First of all I need to clarify that I am not a medical professional, counselor, or even a Lenten expert. This post is in no way trying to convince you to go out and get on meds. It’s simply an outpouring of what God has shown me through my weakness and in my need for him…and for Xanax.
I went to my doctor sometime during Lent this past year. I told her how much I have struggled with anxiety my entire life. I told her about how exhaustion exasperates my anxiety and during very stressful times I tend to spiral out of control. Or at least what feels out of control to me. I told her about the depression that comes; the demon that waits for me at the end of the paralyzing tunnel of fear I live in. I told her how my mind never stops. Like never. Like, I end up watching TV all night long to numb my racing thoughts.
Then I told her that I have four kids. She chuckled as if everything started to make sense when I said that. With a compassionate smile she proceeded to tell me that she would like to write me a prescription for an anti-anxiety drug called Xanax. We talked about how it has taken me 40 years to come to terms with the fact that this isn’t going away. We talked about how I have been counseled over the years, and we discussed how some of my closest friends are counselors and how much they help keep me sane. We talked about how I needed physical and emotional rest. And though I did not mention it, I knew in my heart that I needed spiritual rest as well—rest from the false guilt and condemnation that my mind tricks me into believing.
I have always thought that meds are only for the weak. I have believed that it was sin to rely on medication or anything other than the Lord for emotional health. I believed that if the person considering meds would just try harder to do what God was asking of them, pray harder, read their Bible more, if everything was right in their spiritual life, then they certainly wouldn’t need such a crutch. After all Christians are supposed to be strong so we can show the rest of the world a better way, right?
The life of a believer is a life of weakness. Using medication may actually increase one’s ability to trust more fully in the Lord. I know this now only because I have crashed and burned 10,000 times over in my attempt to fix myself by myself.
So what does lent have to do with any of this? First, you must know that I know very little about Lent. I am a member of a non-denominational community church with a reformed Baptist pastor who quotes Martin Luther. So…I guess I’m a bit of a mixed bag. There is no official church calendar, daily lectionary or the likes to follow. Just a church preaching Christ crucified. My only exposure to Lent was through the Lutheran school that our kids attended for a number of years. And even then, the only inquiry I ever made about it was when my kids came home and told me that they weren’t allowed to say “hallelujah” at school anymore. What the?!
I have quite a few Lutheran and Anglican friends who talk about, write about, preach about Lent and every year I ignore it. For this non-liturgical girl who has an allergic reaction to anything that she might perceive as religious, I’ve just thought of it as something that the church was telling me I needed to do. In some cases this is true, but the true meaning of Lent is so much more.
The day my doctor prescribed Xanax for me felt like death. It was humiliating to reveal my emotional weakness and ask a stranger for help. Later that day I listened to a sermon by my Anglican friend, Curt Benham. (You can listen here.) All I could say was “Wow.” There I sat, folding laundry, shaking my head in amazement at what the Lord was saying to me through his sermon on Lent.
He said the following things:
“Lent is the season of giving up. Not giving up this or that food or activity but about coming to terms with the fact that I am not in control of anything.”
“It’s a season to stop learning how to look to ourselves to get better and about looking to Christ to save us.”
“Lent is about learning to die until we are dead. It’s a season of honesty. A season of weakness, not strength.”
Death is about realizing how very little control we have over our lives. It’s about the realization that we can’t do it on our own anymore. It is a desperation. A crying out for Christ’s strength. This is the Christian life. This is the way of the cross.
So how did my taking Xanax for Lent make any sense? After all Lent is about giving up not adding something new. But that’s the point. Every morning when I go to the medicine cabinet and take that tiny white pill, I am giving up. I am dying a death to myself, a death to believing that I can do this in my own strength, and picking up the cross of Christ.
It’s not about giving up on life. I’ve been there and I can tell you that there is an incredible amount of selfishness and self-reliance in that. I’m talking about giving up on believing that my righteousness depends on my emotional health. That my strength is defined by what I do or do not put in my mouth. It is a dying to self, not in a work hard to deny myself sort of way, but in a humiliating, sickening, it-hurts-so-bad-not-to-be-able-to-do-things-my-way way. It’s a picking up my cross and following Jesus because that’s my only hope.
“Taking up your cross is doing nothing in the midst of that which will kill you other than trust in your savior. It’s a white flag of surrender, a learning to stop trying to fix all your problems.”
And so, I took up Xanax for Lent this year as a death to myself and new life in Christ. And as Curt said, “Death is something we can live with. It’s the dying that’s so hard.”