Do you ever wonder why there are different "rules" about mental health in Christians than there are for the rest of the world? I do. We know, intellectually, that we don't have the chance to be perfect in this life, that there are no perfect people in the Bible and there are no perfect lives, anywhere on the planet. In fact, we are constantly bombarded with ugly thoughts, sinful thoughts, even homicidal thoughts. We have good days and bad days, angry days and elated days, we have grief and sorrow, as well as joy and peace. This is all normal, because we live in a fallen world with fallen emotions and fallen bodies. Everything has been affected including our mental health.
However, in our American Christian culture, while we can acknowledge those truths in theory, we often have different ideas about how life really should be. There are several lies that we have often bought into surrounding mental health. And I'd like to expose a few of them.
Lie: Some say that a Christian who struggles with depression, anger, or suicidal thoughts just needs to pray harder, or trust God more, or praise Him, or count their blessings. Now these are all fine things to do, things we should do, but I am hesitant to say that they are going to cure our problems. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do those things when you’re struggling with your emotions in any way. I've experienced depression laced with anxiety three different times in my adult life. During those times, I tried to pray but couldn't. I often wondered if there was a connection...Sometimes, I felt I was depressed because I couldn't pray, other times, I wondered if I couldn't pray because I was depressed. Either way, don't beat yourself up for not being "super-spiritual." These are times when you need others to minister to you - talk to friends and your church community or your counselor, and allow others to do the praying if you don't have the strength.
Lie: Some would say that Christians shouldn’t ever experience emotional problems, because we have “the joy of the Lord.” While we do have the most amazing HOPE, and the glory of Heaven awaits us, life on earth here is no picnic. Jesus himself said “In this world, you will have trouble.” And Paul writes, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame.” Glory in sufferings! (Rom 4:3-4) It just goes to show that we will suffer, in many ways, and that does not mean we do not have the joy of the Lord.
Lie: People get mental health problems because they sin. I think we need to look at this out of a different lens. When we make bad decisions, we usually have natural consequences that pour out of those decisions. Consequences can lead to angst, sadness, regret, grief, and much worse. However, to say that someone is given a disorder because of their sin is quite out of balance. That’s where we must learn to be wise, to pray about our decisions and action, to seek wise counsel.
Lie: Christianity isn’t messy. If you’re breathing, you’re messy in some way, shape or form. This does not preclude people who profess faith in Jesus. The TRAGEDY of the American church is the Community of the Unseen - the façades that we parade around wearing on our faces. Masks. When my mask meets another person’s mask, we have a lot of fake interaction that leaves us feeling empty, unknown, and alone. This may be the thing that makes me the saddest. Yes, sin is sad and troubles will come, but in the midst of it all, we NEED each other. We need someone to say to us, “How are you, really? I want to hear what’s going on in your heart – all of it.” We need to be welcomed, invited, into healing relationships.
I believe that this is the answer to mental health issues. As Christians, we have the answer. Allow me to share with you my most favorite quote ever, from my most favorite author and teacher, ever, Larry Crabb:
"When two people connect, when their beings intersect as closely as two bodies during intercourse, something is poured out of one and into the other that has the power to heal the soul of its deepest wounds and restore it to health. The one who receives experiences the joy of being healed. The one who gives knows the even greater joy of being used to heal. Something good is in the heart of each of God's children that is more powerful than everything bad. It's there, waiting to be released, to work its magic." (Connecting, xi)
Did you know that if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ there’s something good in your heart that is more powerful than everything bad? Did you know that God takes a willing soul and pours that goodness into another’s heart to heal it? But it doesn’t happen without genuine relationship.
Can we be vulnerable? Can we be real and raw?
I say that we can, and it’s because of the life of Christ in us.
I utterly agree with Larry when he says, "Damaged psyches aren’t the problem, disconnected souls are the problem." We CAN provide the nourishment for the disconnected soul through a community of connected people.
So where do these communities meet? Well, sometimes they can be hard to find, but they’re happening among the small groups that meet on college campuses and high school youth groups; they're happening in the churches across the nation and around the world. But sometimes they aren’t happening, and you have to go looking. A LOT of church takes place in my counseling office as I invite people to share their pain, their grief, and their darkness. A lot of community happens as we walk through seasons of life, sometimes years of life, with dear people who have found their connecting place within the four walls of my office building.
A connecting community doesn’t have to be a big group. It can be two or three, because we know that wherever two or more are gathered in His name, He is there among them. We don’t have to settle for false intimacy. We die with false intimacy. I didn’t find my own healing community until I was well into my 30's. And now I’m more grateful for that connection than I have words to express. The healing that has taken place there breaks off all the lies of the Enemy.
That's why you'll often hear me say, "We need each other." It's not just true for some. It's true for everyone. Don't suffer under the weight of masks and false strength. It's not worth it.