Mental Illness and the Church
I grew up in the Church. I don’t really know life outside of Church living except through my older teenage years when I decided going to the beach or playing soccer was a better idea. In Church life I’ve never really had a time where I didn’t believe God heals and that He always wanted people to get well. Oddly enough, even through I’ve lost many I’ve loved to disease I still have never questioned healing is a just a part of who God is.
Because it’s not really a roadblock for me, I’ve hardly questioned its validity, even today and even through loss. However, I have many times over questioned, disagreed and flat out disliked the way the Church has handled healing.
Being in the ministry and preaching at several events around the world for many years I always get the chance to pray for people who need healing. I’ve seen God do incredible things throughout the years. However, I have noticed some changes in what people are asking prayer for. I have noticed a dramatic increase in the last few years for those asking for prayer for anxiety and depression. In fact, one of the things that has really bothered me these last several years is talking with pastors and leaders who feel like they need to be in hiding because they’ve been dealing with depression or anxiety and had needed to start taking medication; only to find the Church wasn’t so merciful to their condition.
To be honest…. I think I was one of those people.
-- “Why cant you just pull yourself together?”
-- “Why cant you just stop yourself from freaking out?”
Even though I’d of course pray for people, I didn’t get it. Even through I have for years prayed for peace over peoples minds and the importance of praying for peoples sanity, deep down, I’ve always been a person who didn’t get why people just couldn’t stop making things harder for themselves than needed. I even saw those who got depressed as weak. Not always, but enough to cringe now when I think about my own judgments.
In some ways I suppose I should have known better, but sometimes places in our lives where we know too much God has no problem coming in and making it clear were fairly clueless.
Life happens and what we know or think we know gets shaken and our world begins to change. And for me, what I knew to be one way concerning healing was intersected by circumstances I had no control over. And really for the first time I began to realize just how much I’ve been missing. For me, the shaking had come in the form of mental illness.
This last year I’ve had two people in my immediate family have mental breakdowns. The first one I sort of disregarded as being his fault since he’s used drugs for thirty years. I just figured, ‘finally, the drugs have made him crazy; it’s his own fault and now I just need to help protect those he’s affecting.’ If anything it scared me, but angered me more.
And it frustrated me because I had no idea what to do. I had no idea how to help, and honestly I was just worried what he would do. It was a time where sleep was minimal, fear was ever so present and every time I awoke I felt frustrated and angry this was even happening. But then things settled…. again… A pattern we are used too.
And in my thinking I didn’t really think it mattered much that he was diagnosed with bipolar or not, its just drugs.
Months later another person I’m quite close with; whose not only someone I love dearly but a voice in my head in life and ministry had a complete psychotic breakdown.
It was horrible. It was scary. It was heartbreaking.
There are no words to describe watching, listening, and waiting for whatever shoe to drop with someone acting completely outside of how I see them. Its not only scary & un-nerving, its also incredibly painful. Yet, I still didn’t get what we were watching or to be honest what we’ve dealt with for a long time.
In the process of watching all these changes I have absolutely no control over, for various reasons, I began to feel helpless and hopeless.
Yet, I began to look at the Bible again about healing. And a light bulb went off. Not just one, but many.
I’ve always believed the Gospel message is about wholeness. I’ve always believed Gods heart for us is that we would this side of heaven become whole spiritually, physically & emotionally. I don’t believe this is heaven, I don’t believe we will see the fullness of heaven on earth now, but I do believe the more we get with God the more whole we become.
I then started to think of the numerous events I have been a part of for the last many years. Great events, incredible times, where I got to watch God do so much work in people. Seeing people get saved, watching people encounter God… really good things.
But also many of those events were surrounded in some way with the theme of healing… physical healing.
That’s not a bad thing of course, except that if the Gospel is about wholeness why do we always address, or give testimony or feature physical healing, especially in Charismatic circles? Why is that so much of the time this is the main focus? And then I began to wonder how many people who have left events feeling like something was wrong with them because they weren’t healed, or their reality was going home to someone struggling with mental illness and the shame that they weren’t ‘Christian enough’ or maybe even that God loved them or those they love less because who they love wasn’t getting healed? You know how it goes once the accusations the enemy starts throwing when we don’t see things others see or encounter?
And I began to wonder just how many times we’ve been so focused on the show of what God can do that we forget were dealing with people’s lives.
