Into the Fire: Fear & Doubt
in Mental Health Recovery

From Fear to Freedom Tour with Flourishing Today 
The day we sat down at the conference table with the psychiatrist was my final day in the mental hospital. With my husband by my side, I nervously picked at my fingernails and strolled memory lane, remembering how 17 untreated years of highs and lows served up my second psychiatric hospitalization.

I sat silent as the doctor provided my husband with some medical information about my diagnosis. My eyes roamed around the room, mildly disconnected from the conversation. When it was my turn to ask the doctor questions, I had only one:

“What if there are side effects from the medication and I have to make a change?”

I didn't fear living with the particular weaknesses I had been labeled with–I already well knew my body and the swings and the spiritual tribulations included in with its diagnostic package. My fears were related to the medication and its side effects, because I had been on the rotation of medication carousels as a teenager and did not want to go back again.

Patiently, the doctor acknowledged the doubt in my tone of voice. Sensing resistance, he answered, “After five days of being on this medication, what evidence do you have that you’ll need to make a change?”

“None.” I replied.

“Well there you have it,” the doctor smiled. “Let’s keep our focus on what we have evidence for, and when another doubt pops up, remember to ask yourself that very same question: what’s the evidence?” 
The Problem with Predictions
Mental health recovery can be a season plagued by fear and doubt. Many sufferers understand how immensely difficult it is to respond to recovery out of an abundance of hope, especially when our minds are disordered and our spirits are heavy. Pain and suffering are very real problems in this world, and as Jesus’ own life assures us, we cannot avoid suffering through an excess of faith (Phil. 2:8, Hebrews 12:2). It’s almost as if we’ve been bound by our minds and tossed into the burning fiery furnace along with Shadrach, Meshach, and Adednego (Daniel 3:21).

Many of us also grow fearful when our symptoms relapse, or when we find ourselves revisiting the same crippling brokenness after experiencing a period of welcomed relief. Our fears become particularly burdensome when we meditate upon the question, “Will I ever get better?” It’s an intrigue that looms over sufferers like a cloud and tempts us into making unwarranted predictions about the future.

What if none of the medications work for me? What if all the remedies I try make no difference? What if I’m so distraught on Sunday, I can’t even go to church? What if I have a panic attack while I’m out in public tomorrow?

The reality is we're neither omniscient nor sovereign–only God can claim those attributes. Is it any wonder, then, when our bodies fail under the weight of such striving?  Our “what ifs” are often fear-laden attempts at drawing conclusions about the future based upon past experiences and/or present perceptions–not upon actual evidence.
God promises specifically to be with us in our sorrows and afflictions.
He will not spare us from the waters of sorrow and the fires of adversity, but he will go through them with us.
– Jerry Bridges, Trusting God
Show Me the Evidence
Ed Welch says, “Fear is an occasion to turn to Christ, to learn to trust him in new ways.” So when “what ifs” begin their relentless assault, how should we respond? The Apostle Peter invites us to humble ourselves before casting our "what ifs" to God:

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7 ESV)

With humility, we cry out to God through heartfelt prayer (Hosea 7:14) and submit to his plans for our future (Proverbs 19:21). We exchange our "what if" questions for "but God" assurances (Eph. 2:4-7). We trust the most important things in life are guaranteed: God’s promises have their “Yes!” in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). All the evidence we possess points to a beautiful inheritance on the horizon, with a heavenly Father who exhausted every resource imaginable for us to possess it (1 Peter 1:4).

Throughout the Scriptures, God soothes the fears of his frightened flock with tender invitations to his hospitality (Isaiah 43:2-3, Isaiah 55:1). He offers shelter to the weary and the worried (Psalm 91:4). Indeed, the loving kindness of the Lord showers the fearful in a delightful downpour of grace. His chosen people are a broken people by design (1 Corinthians 1:27). Only people who know the taste of humility can bend a knee to receive his help (James 4:6).

How gracious our Father is, to welcome us into his presence when we need his assurance most. Truly, the card we play against our doubts is our blood-bought citizenship in Heaven. Tim Keller writes, “The only person who dares wake up a king at 3:00 AM for a glass of water is a child. We have that kind of access.”
Providence can be a weary road, but we know it dead-ends at deliverance. 
Christ in the Flames
When Shadrach, Meshach, and Adednego refused to worship the golden image King Nebuchadnezzar set up, they humbled themselves to two important truths:

1.) Only God is able to secure our well-being (Daniel 3:17).
2.) Even if he doesn’t, he is still worthy of our worship (Daniel 3:18).

In the midst of life-threatening crisis, the men made predictions about their future based upon irrefutable evidence. Matthew Poole's Commentary explains:
They were endued with a strong faith in their God, not only as to his power, which was omnipotent and unlimited, but also as to his will, which readily inclined him to succour his servants in their distress, for his name’s sake, according to his promise and the saints’ experience in the like cases of extremity. [But] they did not presume to tie God to this deliverance absolutely, for God is arbitrary, and knows how to deliver, and sometimes to suffer his saints to glorify him by suffering.
With this posture, the men were tossed into the flames. What was initially their death sentence became one of the most astonishing illustrations of Christ’s shepherd-like protection recorded in the Bible (Daniel 3:24-25). The furnace was hot enough to kill the guards who threw them in (Daniel 3:22), yet Shadrach, Meshach, and Adednego walked out completely unscathed; not a blister on their skins or singed hair in their nostrils (Daniel 3:27). Why? Because God glorified himself through his protection in the fire instead of saving them from it.

"Look!" Nebuchadnezzar shouted. "I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!" (Daniel 3:25 NLV)

If you're struggling with fears and doubts in your recovery, remember your evidence. In Christ, you are guaranteed the Lord Almighty's presence in the furnace. Providence can be a weary road, but we know it dead-ends at deliverance. No fear or doubt you quiver from can boast omniscience or sovereignty. You have a high Priest who sympathizes with your suffering, steps into your afflictions, and intercedes through prayer on your behalf (Hebrews 4:15, Hebrews 7:25). Make the confident words of Robert M’Cheyne your own:

If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.

The evidence of our gospel identity and eternal security is irrefutable in Christ. Let us take courage as we face our recovery with all humility–for the Lord our God is with us always, especially in the fires of our fears.
You're Invited to Join the Fear to Freedom Blog Tour
Over the next 30 days, Alisa Nicaud from Flourishing Today is hosting a group of bloggers who have struggled with anxiety, fear, worry and doubt to share their message of overcoming.

The writers will be offering practical tips, personal testimonies, and free resources to help you overcome as well.
Christine M. Chappell
Christine Chappell is the author of Clean Home, Messy Heart, and is a guest contributor at Desiring God. She writes frequently about mental health topics at her blog, has completed biblical counseling certificates with the Institute for Biblical Counseling & Discipleship, and is currently pursuing certification with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.
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