DAWNINGS: Mental Health and the Church

My friend Sarah Lund wrote a book about her experience being a Christian dealing with mental health struggles in her family. It’s called Breaking the Silence about Mental Illness, Family, and the Church. During this mental health awareness month of May, she is opening up conversations in churches about mental illness. Because maybe you’ve noticed- we don’t talk about this much. Especially in church.

My first experience with mental illness as a pastor was many years ago. A couple struggling in their marriage came to talk with me. It became apparent to me that there was something unwell about the husband’s frame of mind. A little gentle digging in conversation revealed that he had been diagnosed with a mental disorder but was not taking medication nor going to therapy for it. “We pray every day for him to be healed, that’s what our faith tells us to do,” the wife said. “We go to church, we read the Bible together, we know God will heal him.” Meanwhile every day was a dark, secret, emotional roller coaster that left me queasy just hearing about it, much less riding it.

But somehow they’d gotten the idea that their faith told them to pray instead of taking medication and going to counseling, rather than to pray and take medication and go to counseling. I’ve heard that sentiment many, many times since then.

Many people think they just somehow need to believe enough, pray enough, read Scripture enough, think positively enough, and surely God will shake this thing! But dear friends, if your arm had been broken for the last 6 months, would you try to suck it up and pray through it? No! You would seek medical help as well as spiritual help. Why be any different about the chemistry of your brain?

Taking care of our mental health is simply taking care of our health. Going to see a counselor is no different from going to the dentist. Scripture tells us that our bodies are God’s dwelling place (1 Corinthians 6:19) and that we honor God when we care for them (1 Corinthians 6:20). Last time I checked, the brain is a part of the body!

Let’s dispel our shame and our misunderstandings about mental health. May we walk together off of those dark roller coasters into the light of Christ. After all, Jesus said in John 12:46, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”