Luke 10:29-35 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 In reply, Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
How can it be that after 8 years of being an “all-in” Christian that I still battle with depression and anxiety? I thought God was going to take it all away. I believed Him. I’ve pursued Him, I’ve studied His Word, I am in a relationship with Him.
Or am I?
The doubts, the inner-turmoil, the self-condemnation.
How could God love me when I still struggle so bad with sin and brokenness
Am I even a Christian at all
I’m told I’m a new creation
I’m told I’m adopted, forgiven, saved
I’m told the Armor of God will keep me safe and that I will never be tempted beyond what I can handle
I’m told that my name is written in the book of life, but how can that be.
I’m still so selfish, so sad, so lost, so alone, so empty, so fearful
On any given day over the last 8 years that was me, struggling to hang on. I put on a brave face to those around me, I even served in my church and preached the gospel and lead recovery groups.
But how can I give away something I clearly don’t possess myself. Do I even believe what I preach?
I see the pastoral staff squirm when I try and talk to them about this. At best I get prayer, at worst I get dismissed and avoided.
And I know I’m not alone.
It’s why recovery groups get delegated to the back rooms, it’s why head pastors are sheltered from the most hurting and instead seem to celebrate the most healthy from the congregation, putting spotlights on the flashy ministries that bolster the churches resume’ and bring in bigger tithes.
“You just need to pray more, read your bible more, you must have a little-g god”. So many well-meaning scriptures cited that somehow feel more damaging than helpful.
How do we approach mental health in the church?
The first step in any healing relationship is to first establish rapport. If we don’t know how much you care, we will never care how much you know.
As I see it the issue is 3-fold. Cognitive, Spiritual and Emotional.
Any approach that doesn’t take into account all 3 areas is like a one or two-legged stool, it can’t stand on its own and if you try and sit on it, you will fall and likely get hurt even greater than you were before.
That was my experience.
Cognitive – I love to study God’s word. I put on the armor daily, I am doing everything in my power to “renew my mind”. And I’ve done hundreds of hours of cognitive-based therapy to deal with past traumas – but alone it hasn’t been enough.
Spiritual – And Lord knows I’ve prayed, and I’ve been prayed over. I can spend an hour praying in tongues, I have received Deep-Inner Healing sessions. I cry every time I watch the passion of the Christ, I truly believe I am in a relationship and have experienced the love of Christ.
But somehow that too hasn’t been enough.
Emotional – The real problem as I see it; to admit that the Bible and Prayer don’t seem to be enough is to invite being treated as a blasphemer, it seems to threaten fellow Christians and especially pastors; they seemingly write you off as “really messed up”.
And Lord knows that is how it feels inside as well; as if nobody understands; not even the church. It is shaming, isolating and condemning.
And the devil just laughs.
Emotional Wellness is an entirely different beast that if minimized or worse attempted to be ignored, can erode even the strongest faith at the core.
And as with any problem, the first step in solving it is acknowledging it. You can’t move toward a destination without a brutally honest assessment of your starting point.
And if that starting place of brokenness, hopelessness, fear and unrelenting pain is shunned by those around you, especially the church, the true journey to wholeness and healing will rarely even get out of the starting gate.
So many churches are making a valiant effort at creating “safe spaces” by tackling harder subjects such as the pervasive influence of pornography and infidelity which destroys marriages at the same rate as non-Christians, but it is still addressed from the “stop sinning” perspective.
Yes, sin creates its own repercussions and pain, but the anger, depression, lust, fear, isolation, and so many other hurtful conditions are simply the visible blood from a very real wound.
Talking about the need to mop up the blood does nothing for the wound. To focus on the behavior is to miss the person who, just like Paul, finds themselves locked in a battle of “doing what they don’t want to do”.
As I find myself emerging out of those horrible years of self and public persecution I can see where even well-meaning Christians and pastors still missed the true point of the gospel.
John 3:17-21 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
People will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.
Jesus walked among the lepers, the good samaritan crossed the street to administer mercy and healing.
Until mental illness is decriminalized, there are few places someone hurting can go and be told it’s ok, they are not alone, and they are not freaks, not broken, not beyond healing, not beyond hope.
The Word of God was not meant to be a weapon, it is supposed to be the salve that heal.
Emotional healing takes something very different than wise words and prayer alone, it takes physical contact. It takes hugs, it takes compassion, it takes patience and understanding, it takes mercy.
Most often, especially in childhood trauma cases, the pain is stored in the body.
