TIME Religion

Christianity Can’t Replace My Zoloft

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

I have been taking Zoloft (anti-depressant) for four years. I began taking it during my freshman year in college because I had been suffering from severe panic attacks for about five years and they were beginning to severely interfere with my ability to function in school. Before I became a Christian at the age of twelve, I suffered from severe anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. When I came to Jesus, I was told that I would be healed and finally find joy and lasting peace.

For the first few months it worked. I didn’t have any panic attacks, my suicidal thoughts went away, and my depression vanished. It was a miracle! But slowly, as the new-Christian buzz wore off, my struggles began to reemerge. I would suffer regular panic attacks almost every day and would experience severe bouts of depression. When this began to happen, I was sure that I was doing something wrong. Jesus was, after all, the Prince of Peace. I was told that if I would just cast my anxieties at the “foot of the cross” then I would be released from the burdens that weighed so heavily on me. I so desperately wanted the formula that I had been taught to work- read my Bible, pray everyday, and go to church and all will be well. But the problem was nothing I was doing was working. In fact, it was causing me more anxiety and depression. I hung crosses around my room, only listened to Christian music, and would never lay down in bed to sleep unless I had spent time reading my Bible. When nothing worked, I began to suppress and hide my struggle. I was, after all, one of the leaders in my Youth Group. I wanted to be a Pastor. I had to have it all together.

This struggle has plagued me for years. The fact that my depression and anxiety didn’t go away when Jesus “came into my heart” and the reality that I had to be medicated to live a normal life made me feel like a second-class Christian. I have been told multiple times that God doesn’t want me on depression medications. I have been told that the root issue of this all is my sinfulness and the Jesus would heal me when I dealt with my depravity. But as I have grown in my faith and studied more about psychology and theology, I have finally come to a realization that has been liberating for me:

Jesus isn’t going to take away my Zoloft and none of us will ever find lasting satisfaction in life.

Now I know that this may sound pretty cynical and well…depressing. But in the words of philosopher Peter Rollins, “I am not making you depressed, I am just telling you that you already are depressed and just don’t know it.” Just think. What if Jesus didn’t come to make us happy? What if his message and mission has less to do with improving our “quality of life” and more to do with equipping us with ways to cope and live within our various neuroses?

What if “becoming a Christian” doesn’t actually psychologically change us in any real way and that “Sanctification” is really about living and loving in the midst of our brokenness? What if the cross isn’t there to offer us satisfaction but rather to show us love amplified in suffering?

For far too long, Evangelicals have preached a Gospel that says if you come to Jesus that you will find shalom, satisfaction, health, wholeness, rightness, certainty, a foundation, clarity, abundance, and direction. This message doesn’t belong to the “Prosperity” churches, but also to the neo-reformed, the mainstream, and the progressive Evangelical communities. We have promoted a Gospel that says peace and wholeness can be yours today, when in fact, they cant. We have said that “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him” when the reality is “God is most glorified in our reliance on him in the midst of our brokenness, dysfunction, and lack of satisfaction.” There isn’t a single human being on earth who has “perfect peace” or “total wholeness”. And maybe that’s a good thing.

Everyone is searching for meaning and satisfaction and no one has ever found it. Not even in Jesus. Because that’s not the point. Throughout the Bible the narrative of Exile is found in almost every story. The reality that we have not arrived at home and that we are, in fact, wandering aimlessly in the wilderness. We all are hoping for the Promised Land. We even get to taste glimpses of it- in our manna from heaven, water from the rock, and seeing it from a distance like Moses. In our wandering, we see glimpses of God to remind us that we are not alone and that there is more than this. The pillar of fire by night and the cloud of smoke by day. God is guiding us. But the reality still exists- we are not satisfied. We aren’t in the Promised Land. We are still dry, thirsty, and lost. I’m still depressed. You still have you’re struggles. None of us are “Whole”. None of us are “satisfied”. But very few of us are humble enough (or free enough) to admit it.

The truth is, I will probably always need my Zoloft.

No, I am not “limiting God’s ability to heal me”, but rather am admitting that maybe “healing” would be the worst thing God could do. As Christians, we have over-realized our eschatology. We believe that the full benefits of salvation are meant to be experienced today. But that’s not true.

The Christian life and indeed, the human life, is one of sojourning and traveling through brokenness and pain. It’s one of struggling and failed expectations that are occasionally interrupted by a glimpse of “the Kingdom”. We all live for those moments of joy, peace, and fulfillment. Whether that is the embrace of our lover, the satisfaction of a job well done, our the moment of peace we experience in worship. But the embrace ends. Another job comes along. And the worship experience will pass. And the fallenness of this world will become our reality once again. It’s in this fallenness that God is most present. It’s in this suffering that our longing and motivation to work for the Kingdom of God is fueled. It’s in this brokenness that faith becomes essential- we must hope for a better day. And it’s that hope that quenches our soul in the desert of life. The hope that we will one day be united with God and neighbor. The hope for no more fears, tears, or suffering. The hope of lasting satisfaction. But until then, I’m going to take my Zoloft. You’re not going to be satisfied. Life is going to be hard. We all will continue wandering. But take heart- Jesus wanders with us. And maybe its time that we start to admit that. Live into that. And embrace that. Because that’s Good News.

Brandan Robertson is the host of the Project:Awaken Podcast and the director of an action-oriented social justice initiative called Revangelicals for a Better Tomorrow.

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