How Can I Counsel Those with Anxiety, Loneliness, or Depression?

Article
05.15.2020

For more resources related to COVID-19, visit our new site: COVID-19 & The Church. For a conversation on this subject, check out Episode 8 of Pastoring in a Pandemic—Struggling Members & Struggling Marriages: Biblical Counseling During Quarantine (with Jeremy Pierre).

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During this pandemic, many people are struggling with anxiety, loneliness, or depression—sometimes a heavy mix of all three. How can we help?

1. Ask God for help. In God’s economy, the helpers always need help, because every shepherd is also a sheep. A ropeless bucket, like a prayerless pastor, won’t offer fresh well water for long. So we should ask for cleansing, for mercy, for wisdom, for words (Matt. 6:12; Eph. 4:29; Heb. 4:16; Jas. 1:5). God will keep the valves open on his supply line of grace, and we’ll have what we need to help others (Jas. 4:6).

2. Pursue the heart. “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Prov. 20:5). Consider two types of questions. Water skiing stays on the surface but covers lots of ground: How are you doing? How long have you felt this way? How are you eating, sleeping, exercising? Scuba diving goes deeper and explores one area in-depth: When do you feel most anxious? How intense is it? Triggers? Themes? Together, water skiing and scuba diving will show you the dimensions and depths of your friend’s struggle. Meanwhile, for your hurting friend, the sheer act of sharing with a caring believer will transfer some of their burden onto another part of Christ’s body, like shifting your weight when you’ve been standing for too long.

3. Normalize the struggle. Anxiety, loneliness, and depression quickly become overwhelming, like there’s no way out. A wise friend will normalize the struggle without minimizing the pain. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man,” Paul says, normalizing our struggles. But he doesn’t minimize the challenge: we still need a “way of escape” so we can “endure” with God’s strength (1 Cor. 10:13).

4. Share hope and help. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Prov. 13:12). No one endures or grows without hope. Here’s hope: when we’re anxious, God’s in control; in weakness, God is strong; in loneliness, God is present; when life is hard, God remains good. At the same time, words of hope without practical help can be like clouds without rain over dry fields. Even the best gospel promises morph into platitudes when administered poorly. So offer nuanced help, too: Go for walks. Develop a routine. Connect with a prayer partner. Find a resonant psalm to pray on repeat. Journal your reflections about Scripture. Play gospel-rich music. Ultimately, help people live one day at a time, looking to God for manna each morning and mercies like the dew.

At the end of the day, ministry isn’t like mowing the lawn. You can’t stand on the porch after an hour of work and look at a finished job with seventh-day satisfaction. Instead, we rest in what Christ has already done for us and our churches, and what his Spirit promises to finish. The ultimate answer to anxiety, loneliness, and depression isn’t a pill or a program or even a pastor. It’s God in three persons: our Father, who cares enough to carry the full weight of our cares (1 Pet. 5:7); his Son, ready with timely mercies for each moment of our need (Heb. 4:14–16); and his Spirit, who walks with us step by step, turning the wasteland of a worried mind into an orchard of spiritual fruit (Gal. 5:22–23).

By:
Gunner Gundersen

David ‘Gunner’ Gundersen is a pastor at BridgePoint Bible Church in Houston.