HOW ARE THE BELIEVERS IN YOUR FELLOWSHIP INFLUENCING CONVERSATIONS ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS?
- Mental health is the great mission field of the 21st century, and it is time the Church recognized its God-given role (Matthew S. Stanford)
- Mental health issues are not a symptom of a spiritual failing or insufficient faith; rather, suffering is the very thing our Savior seeks to heal as he leads us toward restoration (Ryan Casey Waller).
- The church is for the broken. A church without the broken is a broken church (Ed Stetzer).
- When the town is on fire, our house cannot be too far from the flames. When the plague is abroad, a man cannot be too far from its haunts. The further from a viper the better, and the further from worldly conformity the better (Charles Spurgeon)
- Loving people live in a loving world. Hostile people live in a hostile world. Same world (Wayne W. Dyer)
- God uses wilderness experiences to prepare His children–including Jesus–for his greater purpose and to work miracles inside our souls (Kayla Stoecklein).
- Those who were seen dancing were thought crazy by those who could not hear the music (Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche)
Text: Ephesians 4; 1b . . .live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. . . 14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.
Everyone who is under the Lordship of Christ, continually seeking the kingdom of God and its righteousness, is a missionary to this time in history. Like other missionaries, one must learn to listen to those to whom he/she is sent. The missionary and those to whom one is reaching may experience mental illness/disorder. The beliefs that one has regarding mental challenges influence how equipped one is to take the right steps and /or care for others. The subject of mental illness is difficult to address because of its complexity, its highly personal nature, and a label that carries stigma. Stigma because some mental illnesses have problems with thought and ability to reason and comprehend, resulting in actions and behaviour that can be shameful, embarrassing and hard to understand. What adds to the complexity is that mental illnesses cover a range of different disorders such as anxiety disorders, personality disorders, mood disorders such as bipolar where mood swings range from extremely high to extremely low, psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, and eating disorders among others. Moreover, there are demonic attacks that interfere with the way a person thinks, feels, the ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Not knowing what to do, a culture of silence, along with uninformed under the surface talks, causes those Christians affected by mental disorders or having relatives struggling, to suffer in silence, and shame, feeling blamed and unsupported. That behavior causes more hurt to an already difficult situation and one feels isolated, and alone in their struggle. To fail to be involved in the lives of those not able to make reasonable decisions because of their mental status is ungodly, unloving and uncaring. That is why silence and keeping distance may not be the best option. A conversation on mental challenges, though difficult, is necessary.
WHY A CONVERSATION ON MENTAL HEALTH BY CHRISTIANS SHOULD BE A NECESSITY.
Perpetuation of ignorance – It is a human tendency to fill in the gaps of what one does not understand negatively. To label mental illness as being caused by sin, disobedience or demonic attack, releases those not affected from any responsibility while leaving the sick and their caregivers wounded and desolate. The assumption is that if the sick learn to trust God more, their sickness will disappear. Somehow when it comes to other parts of the body getting diseased, the same rule is not applied. Awareness, loving care, medication and other lifestyle strategies are needed. Ignorance kills even people of the faith (Hosea 4:6). It is possible for Christians unintentionally to cause those with mental illness to feel shame. Shawn Johnson says that ‘there's this weird stigma with church where we talk about, learn about, and sing songs to Jesus, who gives us peace, joy, and freedom. But for many of us, there is a disconnect between what we are singing and what we are actually feeling. Because in the middle of our seasons of mental health struggles, peace, joy, and freedom are the furthest thing from what we are experiencing’. Whether ignorance is a result of unawareness or lack of searching for knowledge, it causes damage to the Christians witness. To speak about issues without having thought through leads people astray to be tossed to and fro by any surface beliefs. As a result Christians suffer in silence while the world is dismissing the Christian faith as not applicable to some situations.
The personal nature of the illness – To come to terms with the fact that one is struggling with mental health is itself a challenge. The organ that should inform a person that there is a problem is sick. Mental illness is a condition which causes a serious disorder in a person's behaviour or thinking. So as a way of coping, one seeks to ignore what seems as inward looking and introspective. One does not want to be found out and so hides. God cares for His people’s mental health. When Elijah, tired, worn out and stretched out, opened his heart to God (1 Kings 19:4-14), the angel was not only present with a meal for depressed Elijah but talked to him twice. If God cares for his servant, so should his people. Just as with conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and other chronic illnesses that require lifelong medication, so do some mental illnesses and so should be actively supported by believers.
