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Finding God's Joy When You're Battling Mental Illness

  • Ryan Duncan
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  • 2017 May 09
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I must confess that I get nervous whenever writing about mental illness. In this country alone, thousands of people suffer some form of mental illness, and to be perfectly frank, we Christians have done an appalling job of helping them. I got to see this for myself a few years ago, when my Bible study decided to run a series of videos on anxiety by a popular pastor. The lessons were fairly straightforward. Mostly they consisted of the speaker delivering familiar clichés like, “give your anxiety to God” and “Remember to rejoice in the Lord”. As the evening went on though, one of our members grew more and more agitated.

Suddenly, he exploded in anger.

“That’s not what anxiety is like!” he fumed, “Real anxiety can last for days! It leaves you feeling like you can’t breathe, like your body is literally trying to self-destruct! And depression? You don’t get rid of depression by praying, believe me I’ve tried!”

The entire room went silent. Our friend’s outburst, coupled with his own testimony concerning mental illness, revealed how little we understood about the subject. How often do people walk into church on Sunday, laboring under some mental weight, only to be served prayer and platitudes by a smiling crowd? How do we, as believers, share a message of good news when someone is battling Schizophrenia or Bipolar disorder?

Perhaps the first step is to stop talking and start listening. Over at Relevant Magazine, Alie Bernard has shared some of her experiences living with mental illness and what Christians can do to help. Looking over the gospel, Bernard reminds her readers that Christ’s message isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. God promises that there will be pain, there will be mourning, and it’s important for Christians to acknowledge these moments are real. Sometimes we don’t need a spiritual solution. Sometimes all we need is someone to share our tears. She writes,

“Maybe the Lord encourages us not shove those ‘scary’ emotions down, only for them to come back stronger and more uncontrollable. Maybe He wants us to feel those big feelings and trust that He will not allow them to overtake, crush or destroy us. Maybe we are aching with the pains of what is going to be birthed within our very hearts. Maybe crying yourself to sleep tonight is a sign of holy worship of trust that you are suffering but you know He will not forsake you.”

“Sometimes following Jesus doesn’t mean picking flowers, smiling ear to ear and dancing from joy. Sometimes it means that you are walking through the valley of death, you are in the desert for 40 days or you are being tempted beyond what you can handle, but with your red eyes, tear-stained cheeks and aching bones, and you raise your head to the sky and say, ‘Lord, Your kingdom come, Your will be done. I trust You and I may not be OK right now, but this also isn’t where the story ends.’”

Christians are in a unique position to help those who struggle with mental illness, but first we must accept the gravity of what we face. This means putting aside our preconceptions and learning to separate myth from reality. If you know someone with a mental illness, talk with them and learn from their experiences. Pray with them, but also investigate medical options so you’re better informed about their struggles. There will be moments when we find ourselves walking through the valley of the shadow of death, but Christ has promised us the story does not end there. No matter how dark the night gets, we can remind one another that joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30).

What about you? What are your thoughts on mental illness and the church? Be sure to leave a comment in the space below!

*Ryan Duncan is an Editor for Crosswalk.com

(Image Credit:©ThinkstockProfessor25)

**Published 5/9/2017