“On a scale of 1-10, how strong is your desire to live, today?”
“Maybe, it’s worse than I thought,” I said to myself, as I marked the number 3 on the electronic questionnaire.
I returned the iPad to the receptionist, smiling at her with my usual warmth, and sat back down. My body rejected the comfort of the dimly lit, neutral toned office. I stole a couple glances at the people around me, all my age, and I couldn’t help but wonder what they were dealing with.
A couple weeks prior, I broke down on the balcony of my school’s library. Tears blinded me, and each strained breath of cold February air burned my lungs. I was overwhelmed with an impending sense of doom. I prayed, and I cried out to the Lord, and I prayed some more, and I cried out some more; but my tears would not dry. I needed to concentrate. I needed to focus. I had so much work to do, but these mental shackles wouldn’t let me go.
After great coaxing by my parents and a former R.A., I reluctantly set up a mental-health counseling appointment. I had resisted going for so long on the pretense that I didn’t need help. I wasn’t “crazy.” There were people with far greater ailments than mine. I had strong faith, and, after all, “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (Neh. 8:10). Right?
When my counselor, sitting three feet away from me, leaned in and said, “Lydia, you have anxiety,” I was shocked. “It’s like a sickness of the mind,” she continued, “In the same way that your body gets sick and requires medicine and recuperation, so does your brain.” I sat there stunned, not knowing what to believe. My mind was unwell. I was suffering from a mental illness. This harsh reality flew in the face of so many of my subliminal beliefs. For some reason, I had equated my mental battles with unbelief. I thought that if I prayed hard enough, every thread of the devil’s mischief and my fallen humanity would disappear. I was beyond wrong, and I am afraid that many of us, Christian or not, hold that same misconception.
Over and over, I turn to quoting Psalm 23 when I am in need of comfort. One late night, in the midst of an anxiety attack, I was struck with a new realization in verse 5, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…” In the presence of my enemies. God, prepares my table – blesses me, watches over me – in the presence of my enemies. God holds me steady, in the presence of my enemies. God ensures my well-being, in the presence of my enemies. He provides for me, in the presence of my enemies. All this, In the presence of my enemies.
Our enemies will always be present. King David knew this all too well in Psalms as he hid from and fought against very physical foes, but his mental battles were also apparent in the incongruent nature of his prose. From despair and hope, to depression and cheerfulness, to sorrow and joy, David’s experience was much like ours. However, regardless of his earthly position, God’s provision remained constant.
Throughout history, and especially in contemporary American culture, humans have been obsessed with achieving comfort. Whether it is the external security of a large house or well-paying job or the internal security of great physical and mental health, comfort is the be-all end-all. While desiring reasonable comfort and security is not inherently bad, neither comfort nor security will eliminate earthly pain and dissatisfaction.
Psalm 23 does not tell us that the Lord will stop all suffering while we are on earth, but it does reiterate God’s promise of provision (Phil. 4:19). True peace, joy, and satisfaction will never be the result of earthly comforts. True peace, joy, and satisfaction are the result of faith in our Heavenly Father, regardless of earthly circumstances.
The presence of my anxiety, and every other “enemy” I will face, makes God’s provision and grace that much sweeter. I seek help for my struggles because I want to remain effective for God’s kingdom, but I do not seek help because I am searching for the key to unlimited happiness. My joy always comes from the Lord in spite of my circumstances (James 1:2-3). My earthly struggles, and yours, will never disappear, but our Lord’s goodness will remain constant.
So, step forward each day in the confidence that “the table the Lord prepares before you” is far greater than any carnal promise of satisfaction. Thanks to our Savior, we no longer have to strive to fill the emptiness within us. This is freedom!
By: Lydia Elrod