Tag Archives: Grief

Depression: Curing Stigma within the Church

Standard

Thanks to One Christian Voice for posting this article on their site. Mental illness is a heavy topic, but it’s one we need to discuss. Only by bringing the topic out of the shadows can we help those who suffer in silence. 


Do you know someone suffering from a mental illness? The answer may surprise you.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), in America alone, 43.8 million adults experience mental illness in a given year. That breaks down to one in five adults!

Unfortunately, only 41% of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received help in the previous year. NAMI states that social stigma creates “an environment of shame, fear and silence that prevents many people from seeking help and treatment.”

What are the consequences of a lack of treatment? Increased chances of further mental health issues, chronic physical conditions, addictions, and even suicide.

That’s why NAMI has designated May as Mental Health Month, with #CureStigma as this year’s theme. They propose we tackle social stigma by promoting “compassion, empathy and understanding.”

If you think that stigma is only an issue “in the secular world,” think again.

In my experience, the stigma of mental illness is actually worse within the Christian community than outside of it.

 

Personal Experience

After my grandmother passed away, I struggled with grief and depression for two years. Normally, I would turn to my family in times of need, but they were struggling, too. Although I could have reached out to a counselor, doctor, or pastor, I never did. Looking back, I think it was the fear of being labeled as crazy or weak that kept me from seeking help.

Thankfully, God lifted my depression supernaturally. A couple years later, I finally sought Christian counseling and received healing for the root causes of grief and anger. Today, I’m whole and healthy. Still, I can’t help but wonder if I could have recovered faster if I had sought treatment earlier.

Today, I know many Christians who struggle with mental health issues including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, ADHD, phobias, and PTSD. While some of them are open about their issues, most of them suffer in silence for fear of judgment (only sharing their experiences with me in strict confidence). Those who have sought help through counseling or anti-depressants tell me they’re glad to being doing well, but they feel weak, ashamed, and less-faithful because they needed the extra help.

This self-condemnation is often the result of judgment they received from well-meaning Christians who believe that mental illness is really spiritual illness in disguise.

There are three main lies that perpetuate this belief in churches across America. Let’s fight these lies with God’s truth so we can cure stigma and make the church a safe haven for people with mental illness.

 

Lies We Hear at Church

Lie 1: Christians can’t experience mental illnesses.

“What fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14b NAS).

Many people think that Scriptures like this one indicate true mental illness can’t exist in someone filled with the Holy Spirit. The problem with this line of thinking, though, is that it equates mental illness with demonic possession. (And the Scripture noted above? It’s in reference to Christians forming alliances with non-believers. It has nothing to do with illness or demonic possession.)

While demons and their interaction with humans are well-documented throughout the Bible, true mental health issues can and do exist without a demonic source. Such was the case with King David. He was a man after God’s own heart, and yet he experienced periods of depression: “My heart throbs, my strength fails me; and the light of my eyes, even that has gone from me. My loved ones and my friends stand aloof from my plague; and my kinsmen stand afar off” (Psalm 38:10-11 NAS).

So what causes mental illness? According to NAMI, “Genetics, environment and lifestyle influence whether someone develops a mental health condition. A stressful job or home life makes some people more susceptible, as do traumatic life events like being the victim of a crime. Biochemical processes and circuits and basic brain structure may play a role, too.”

Becoming a Christian doesn’t erase a painful past. Nor does being a Christian promise a trauma-free, healthy future. In fact, believers everywhere fall off ladders, get the flu, and suffer from cancer.

Trauma and illness are a result of our fallen world; they have nothing to do with the spiritual state of the one who gets injured or sick.

 

Lie 2: The cure to mental illness is to repent and have more faith.

It is true that some sins can open the door to mental illness. For example, the guilt of aborting a child or killing someone while driving drunk may result in mental health issues, like depression, later on. Such people can certainly find grace and spiritual healing through repentance.

The problem comes when we assume that all mental illness has a sinful source. The truth is that many people who suffer from mental health issues are victims of others’ actions or circumstances, not perpetrators who need to confess their sins.

As far as faith is concerned, the people I know with mental health issues rely heavily on their faith. It’s what gets them out of bed in the morning, helps them face their stressful jobs, and enables them to put one foot in front of the other. These people have a lot to teach the rest of the world about living on faith in the face of adversity.

In the end, only God knows our hearts. (See 1 Kings 8:39.) He also knows what ails us and what is needed to mend us.

When speaking of others, we should always extend grace and remember Jesus’ words: “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1 NAS).

 

Lie 3: Medications like anti-depressants are evil.

