Let The Church Be The Church

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.

 

Ed Stetzer noted, We can talk about diabetes and Aunt Mable’s lumbago in church—those are seen as medical conditions, but mental illness–that’s somehow seen as a lack of faith.

 

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?

 

Let’s share our struggles instead pretending they don’t exist. Click To Tweet

 

God wants the body to care for the whole person.Click To Tweet

 

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.

 

God loves all of His children. He has a purpose for each and every one of us. Click To Tweet

 

Blessings,

Lisa

About Lisa

I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, author, coffee lover, and wife. My online community lisamurrayonline.com provides a compassionate place in the midst of the stresses and struggles of life. At heart, I am 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. I have fallen passionately in love with the journey and believe it is among the most beautiful gifts to embrace and celebrate. While I grew up in the Florida sunshine, I live with my husband just outside Nashville in Franklin, TN.


About Peace for a Lifetime

In my new book, Peace for a Lifetime, I share the keys to cultivating a life that’s deeply rooted, overflowing, and abundant, the fruit of which is peace. Through personal and professional experience as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve discovered how to take the broken pieces of life and find indestructible peace with herself, God and with others. Through my story and other’s stories you’ll realize that you can experience the life for which you long. You can experience abundance beyond anything you can imagine. You can experience peace, not just for today, not just for tomorrow. You can experience peace —for a lifetime!

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8 Comments

  1. Thank you for you post and your work. I thought you might be interested in this post I posted on Facebook. God bless you in your work. Harlan
    https://www.facebook.com/HarlanIsBassman/posts/1375423265821642

  2. Lisa, this is an issue that needs to be talked about more. We have dealt with a young adult friend who has mental illness and he really struggles to have people accept him where he is. I think if the church was more open to learning about these issues more could be done to help. And this is so good: “Let’s rejoice in our victories and grieve our relapses instead of judging them or quietly walking away.” May God help us do this wherever we are. Blessings to you! I’m a neighbor at #SittingAmongFriends.

    • lisamurray

      August 24, 2016 at 7:54 AM

      It is so difficult, Gayl! The challenges those struggling with mental illness face are overwhelming. We need to become more comfortable in walking with people through their issues rather than ignoring them or washing our hands of them. Blessings, friend!

  3. This is so spot on Lisa! My husband has bipolar 2 disorder and I try to talk about as commonly as I talk about the fact that he is diabetic, but most of the time people just look at me with a blank stare or avoid the conversation all together. It’s not that I blame them but I just don’t think we have the language for these discussions. Even I struggle to articulate what it’s like to be a family member of someone struggling with mental illness. Thank you for writing and encouraging the conversation. Visiting from my inbox and #sittingamongfriends 🙂

    • lisamurray

      September 6, 2016 at 9:24 AM

      I am so glad that you shared this, Angela! It is a struggle so common within the Christian community that prevents everyone from experiencing the understanding, the healing, and the compassion that the church should be well-versed in. Blessings to you and your husband on your journey! It is not easy, but the courage and strength to face these challenges is a true gift. 🙂

  4. Lisa, this is such an important message. Thank you for sharing it so beautifully. Sure, there are some mental/emotional “problems” that are a result of our own actions and attitudes. Real mental illness, however, is not a “problem,” it is a disease, and it is too often dismissed. Far more people than we realize have personal experience with it, and as you say, are very well equipped to help. Again, thank you for giving voice to this important topic!

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