May is Mental Health Awareness Month. And let me tell you, that has taken on a brand new meaning for my family in the last year. I won’t rob her of the opportunity to share her own story, but my little sister, Emma, has had a testing bout with mental health over the course of the last year or so. Check our her very own blog where she chronicles her journey over at Mentally Ill Christianity.
Mental health is a big deal to my family now. It’s always been a general big deal, and I think it is for most people. What is often the case, though, is that people don’t know how to handle it. Lots of people don’t know how to handle mental health for themselves, let alone for other people. This has been the story for my family learning to love and support Emma. We aren’t her, so we can’t understand what she feels like. We also can’t baby her and allow her to wallow in self pity. It takes a really unique and complex understanding of how to help her deal with her demons. Mental health is our new fight. But can that be said of other Christians more generally?
Mental health has been exploited by some for its ability to draw attention to people. Mental health issues have been glamorized, even championed by some as a positive thing. Battling any sort of depression, anxiety, or suicidal tendency is definitely not a positive experience in its own right. Most people, I would posit, are not prepared to deal with the various mental health crises they can face in a lifetime. The conversations on mental health, if there are any, at churches and schools are often shallow. People often think the best thing is to just leave people alone. What is often the case in many Christian circles is one of three different responses so mental health crises. We are going to cover all three of those and talk about their issues in and of themselves.
Bible Verse Boxing
In many cases, not just mental health issues, the response of some believers is to throw bible verses at one another, hoping this will solve the issue. This is almost always well intended. Any person in Christianity that has faced any kind of set back has had their fair share of Romans 8:28, Psalm 23, and Philippians 4:13. This is, by no means, an inherently bad idea. The text of scripture is our primary document source on the Christian life. Many verses can bring comfort and healing, edification, and hope. But words on a page, even internalized to some degree, don’t take away the hurting. This is a decent response, but it doesn’t solve all of the issues.
Another response many will have in response to a mental health situation is make the incident relatable by telling their own story. Once again, this is almost always well-intended. It’s pretty wild to see the sheer volume of people who have had to deal with mental health issues in their own live. Telling your story will often empower others to tell theirs. This does bring a certain level of comfort, but it does not erase personal experience. Someone may have a powerful and inspiring story, but that story doesn’t often solve the issues. Anecdotes don’t offer solutions that always help. Once again, this is a decent response, but it doesn’t come full circle enough for many people working through mental health problems.
Pulling the faith card
This is an overdone concept generally, but it can be especially overdone when tragedy and hardship strikes. The ambiguous and often general concept of “trusting God” is, admittedly, a biblical concept. Jeremiah 29:11 is a familiar verse. Proverbs 3:5-6 is another familiar one. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 that, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” These are all true, good, faithful things. But they are often insufficient because they lack pragmatism. Yes, it takes faith and trust that God is who he says he is and that he is sovereign over all things. But these are merely truths to affirm, not actions to take. Christ is the author of salvation, but that doesn’t help a person sleep at night. God is steadfast, but that statement doesn’t make the anxiety go away.
So, what is the solution?
This is a tough question with many answers, some of which are not easy to hear. The unfortunate reality of mental health problems– and really any problems– is that Christ may never take these things from us. One of the toughest parts of overcoming mental health struggles is the very reality that perhaps a person may never overcome mental health struggles. A lot of us have a hard time swallowing this reality and owning up to it because it seems unreal. No way God would allow us to hurt. But that’s the thing– He does sometimes. Why is that?
One of the reasons he may often allow bad things to come our way is that he desires to drive us to dependence. The easiest thing to do in times of immense struggle is call on God. But perhaps the primary reason that God may never solve someone’s mental health struggle is truly beautiful.
Christ already won.
The most overwhelming and amazing part of Christianity is the fact that Jesus is greater than all things. He is greater than all that is good, and he is certainly greater than all that is bad. Rest assured that any form of struggle has been overcome on the Cross. Christ literally defeated death. It may hurt in the moment, but the reward and the future glory to be revealed is so much greater than anything in our present.
For many, the mental health struggle is long, arduous, and sometimes incessant. There are some remedies, some encouraging things, some solutions, but often these attempts fall short. The one thing that never waivers is the hope of Chris and the light of life given to us at the Cross. Responding to the Gospel grants one eternal life, so everything temporary– mental heath struggles included– will fade away in the end. God doesn’t necessarily need to give us temporal salvation from temporal matters when he has freely offered eternal salvation and life on the Cross.
Now, don’t be fooled. Christians are not any different than anyone else. Christians still deal with mental health struggles. We still feel hurt, pain, depression, and anxiety like the rest of the world. Mental health is a human struggle. Believers are often taught that the remedy is faith and the solution is bible verse memorization. These things are not bad, but they do not always help. Maybe we feel scared to say that out loud. It’s sometimes taboo to speak ill of these things. We couch our solutions in ambiguous terms and vain prayers. But it’s bigger than that. People need hope. And at the end of the day, maybe the idea is not that a person “gets over” their pain but that they learn to wholly trust on Christ through it all.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. To you who are reading, you matter. You are loved. You are valuable because you are made in the image of the Creator. There is hope in Christ, and there is hope in tomorrow. Christians don’t have a magical formula. We just have a wonderful counselor. The promise of heaven doesn’t necessarily end the depression. It just shows that there is something– someone– who is so much greater. To all of the beautiful souls we have lost to mental illness, my condolences. To all of the ones who are still fighting, keep up the work. To all you who know Christ, live like it. And to all you who don’t, come weary and broken, and he will give you rest.
You don’t have to win. Christ already did that. But still keep fighting.
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