So, I want to challenge you.
I want to put a different spin on a belief that has been floating around the Christian community regarding mental health. And here, in a nutshell, is that spin:
Mental health struggles are NOT due to a lack of faith.
Many of you have heard a pastor, teacher, or theological scholar say something like:
“If you struggle with ______, you just aren’t praying enough.”
“Your faith just isn’t big enough.”
“[Insert mental health condition] is just a form of atheism.”
Yep. I’ve heard this said.
And maybe you’ve bought into that idea. After all, you can probably even point to verses about not worrying. Not to mention, you were listening to an expert you trust and, I believe, has the very best intention to help you.
Well, just to clarify, I (Jon) want to help you…but I am no expert, so you don’t have to listen to me. I’m just an ordinary Christian like you–a person spending their life walking with, learning about, and growing closer to Jesus. And every day I spend on this earth seems to emphatically remind me,“You’re no expert…but you are loved, so don’t give up.” When it comes to the deep, unexplored intricacies of theology and unraveling the mysteries of God…I am no expert.
I do know a thing or two about mental health.
Twenty-nine years ago, I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2. Many people refer to it as manic depression. It’s a disorder that causes massive mood and behavioral swings referred to as mania and depression. Though the jury is out, there is a lot of evidence supporting the idea that it is a physiological (not JUST psychological) condition that affects neurotransmitters in the brain that control our moods and states of being.
Mania is an elevated state where one will make rash, impulsive decisions with very little thought of the consequences of one’s actions. I have experienced a few of these episodes in my life. They are terrifying. They are embarrassing. They are moments in my life I wish never happened. Maybe one day I will talk about them publicly, but…. probably not any time soon.
Depression is a state of darkness. That’s my definition, not a clinical one. I personally tend to stay away from the word “sad” when describing depression (though, from the outside, it can be perceived as deep sadness by onlookers). When trying to convey what my depression is like, I often say this:
If God is Love, and Hell is a complete absence of that Love…. then depression is like standing at the entrance of Hell and trying NOT to knock on its front door.
Dramatic? Yeah, maybe. But I think it effectively reflects that it is more than “being sad”. At least for me. It is a devastating experience that I hate and wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
There are things I do in order to prevent these episodes and/or manage their severity. I try to exercise, eat well, get a solid 8 hours of sleep at night as well as take part in regular therapy sessions with accredited psychologists and psychiatrists. I regularly take medication as well. Over the years, I’ve found a combination of these steps that have helped me manage this disorder. I’ve even learned how to “see” an episode coming before it gets worse. But, again, that’s after 29 years of living with it.
But I still get sick. Not only is it hard on me, but it is extremely hard on my family and those who love me. I can’t imagine how badly they want to “fix” it, take it away from me, and pray for a miracle of healing and deliverance. In fact, I know they do pray for it. I want them to. I know when I am well, I do, too.
See, despite all the things I do to prevent my depression from rearing its ugly head the ONLY thing I have to hold on to when I DO fall into that dark pit in my mind…is my faith.
I’ll be honest. When I am depressed, it’s not the strongest faith. Depending on the severity of the episode, I am barely able to even believe there IS a God sometimes. Especially a God who loves me. Because love, hope, my own self-worth…. they all seem so very far away.
But, by the grace of God, my faith does not COMPLETELY leave me. It’s still there. Like a tiny golden thread. I can barely hang on to it, but it’s there.
See, when everything else has failed…what little faith I can hold on to is…everything.
So, you can see why the statements that portray mental health conditions as a complete lack of faith are so devastating for me to hear. It is the remnant of faith, the very act of the love and hope of Jesus reaching into my darkness, that keeps me going. Trying to convince me that it isn’t real and “my faith is weak” when I am depressed removes the last hope I have. It negates the only thing I can hold on to.
Even though I believe it can, “having faith” doesn’t just manifest itself as total healing. Faith can also be the quiet strength that acknowledges the suffering of life and helps you walk through it.
I’ve written this and let you into my life a little to say this…if you are struggling, I urge you to take a step to find help, to NOT be ashamed, and to know you are valuable and loved.
Your mental health issues are NOT a manifestation of a lack of faith.
Let me say it again.
Your mental health issues are NOT, NOT, NOT due to a lack of faith.
Your faith is what can help you walk through the darkest moments when it seems all else has failed.
How Ministry Leaders Can Support Mental Health
If you would like to learn more about what mental illness is and how to foster mental health, check out thinkorange.com/mentalhealth/ to start learning from a variety of resources today!