinus infection. But over the past few years I’ve become acquainted with a whole new world of pharmaceuticals. Not by choice and not without a lot of stubbornness. I had to humble myself and heed the counsel of the closest people in my life to get to this point.
But I’m glad I did. Medicine helped me feel like myself again. It wasn’t the only change I made, or even the most important one, but it was a turning point for me in my daily mental battle.
Through this journey, I’ve tried a few different kinds of psychiatric meds, always with the goal of them being temporary. I don’t view medication as a cure for mental health struggles, but they are a way to manage the symptoms. And that’s what they did for me. Medication helped bring clarity and constancy to my life so I could sort out the spiritual and physical aspects of my problems.
Along the way, I’ve thought a lot about medication and how it fits into the life of a Jesus follower. So far I’ve come away with lots of questions and few answers. But I think the questions are important. Questions fuel the conversation. Questions cause us to stop and think. Questions challenge us to examine ourselves and why we think and do what we think and do.
So I want to share with you in this post some of the questions I’ve been wrestling with when it comes to medication. My hope is that it helps you think through your own situation or the situation of someone who’s close to you.
(And as I always try to make clear, I’m not a doctor or therapist or pharmacist. I’m just a guy who thinks too much about everything. So if you need help like I did, stop reading blogs and WebMD and go talk to people who are smarter and godlier than you.)
Should Christians take psychiatric medicine?
Christians disagree on this question. Shocking, I know. On one hand, you have those who believe strongly that followers of Jesus have no business taking these kinds of drugs. They believe every case of anxiety and depression is purely spiritual and should be dealt with as such. On the other hand, you have those who believe Christians should have zero hesitation taking these kinds of drugs. They believe every case of anxiety and depression is purely physical and should be dealt with as such.
Most people, such as myself, fall somewhere in between. But this leaves us with a huge gray area. So I think the best thing we can do is avoid making sweeping generalizations. This question needs to be answered on a case-by-case basis with the wise counsel of family, friends, counselors, and doctors.
As I wrestled with my own case, I asked some deeper questions like this next one.
Why do I want to take this medication? What is my motivation?
That moment in the airport bothered me. Not just the anxiety, but the fact that my mind immediately went to medication in a moment of crisis. I didn’t take the pills that day, but I felt like I needed them to be ok. What was I trusting in during that moment? I don’t think taking medication in a moment of need would have been sinful for me, but could that moment have been revealing something deeper going on in my heart? Could it have revealed a heart motivated more by comfort than trust in a sovereign God? I don’t really know.
For some, taking medication could be a form of pride. Medication could be their way of trying to have control over their issues. It could also be a way to avoid dealing with sin and its best friends, shame and guilt. Doing anything in a prideful, me-first way is always wrong.
Refusing to take medication could also be a form of pride. This was definitely me. I thought I didn’t need medication. I thought medication was for weak, crazy people. I thought I was strong enough to fix myself on my own. I couldn’t imagine walking into a doctor’s office and saying, “I’m here because of crippling anxiety.”
But God humbled me real quick. He had to teach me the hard way. As a result, medication became a way for me to express daily dependence on God. It was a daily reminder that I was weak and in desperate need of God’s sustaining grace.
As in everything, it’s not just our actions that matter, but also the motivations behind them.
Should medication be a first choice or last resort?
I think there is wisdom in seeking other solutions before committing to medication. Drugs can be costly and life-altering. They are more of a long-term solution since they typically take weeks or even months to reach their full effectiveness. Based on my own experience, I would encourage others to move slowly towards medication. With the counsel of others, including a doctor of course, you might see if a healthier lifestyle, or counseling, or some other short-term solution can be found. Sometimes medication is necessary, but sometimes it’s not.
Could my struggle have a spiritual root rather than a physical one?
This is a question I think more Christians need to be wrestling with. Depression, anxiety, and other mental struggles can, in fact, be a result of sinful choices and patterns. Unforgiveness from a past hurt can lead to depression. Sexual sin can bring guilt and anxiety.
In these cases, is medication the solution? Medication can’t change the heart. It could actually end up numbing the heart and cause further hardening towards God. Or the diminishing of symptoms could help settle the heart so accurate self-reflection can be done.
The latter was true for me. Medication put out the fire in my brain so I could take the time to find the source of the flames. The key is to look beyond the symptoms to find out what’s really going on.
Could this suffering be God’s appointed means of making me more like Jesus?
1 Peter 1:6-9 teaches us that suffering serves to make us like Christ and bring glory to God. The Apostle Paul exemplified this in his life and ministry (2 Corinthians 12). Jesus himself also suffered in many ways, including mental anguish, to bring glory to God.
So could mental suffering be God’s way of making us more dependent on him? Could it be his tool to refine us? I believe so.
But isn’t the relief of suffering also a good thing? God wants us to cast our burdens on him because he cares for us. He wants to heal us and wipe every tear from our eyes. What’s the difference between seeking relief from a headache and seeking relief from a panic attack? At what point should we seek to eliminate the suffering, and at what point should we accept the opportunity to glorify God through the suffering?
Could this medication be God’s appointed means of making me more like Jesus?
I certainly believe it has been for me. Medication has enabled me to see more clearly, savor God’s kindness more fully, and empathize with others more truly. It’s humbled me in more ways than I can count.
I also believe that medical science is a way that God heals. It’s a part of God’s common grace. He uses doctors and medication to reverse the curse of the fall and bring restoration to people’s bodies and minds. Could it be that God answered my prayers for healing by giving me a medication that worked?
Should it bother us that some people stand to make tons of money off of these kinds of medications?
The use of antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs has steadily grown over the years. Yet, the number of people suffering from anxiety and depression has also grown. We are more medicated and more depressed than ever before. In 2015, a study found that one in four women were taking a psychiatric medication.
Many doctors and other smart people have begun asking some tough questions about over-medicating and the long-term effects of these drugs. Is our pain being exploited by Big Pharma for financial gain? This is definitely something to watch and think through if you are going to tango with these kinds of medications.
Am I prepared to deal with the side effects and withdrawal of medication?
Every medication comes with side effects. That’s why the guy on the commercial talks so fast through them at the end. Some say that the side effects of psychiatric meds can be worse than the symptoms they are prescribed to treat. This is something to research and think through. There has also been a lot of talk recently about the difficulty of getting off these medications. Some of these drugs are billed as non-addictive, like most antidepressants, but they still carry crippling withdrawal symptoms. Just one more thing to think about.
Ultimately, will this medication help me glorify God?
This is the most important question. As followers of Jesus, everything we do should be done to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). We exist for his glory. That is our purpose. We don’t live for comfort, happiness, or personal pleasure. We live for the praise of Jesus.
So will medication help you accomplish your purpose? I don’t know. Unfortunately, I can’t answer that for you. But here’s one thing I do know. God has called you to glorify him, whether you eat or drink or take an antidepressant.