Let the Church be the Church
- Lisa Murray lisamurrayonline.com
- 2017 17 May
An Open Letter To The Christian Community About Serving Those With Mental Illness
He came to live with us after a brief stay at a local psychiatric hospital. He needed a safe place to regroup and regain some semblance of stability. Over many months, his life had come haltingly unraveled and his hospital visit was the beginning of a new life with a new diagnosis.
His journey was a daunting one. The courage he displayed in facing his mental illness and finding his way back from the chaos to build a life of stability and hope was nothing short of inspirational. My heart aches to witness these beautiful, brave human beings fighting such a fierce and lonely battle.
Yet for many families dealing with mental illness within the Christian community, finding any kind of support or spiritual guidance can be challenging. Though I have been blessed to attend an incredibly strong and supportive church, according to Lifeway Research, most Protestant senior pastors (66 percent) seldom speak to their congregation about mental illness.
It is often common practice in churches to treat mental illness differently than other illnesses. Somehow we immediately assume there is something else, some deeper spiritual struggle causing the mental and emotional strain.
Maybe there is. But maybe there isn’t. We don’t automatically assume that someone with cancer is in sin or needs to be freed from a satanic attack. Why then do we label or minimize the legitimacy of mental illness?
LifeWay Research recently conducted a study on mental illness within the church and found that a third of Americans—and nearly half of evangelical, fundamentalist, or born-again Christians—believe prayer and Bible study alone can overcome serious mental illness. There are more than a few anecdotal stories from individuals in the church body who have been discouraged from taking psychotropic medications, some even being shamed for it, suggesting that seeking help for mental disorders represents spiritual weakness.
These teachings are disheartening because they prevent people from getting the help they desperately need. They also prevent the church from being what they were designed to be —the church.
What the church needs to come to terms with and understand is that mental illness is not just a spiritual condition or weakness. These are real disorders with both biological and environmental causes. Those suffering shouldn’t be told to have more faith, to “get into the Word,” or to pray more. We would never say those kinds of things to those dealing with cancer, heart disease, or diabetes.
What those dealing with mental illness need most from the church is for us to be the hands and feet of Christ, ministering compassion, love and truth to a hurting world in need.
In Matthew 11:29 (NIV) Jesus says, Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Jesus tells us that He is gentle and humble in heart. If we are to be His hands and feet, perhaps Jesus intends that we the church become gentle and humble in dealing with the mentally ill. He doesn’t intend for those in the body to add a heavier burden, but for us to be a safe refuge where the wounded and weary among us can find compassion and grace to strengthen them on their journey.
The church is well equipped to meet the needs of people in every kind of crisis. We are the first to arrive on the front lines of any disaster or war and the last to leave communities rebuilding after a crisis. We are generous beyond measure in our giving to individuals, organizations, and causes that routinely serve those in need. We know how to use the power of prayer to unleash the forces of heaven over any illness, relationship crisis, wayward child, or financial distress. We know how to care for people.
What would happen to those suffering from depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, or a host of other mental disorders if the body of Christ were to simply do the things we already know how to do so well?
We don’t have to cure those struggling with mental health issues. We shouldn’t feel compelled to fix them. Yet we can surely pray for them. We can walk with them. We can offer a meal, a ride, a cup of coffee, or a listening ear to them. Maybe we could babysit for them while they are at their counseling appointments. We in the church body could even begin a conversation about mental health needs that have been hidden in the shadows for far too long.
Churches need to become places where people feel welcomed to talk about their mental health. God wants the body to care for the whole person, and our emotional/mental struggles are such a huge part of our individual and collective journeys. Let’s share our struggles instead pretending they don’t exist. Let’s rejoice in our victories and grieve our relapses instead of judging them or quietly walking away. More than anything, let’s do this journey together. Isn’t that what we all need – to live and love, to serve and save, to rescue and reclaim our hearts together?
God loves all of His children. He has a purpose for each and every one. We should never need those who struggle with mental disorders to get “right,” so they can be used by God. Perhaps God wants to use them right where they are to teach us about perseverance, about courage, about faith. We would do well to learn and to listen.
Lisa Murray is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, author, coffee lover, and wife. Her hope is to provide a compassionate place in the midst of the stresses and struggles of life.At heart, she is just a Southern girl who loves beautiful things, whether it is the beauty of words found in a deeply moving story, the beauty of a meal cooked with love, the beauty of a cup of coffee with a friend, or the beauty seen in far away landscapes and cultures. She has fallen passionately in love with the journey and believe it is among the most beautiful gifts to embrace and celebrate. While she grew up in the Florida sunshine, she now live just outside Nashville in Franklin, TN with her husband and Shih-tzu, Sophie. Connect with Lisa on Facebook: Lisa Murray and Twitter: @_Lisa_Murray!
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Image courtesy: ©Thinkstock/BrianAJackson
Publication date: May 17, 2017