Giving others permission to seek help– Allowing conversation about mental health enables one to be honest with their feelings and challenges. That gives others a chance to be helpful and to also share their experiences. Instead of leaving people to struggle in isolation, healthy conversation is an act of love. ‘There is a deeply profound connection between love and truth: you cannot have one without the other, if you ignore the truth or refuse even to consider what it may be, you may not only fail to love in that situation. You may even wind up causing great harm’ (Joe Campbell). Since there are Christians who believe that mental illness results from a lack of faith, persistent doubt, or ungodliness, a bible based conversation gives them courage to choose their action. The conversation is to encourage one another to know that the ways of God are not illogical, but they often defy the powers of logic, that is, they don’t strictly follow from human premises to human conclusions.
Important questions are addressed – The fact is that many people are affected by mental illness; either personally or through someone they love. There are questions that may have no yes and no answers; instead they provide opportunity for prayerful exploration as we seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness. Brad Hambrick in an article, http://www.mentalhealthministries.net/resources/articles/christian_perspective/Towards-a-Christian-Perspective-on-Mental-Illness.pdf, raises very important questions.
- Is mental illness a flaw in character or chemistry?
- How does the mind relate to the body? How do our emotions relate to our faith, etc.? He says that the modern psychological proverb, “The genes load the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger,” which means that genetic factors and environmental factors may not work on their own, but through an interactive way. Slight changes in one person's genes can cause them to respond differently to the same environmental exposure as another person. As a result, some people may develop mental ill disposition after being exposed to something in the environment while others may not.
- Might there be beliefs, and actions that predispose people to mental illnesses?
- What have you been taught about the connection between depression and sin?
The conversation of how to combine practical theology, clinical insights, and deep empathy in issues that relate to mental health could be very helpful. How does one deal with negative temperaments induced by chemical imbalance resulting from required medicine?
I had a close encounter with the pain added to an already suffering devout Christian’s family whose born again, devout son died out of an illness that caused mental disorientation. The church that the family had served with great devotion not only abandoned them, would not participate in the burial of the remains and had below the breath conversation that there was no heaven for such a person. It was such a paralyzing pain that has caused some of the family members to live with breeding wounds in regard to the church. Over two decades later, there has been no acknowledgement of anything that the believers did wrong, but fear of what will happen when a mental illness strikes, has been rampant. What is the relevance of the Christian faith, if there is no love of neighbor, mourning with those who are mourn?
We live in a fallen world; while friends may be well-equipped to provide fellowship, it is Christian love to know one’s limits and so seek necessary help. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains that Christians don't understand how physical, psychological, and spiritual realms interrelate because Satan muddies the boundaries. Many of our troubles are caused because we think a problem is spiritual when it is physical or we think a problem is physical when it is emotional or spiritual. Brad Hambrick argues that when complex questions are made simpler than they actually are, people are hurt. There is a need for humility to listen to one another. Mental illness is not a new phenomenon. ‘The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour’ (Charles Spurgeon). The conversations around mental health may communicate love and care necessary to provide opportunity to share Christ’s love with others. An appreciation of how truth as revealed in God’s word has to be balanced with grace. ‘Truth without grace is deadly, grace without truth leads to less than successful living as well’ (Henry Cloud). We share how God has provided a way of escape and so encourage others to hold on to their faith even when going through the dark night of the soul. Christians, who have the assurance of Christ’s presence through the journey of life, have a responsibility to be a leading voice in the conversation. When people are struggling with mental illness and are at times tempted to be angry with God, it is to those who know the sovereignty of God and know the nuances of his word that should be the safest place to come and be honest. Does your interaction with others provide safety for those wrestling with mental issues?
‘Medication will never make us healthier than our current choices allow. Our lifestyle is the “ceiling” for our mental health; we will never be sustainable happier than our beliefs and choices allow’ (Brad Hambrick)