In the months since the coronavirus pandemic began impacting every aspect of our lives, people around the world have become very familiar with issues of mental health. For one ministry leader, in fact, panic attacks have become nearly routine.
Craig Denison, the son of a pastor, has been a Christian for just about his entire life, and now, he helms a ministry that sends out devotionals to just under 1.5 million people every single day.
His morning messages focus almost exclusively on how Christians can best hand their worries and fears over to God, trusting the Lord with their anxieties as they seek to cope with the myriad challenges they face on a daily basis. So it came as somewhat of a surprise to Denison when, over the course of the first six months of the year, he had more than five panic attacks — something he never dealt with prior to the pandemic.
Denison, a husband and father of two boys, recently told Faithwire his experiences this year have taught him “some really valuable lessons” about his mental health and his faith.
In addition to giving believers tools to cope with life’s difficulties, God “is incredibly empathetic toward our experience,” Denison said, noting biblical references to Jesus’ own suffering leading up to and including His crucifixion. The apostle Luke, a physician, wrote in his account that, as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of His death, Jesus’ sweat was “like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44).
“God is well-acquainted with the stress and anxiety that really has become normal for us as a people,” Denison explained. “And [He] does want to meet us to offer us His peace. But peace isn’t this absence of stress and anxiety.”
Peace doesn’t necessarily eliminate anxiety or stress. Rather, the Christian author said, God offers His peace “in the midst” of our difficulties.
As the government’s coronavirus response has continued to disrupt our everyday lives, a survey in May found approximately one-third of American adults were exhibiting symptoms of depression or anxiety.
The first and most important step Christian leaders — particularly pastors — can take to help other believers cope with stress, Denison said, is to “be vulnerable about your experience.”
“Don’t expect perfection of yourself or your staff,” he said. “Be vulnerable about the stress you’re experiencing inside of your messages and sermons, as opposed to just prescribing solutions, maybe, although there are real solutions to this that the church can offer.”
It’s also important that the church shows a concerted effort to “normalize” mental health struggles, particularly in a time when our collective societal stress levels are higher than they have ever been.
Listen to our full conversation below:
To learn more about Denison or his ministry, visit First15.org.