Some of you, like me, have felt stung by judgmental words and actions of people in the Christian community. We’ve silently suffered, afraid to honestly share our struggles. The need to acknowledge this grieves me, not only for the pain that ‘s been inflicted but also because such experiences cut us off from life-giving conversations about what role our faith in Christ might play in our mental health.
Consider the analogy of a road with a ditch on either side. Our human tendency is to land in the ditches--but if we can stay on the middle road, we find a helpful and true path forward. One ditch represents our mental health and spiritual life. It holds the hurtful and accusatory lies many of us have endured, such as “mental illness reflects a lack of faith or a personal failing”, that if we pray more, read the Bible more, or "just choose joy," our depression or anxiety would dissipate. In this ditch, the community we should be able to turn to for Christlike compassion and comfort becomes one that heaps more judgment and guilt on our weary heads.
The other ditch severs our mental health and faith completely. This ditch runs the risk of overlooking the ways we operate as holistic beings and can lead to an overly medicalized approach to mental illness. It can segment our lives into distinct categories: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, so we forget how integrated these parts of our lives are. Most importantly, it can present the spiritual life as something we can keep tidy and contained, instead of something that encompasses all of our being.
If, however, every season, decision, habit, and mundane moment is an opportunity to follow Jesus, then our mental health relates to our life of faith as much as every other part of our life.
When we’re aware of the ditches, we are freed to seek out the middle road. We need not be afraid to ask how our faith interacts with our mental health, its role in the midst of mental illness. We can resist feeling like spiritual failures when we struggle. We can invite God into our mental health journey and ask what faithfulness may look like in our particular circumstances.
I've found a helpful guiding principle for staying on the middle path: if an approach doesn’t hold up if I’m talking about a physical illness, I need to rethink it. We can ask what it looks like to follow Jesus faithfully in the midst of cancer just as much as we can when living with bipolar disorder.
In both cases, we embrace medical care. We pray for healing. And we go to therapy and take our medication, expecting that they may be God's means of answering our prayers.
In all this, our faith plays an important role in finding hope in the midst of all that our diagnosis may bring with it. In our faith life, we know God who cares about and keeps company with those who are suffering and a Savior well acquainted with grief. We’re promised that, regardless of what our feelings may suggest, there’s no height or depth or any darkness too deep to separate us from him. We’re anchored in a story of God’s relentlessness to redeem all things.
A community of faith can hold on to hope for me when my grasp feels weak. They surround me with prayer and love and grace when I need it most. I remember that my life has value, I am beloved, and depression is not the end of my story.
My faith as a Christian is not a quick cure to life's ailments. Instead, it offers me anchoring points to keep me tethered, it gives me the assurance I am never alone, and it gives me hope to carry on.
This post is adapted from an original article on ivpress.com by Diana Gruver, author of Companions in the Darkness.
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