Have you ever seen an abused dog who was rescued yet still cowers in a corner afraid to be petted? No matter how much you may love that animal, it’s past memory tells it that hands coming towards it are not safe.
Healing comes through patience, understanding, compassion, grace, mercy, time, forgiveness, getting only as close as is allowed without expecting them to “get better faster” or worse expect they should just “get over it”.
1 Corinthians 13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Yes, it is very difficult when oftentimes the person dealing with so much internal confusion and pain does things that victimizes the people around them, especially those closest to them like friends and family; but to condemn them is to move away from the heart of Christ.
How is someone who is debilitated with emotional struggles supposed to stop self-condemning when the people around them don’t treat them with understanding and compassion?
And this isn’t to say there isn’t a dual responsibility. Most critical is that if you have given your heart to Christ and have been trusting Him for healing then know it is already done… we are just trying to figure out to live in the freedom that has been purchased for us.
Just because we don’t get it fully doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. Throw out self-doubt and self-condemnation, it doesn’t serve us.
And of course, prayer and being in the Word of God is a critical component to the renewal of our minds.
But, once finding a safe community, the person suffering must press in and stay committed to the process.
Get counseling that not only provides cognitive therapies to understand where the damaging beliefs and behaviors are coming from; but also addresses the body-stored reactions through more abstract approaches like NLP, Gestalt, EMDR, Art, Music or other “feelings” based connections with the body-trauma.
For me that last piece was the missing component. I had no idea that the “feeling” of anxiety had a life of its own that was separate from my mind or spirit, it was a stored response to social situations.
Just like a Pink Floyd record I had as a kid that skipped in the same place every time I played it. When I heard that same song on the radio it actually annoyed me because “it didn’t sound right”, even though that was the way it was meant to sound.
If a wounded person doesn’t know what normal feels like, we won’t like how normal feels. I had an ex-girlfriend who used to “put me on a pedestal” as I saw it.
The truth was she was just a very loving person and treated me like I’ve never been treated and I had nothing to reference it against, so I broke up with her thinking something was “wrong with her”.
It’s the same struggle I now realize I’ve had with God. How could He love me after all the bad things I’ve done.
Obviously, this topic goes so much deeper than a single blog post, but there are some very specific takeaways on my heart.
- If you have someone in your life who is suffering from any form of mental or emotional illness; compassion and the biblically accurate definition of love is the only thing that can reach him/her. If you can’t find a way to not take their behavior personally you may be part of their continued problem and not actually part of the solution, no matter how much you “think” you love them. If you continue to get angry or defensive over their “inability to get better” as fast as you’d like, then you may need to look inward at the expectations you place on the people around you. Love is messy. (trust me, this is a double-edged sword that cuts me too)
- If you are in the clergy; stop avoiding emotionally wounded people. Your best opportunity is to model how to love on the broken, not avoid out of your own emotional discomfort or feelings of powerlessness. Make time for a cup of coffee if asked, make eye contact, offer healing touch even if just in the form of a hands-on prayer, encourage, include, provide a prophetic vision of full healing, comfort, exhort, assure them they are not evil or beyond grace… delegation is often received as rejection. Just be honest, obviously you can’t spend dozens of hours with everyone but one single conversation to love on them and let them know what resources the church has for them can make life-changing connections.
- If you are the one suffering; you’ve got to develop self-love before any deep healing can begin to take place. You’ve got to know you aren’t alone, you are not beyond hope, you have not been forsaken, God isn’t ignoring you and the cross covers your sins, just as it says in God’s Word. Believe it, be where you are, ask for help and trust that God will finish what He has begun. Be aware that “being the best Christian you can” will actually cause more problems if it is coming from a place of trying to “earn love”. If you’re anything like me, there is no level of achievement that will ever be enough, choose to love who you are now, just as you are, just as Jesus chose to meet us all…
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Lord my prayer is simple, help us to see ourselves through Your eyes, and help us to have Your compassion when dealing with others. We just need more of You, and gratefully that is what you have promised us. We hear you knocking and we gladly invite You in to dine with us. In Jesus name, we pray…
Feel free to share your experience strength and hope with others in the comment section below.
And know that my passion and purpose is to help others discover who they truly are and what they are capable of… to reignite the dreams and passions that may have died out years ago.
If this is you, please don’t hesitate to reach out for a free life-coaching consultation; I’d be happy to connect with you. The link below will take you to my coaching website.