Battling fear, depression, or anxiety can sometimes feel like being trapped in your own head with no way out. As hard as you try to push them away, the intrusive thoughts seem impossible to escape. I’ve been there, and maybe you have too. Nobody chooses to have OCD or a panic disorder, yet these and other mental health issues can cause sufferers to experience feelings of shame and guilt, easily believing they haven’t tried hard enough to “fix the problem.”
It’s not unusual for a well-meaning person to say, “You just need to choose joy!” or “All you need is a positive mindset.” When it comes from someone who hasn’t walked a similar path, such suggestions can feel insensitive, and sometimes even come across as accusation or judgment, despite the person’s good intentions. Most of us who have battled fear or anxiety have tried any number of ways to find healing, so just choosing to “be happy” probably isn’t a viable solution.
If you’re a Christian, someone has likely pointed you to Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Maybe it’s a verse you cling to with every fiber of your being, working toward transformation with all your might.
For years, I worked diligently to renew my mind. I read all the “right” books and tried all sorts of methods for “taking every thought captive” (2 Cor. 10:5). I proclaimed scripture over myself, and I claimed victory over anxiety in the name of Jesus. When nothing seemed to change, I blamed myself for what I saw as my inability to step out of fear and anxiety. I knew I wasn’t living the life God had for me, and I desperately wanted to be free.
Be honest—have you also been led to believe that renewing your mind is your responsibility, something you need to “get right?” Have you been hard on yourself when you haven’t seen the change you’d hoped for? Have you wondered what you’re doing wrong?
Through my experience of healing from debilitating anxiety, I’ve come to realize that we need to understand Romans 12:2 differently. Here’s the truth. You can’t renew your own mind, but you can certainly exhaust yourself trying. So what does that verse actually mean?
First, I want to point out what it does not say. It DOES NOT say, “Transform yourself by renewing your mind.” Rather it tells us to BE transformed. It helps to understand the original Greek verb used here. Metamorphousthe is a present passive imperative verb that comes from the root morphóō, meaning to form or fashion. In other words, it is a command to allow yourself to be transfigured or to undergo ongoing metamorphosis. Let me say this again—the verb is passive. So who does the transforming? GOD!
Think of the stages a caterpillar goes through to become a butterfly. The entire transformation happens while the caterpillar is encased inside a chrysalis. While hidden away, it literally dissolves and becomes something new. The caterpillar is not striving to produce this change. It simply surrenders to a process.
We are being transformed by a process of renewal. We are not in charge of the transformation, nor are we in charge of the renewal.
The word renewing in this passage (anakainōsei) is a noun. It is not an action that we take. It is a thing that is being done to us. As Strong’s Concordance puts it, “a renewal or change of heart and life.” I love this definition because it brings to light something we often don’t think about when we read this verse—the heart.
The process of complete transformation and renewal of our minds actually begins within our hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit. His instrument for change is the substance of his love. Our part in the process is to surrender to that love.
The fact that transformation is passive doesn’t mean God doesn’t involve us in the process. Philippians 4:8 tells us, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” This is always good advice, and stubborn negativity can really stand in the way of healing.
Certainly, we can make helpful choices, like practicing gratitude (a known dopamine and serotonin booster) or taking a break to enjoy nature or the company of a friend. We can also steer clear of making unhealthy choices. Think about what happens when you go searching the internet for a medical diagnosis. That kind of rabbit hole rarely leads to peace or assurance and is best to be avoided. So our choices do matter, but we are not the ones who effect change.
But if we can’t actually renew our minds, how can we experience freedom?
All my attempts to renew my own mind through proclamations, declarations, and positivity left me feeling like a failure, but as I began to surrender more of my heart to God, something began to shift.
I can best describe it as realizing I had a faulty foundation. My heart had wounds of which I wasn’t even aware, and those wounds were impacting my thought life, my beliefs about God, and my beliefs about myself. They were like cracks in my heart foundation causing God’s love to continually seep away. But as I surrendered to God’s love and allowed him to reveal and heal those wounds, my foundation became more solid and I could retain more of his love.
Over time, that love began to have an overflow effect. If you picture the cracks in your heart foundation being filled with love, you can imagine that eventually all that love will reach the surface and spill over. That’s when we truly notice the change. For me, it felt like a complete system reboot. As what I received in my heart overflowed to my mind, my perspective changed and the fear departed. The entire landscape of my mind was transformed. Anxiety and fear were exchanged for a river of peace and joy welling up from the foundation of my heart.
Today when I experience fear, it looks different. It no longer consumes me. During a recent health scare with my son, I noticed the fear starting to grow, but the healing work God had done gave me a firm place to stand. I was able to identify the fear and much more easily surrender it to God. Instead of slipping into panic, which had once been common for me, I was able to hear God’s gentle words of peace and trust that he was with me.
Beloved, God doesn’t want you to be a slave to fear, depression, or anxiety. But he also does not blame you for feeling stuck or perhaps even incapacitated. He knows exactly what hurts have led you to this place, and he also knows the way out.
If you’re exhausted from fighting fear, anxiety, or depression, join me in a prayer of surrender today…
Father, I come to you today with a heavy burden.
I can’t fight this fight anymore, and I need your help.
Today, I choose to surrender the battle to you.
I invite you to come into my heart and touch the broken places, both known and unknown.
Come into the hidden places with your light. Take what needs to be removed, and fill me with more of your love.
Allow the overflow of your love to renew my mind and transform my life.
As your Spirit leads me into rest, restore me to wholeness as only you can do.
Thank you for loving me right now.