Faith and Mental Health

Hi friends! I know it’s been a long time since I’ve written. Honestly, I got super excited about working from home as I saw an opportunity to write A LOT! However, as you can tell from my lack of posting, the exact opposite is what happened. I didn’t write at all. As a matter of fact, a lot of things changed for me with regards to practicing my faith, Bible study, reading, writing, and a whole lot of things I like to do. The major thing that happened is that I have had a major battle with depression over the last few months with regards to my profession and other life stresses. Then, on top of that, I had to walk away from my church back in July due to some ethical conflicts. The total impact of everything has made it quite difficult for me to find much enjoyment in anything that I like doing, that isn’t some form of escape (e.g. playing a bunch of video games). The good news is that I think I’m finally making some progress with my own well being, even if nothing has changed (as a matter of fact, a lot has gotten worse, but I’m more hopeful that I used to be).

One thing that I’ve been particularly disappointed with is that it seems the Church is ill-equipped to handle and/or care for mental health. In watching others struggle, I’ve seen them met with “You should just pray more,” “God doesn’t give you anything you cannot handle,” or other clichéd phrases. While I’m sure they have helped others in the past, this seems like a shallow way of using faith words to make it look like you care. Christians, all throughout history, have often cared about the physical well being of others, even to the point of putting their own lives at risk. Why hasn’t this been true of mental health? I wonder if this is a byproduct of modernity, where we often tried to put aside our emotions in order to figure out reality. The very concept of mental health is the recognition that our emotions matter.

I’m reminded of a story from Scripture. In John 11 we find the death of Jesus’ friend Lazarus. When Jesus arrives, four days have Lazarus had been entombed, we find Lazarus’ family and friends, understandably, distressed over his death. Lazarus’ sisters even lash out at Jesus, blaming him because he could have put an end to their brother’s sickness. The entire time, Jesus empathizes with those around him. When he is finally brought to the tomb we find the all important verse, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35, NASB). Jesus did not tell them to have more faith, before first engaging them in the emotional state he found them. He recognized their pain and even felt the fullness of death for himself. Yes, this story has a happy ending but it also teaches us how to love like Jesus.

Too often I have found the Church unwilling to meet people where they are. This is such an incredible disservice for those who are broken and suffering. Jesus taught us how to love like him; by connecting with those who are broken not by making sure we are taken care of. Maybe this is only a problem that I have experienced with the churches that I have experienced. Honestly, the majority of them have been older and failing. This could be a whole post on its own but, I have heard so often “we need to reach the young people,” while failing to make any effort to understand the young people in the room. We have to recognize that people who are completely physically healthy, but struggling with the stresses of life, whether it’s finances, relationship, work, etc, are just as in need as a person laying in a hospital bed.

Our mental health can hurt or help our faith. Those of us who suffer, and do not get the support they need from the Church, can end up blaming God for their suffering and fall further away. Those of us that spend time thinking about spiritual formation are very familiar with the “dark night of the soul,” a phrased coined by St John of the Cross. In a dark night, it is incredibly important to rely on your spiritual disciplines. However, the thing that is often missed is, even for St John, spirituality was not practiced in seclusion. There was still a need for community. We, brothers and sisters, so desperately need one another. Yes, COVID-19 has given us plenty of barriers in being able to connect with one another. Many of us are getting sick of social media, video chats, and staying at a distance from one another. But we have to push through it. We have to still care for our neighbors and each other from a distance. Life is never going to return to the way it once was. We are forever transformed by this, but the mission hasn’t changed. I know we can’t hug, but you can still call. I know that we can’t get together like we once did, but can we have open and honest discussion about Scripture through messaging or video chat apps? We must stop wanting to “get back to normal,” we need to figure out how to do things differently. We are losing people to struggles with mental illness and we, the Church, don’t care. I so desperately want to be seen and cared for. I’ve seen it in others who are struggling. What can we do to help each other now that we are all struggling with so much. Mental health may be invisible, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be seen. Reach out to people and help them realize it is alright to be open and honest with you. You might just be amazed to find how hurt people are. Support them and the Church just may grow from all of this.

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