It wasn’t exactly a new revelation of sorts as to be honest. I have felt myself shrink back from watching another exaggerated testimony, which felt like it had less to do with the person being prayed for and more about the celebrity of the person praying. But looking back I realize those irritations of getting fed up of seeing these things time and again, were I believe God was trying to get my attention.
It wasn’t so much to slam what they were doing, as many of these people I love, but more so becoming very clear this is not where I want to go.
I believe in the Gospel of wholeness but sometimes the Church gets so self-focused and caught up in the latest and greatest revelation, we forget what’s actually going on in the world around us. It has felt like that to me in the area of healing.
It seems that when we under-exaggerate or over exaggerate what God is or isn’t doing, We then miss the MEANING; PURPOSE & GOAL of what God is saying or desires to do through His Church. And in the area of healing its not hard to find exaggeration of various kinds.
Physical healing is only one aspect of who our God is. And that is for a reason. It doesn’t matter if you’re arm is healed if you feel like your going crazy or your living with some one who is.
One in four Americans have or will struggle with mental illness this year. In Britain, it’s one in three. That statistic continues to grow because when something isn’t addressed or is hidden it cant get well. If the world around us doesn’t feel like they can turn to the Church then the Church isn’t doing her job. And where the Church isn’t doing her job, the enemy has a field day. This is the world around us.
Our world around us, no matter if someone knows God or not, when it comes to mental illness many of thousands feel like they cant be honest about their struggle because of the stigma attached to it. Yet, when it comes to mental illness, many will choose to go to clergy, priest, and pastor of some kind before anyone else.
This gives the Church a huge opportunity! We can be that bridge that removes the stigma. We can be the ones to bring hope where hope is often missing. And truth is, we have to remember that anything that has stigma attached to it is where Jesus would be hanging out.
Personally, I had no idea how much I didn’t know when it came to mental illness and healing. I also didn’t realize how vulnerable I was because through the stigma of facing mental illness head on. One thing I knew….I was not okay.
I was okay, but I wasn’t okay, yet that had to be okay.
I felt humiliated. I felt out of my comfort zone. I felt like I had no idea what to do and I couldn’t get past the feelings of guilt. In fact I still have to work through these things. Mental illness is not an overnight or easy fix. It’s not a healing prayer line disease and if the Church addresses this as we address other forms of physical healing we will do more damage than good.
I have had to face that mental illness is now a huge part of my reality. I’ve had people tell me I’ve lost my faith gift or where is my faith not to believe that God wouldn’t just heal people of their ‘demons. I’ve been told I should be ashamed that I could be related to John Wimber yet believe medications aren’t from the devil. Not sure why they’d say that about John and medication as he was on heart meds; go figure. But still, its just a few of the things I’ve had too hear and most likely will continue to face.
But there are many that face much worse and with no support.
I realized early on with all the stigma attached to mental illness that this must be something Gods moving on. Yet, pushing past all the guilt and fear with the stigma attached to what were walking through didn’t take its full effect until I reached out to someone.
I was praying one morning, and I felt like the Lord told me to call someone. Someone I’d never met, but I had heard a bit of her and her husband’s story. I felt the Lord nudge me to contact her, which was totally out of left field for me for a few reasons. In my mind, I was just trying to work though everything and figure out what the heck to do, which I did not know.
But I had to admit to myself, I was okay, but I wasn’t okay so maybe I should listen to God?
So, after ignoring that nudge a few times, I finally contacted her.
It saved me.
I had to face (and really still facing that) mental illness in my own personal life as well as in ministry would not work in my own power or going at it alone. I have felt many times these last several months way in over my head. Yet that is often how God works where He can take our greatest point of pain and use it as point and privilege to bring hope.
But that won’t happen if we don’t turn towards it and it won’t happen if we judge. Judgment only separates and we must love and choose to turn towards what’s happening in the world around us. What a huge privilege to bring hope to those who have no hope in their situations and feel like they have nowhere to turn.
I believe we're in a time of invitation. The invitation I believe is to the whole Church. The Church has a huge opportunity to remove stigma and to bring healing to people who are not only those struggling with mental illness, but the many who are affected by mental illness.
We must do this together. This cannot be about an individual or someone’s celebrity ministry. Healing is all about Jesus and his love for people because He knows how hurting and messed up we really are. Healing is seldom more than a picture of God moving on those He cares for and there is nothing like the hurting soul being touched and cared for.
I have much to learn. But I believe this is Gods heart and a timely invitation to love and support the world around us.
Huge thanks to Christy for this transcript of her thoughts on such an important topic! The Mind &Soul team