Nobody likes to talk about this, but here goes. Mental illness. Few churches are prepared to deal with it. Even worse, many pastors won’t even mention it. That’s a shame, actually, since it only contributes to the culture of stigma and silence surrounding this subject.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four Americans suffers from some kind of mental illness. Let that statistic sink in for a moment. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there’s pain in every pew. When it comes to conditions like significant depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder, rates are highest among those living below the poverty line. One in 15 American adults experiences social anxiety disorder – a condition resulting in significant fear and distress in situations where their words or actions may be exposed to the scrutiny of others. And 21.4 percent of 13- to 18-year-olds will experience a severe mental disorder at some point during their lifetime.
Heartbreaking as those stats are, friends, we must not run from mental health challenges. Remember: we’ve been called by Christ to nurture body, soul, and mind. Mental health and spiritual health are interwoven, whether we like it or not. God cares about suffering, and He has called us to minister to the suffering.
Please hear me out on this: sometimes psychiatric symptoms are exacerbated by sin, but many times psychiatric symptoms are not the result of personal sin. Please read that sentence again. All illness is ultimately linked to the problem of sin, of course, but we need to make every effort to destigmatize mental illness so that we can love our neighbors as we have been loved.
All of us walk through valleys of depressed feelings or occasional anxieties, but some of our sisters and brothers are struggling daily with mental health issues of an intense and crippling nature. The great British preacher, Charles Spurgeon (1834 – 1892), said it like this: “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.” Even as I write this blog posting, I feel the weight of Spurgeon’s words. They were true then, and they are true now. They have always been true.
In the wake of the suicide of Jarrid Wilson – a bright, up-and-coming, evangelical pastor known for his outspoken passion for Christ followers struggling with depression – how can we “be there” for each other for such a time as this?
We can help everyone build a network of friends. This is one of the goals of our new philosophy for Life Groups, because discipleship is so much more than simply disseminating Biblical information. It is the life of Christ shared person-to-person. We’re in it together, and we need to make sure that everybody’s in.
We can show each other patience. We’re all going to test each other’s nerves from time to time. And people who are seriously struggling with life can demand an inordinate amount of attention. We’ll have to go back again and again to that deep well of Christ’s Spirit, trusting our Lord to restore our own soul – so that we’ll have something of eternal value to give away (when we would otherwise just be frustrated).
We can listen attentively. That is real love, and that is real friendship. That is the climate for real life transformation, which usually begins with the simple acknowledgment that “something isn’t right, and I need help.”
We can love our neighbor. As I asked Sunday: “Who is my neighbor?” And as I answered Sunday: “Anybody who needs me.” I’m so glad that Jesus made this point abundantly clear in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We’re all going to be up, and we’re all going to be down. When we’re up, the privilege is ours to do everything we can to lift up others.
We can assist people in finding appropriate medical and professional help. That goes a long way toward the needed destigmatization. That goes a long way toward undoing erroneous views of sin. That goes a long way toward being the hands and feet of Christ in this hurting world – and among this hurting generation.
We can identify with the sufferings of Christ. People who suffer mentally sometimes experience the heart of Jesus in ways unknown to those who do not. All human suffering can be fertile ground for resilient Christian character, and for unexplainable Christian hope.
We can celebrate the gospel! He who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead is still in the business of transforming tragedies into triumphs! Even in our darkest trials, WE ARE NOT ALONE! No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37-39).
Friends, if you need help, please call on me. If I can’t help, I will make every effort to get you the resources that you need. There is no shame in seeking help. We are all human, and we are all susceptible to the ailments which plague this fallen planet. Our desire is for First Baptist Paducah to be the No-Shame Zone.
We, like the Apostle Paul, may have to wrestle with a thorn in our side which does not abate. Perhaps this will come in the form of mental illness, in our life – or in the life of someone we dearly love. Regardless, Beloved of God, our comfort from Christ remains unwavering: “My grace is sufficient.”