I know several Christians who take medications for anxiety, ADHD, or depression. Each of them has told me how it enables them to think more clearly, respond more rationally and, in general, handle life better. Yet they’re ashamed of having to take medication and afraid of what their families and churches would think if they knew.

God enables doctors to create medicine to cure diseases, mend damaged organs, and repair physical deformities. Why would medication for mental illness be considered evil when other medicines are touted as “miracle drugs”?

We would do well to remember Paul’s words, “that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean….Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil…” (Romans 14:14, 16).

Helpful, effective medication is not evil when used appropriately. If you know someone who takes medication for her mental illness, don’t create a stumbling block for her by insinuating that’s it wrong for her to take it.

 

Depression – Helping Others 

As James said, “pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16 NAS). If you believe someone at church is suffering from a mental health issue, you can help by praying for God’s protection and peace over her, as well as a complete healing. Also pray for yourself, that you would do and say the right thing at the right time.

Many people with mental health issues feel isolated and rejected. You can help fix this by including them in your conversations, your Bible studies, and your lunches. You never know when a kind word can be the lifeline someone needs.

Paul said that God “comforts the depressed” (2 Corinthians 7:6a NAS).

As representatives of God on earth, we should seek to do the same—to bring comfort to those in need. To do so, we’ll need to stand on God’s Word and stop perpetuating the lie that mental health issues are really spiritual issues. Only then can we cure stigma in the church and reach out to our brothers and sisters who struggle with mental health issues.

 

Resources

There are a lot of helpful resources online. Here are a few to get you started:


Did this story resonate with you? I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to leave a public comment below or send me a private message through the Contact Big Sister link above. – Ashley

Remembering the Missing Pieces at Christmastime

Standard

See the missing piece? (Puzzle is an image of a painting by Robert Lyn Nelson.)

For Christmas six years ago, my aunt gave Robby and me a beautiful puzzle. We’ve worked on that thing for years, and we finally completed it this month! I thought I’d be happy to finish it and reclaim my dining table.

But once we were down to the final few pieces, we became nostalgic. We began to think about all our experiences over the past several years and about our loved ones who have passed on

Just as my mood was turning from merry to melancholy, we realized our 1,000-piece puzzle had only 999 pieces.

Suddenly, that one missing piece symbolized all those who are now missing in our lives, from our sweet kitty Sue to my late grandmother. It was like the hidden holes in our hearts were made visible, right there on the dinner table. I started to cry. Then Robby said Sue probably ate the missing piece, and we laughed. It seemed appropriate somehow.

The Interlopers

The emotions of loss and grief seem especially cruel at Christmastime as they settle over our merriment like a blanket of snow. What’s even worse is that we’re taught that it’s inappropriate to feel anything but happiness around the holidays. It’s as if negative emotions aren’t spiritual enough for Christmas.

But where does this idea come from? Why do we feel that sadness and loss are interlopers in the Christmas scene? Perhaps we need a refresher on the real meaning (and cost) of Christmas.

 

Cost of Christmas

Christmas is a celebration of the birth of the Christ, or the Anointed One, whose name is Jesus. Through His life, death, and resurrection, He brought salvation to mankind. That’s why the angel spoke of “great joy” when he announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. (See Luke 2:10-11.)

At Christmas, we recount the story of the birth of Jesus, His parents Mary and Joseph, the heralding angel, the shepherds, and the wise men who came from far away.

But this year I keep wondering, what about God the Father? What was He going through during the miraculous birth of Jesus?

I’m sure the Father was glad to bring salvation near to us. I’m sure that, like any good parent, He was proud of Jesus’ sacrifice. However, I can’t help but think that the Father was also sad.

We know that Jesus was fully God and fully man. Although He spoke to the Father constantly through prayer, this was the first time that He was physically separate from the Him—and not just for a day or a week but for 33 years! This idea is hard to understand mentally, yet our hearts empathize with the feeling of separation, and perhaps even loss, that the Father and Son must have felt toward one another.

One in Heaven. One on Earth.

Our gift of Christmas came at God’s expense.

 

Missing Pieces…Found

When we lose loved ones, we feel like our lives are incomplete. They’re in Heaven, and we’re here on Earth.

But the good news—the great news!—is that God is in the business of restoration. Just as the Son reclaimed His position at the right hand of the Father, so we, the children of God, will claim our rightful place with Him in Heaven. That’s where we’ll find our missing pieces.

 

Encouragement for Christmas

If you’re struggling this season, I encourage you to let go of worldly expectations. Christmas isn’t a time for us to be fake with our loved ones or with God. It’s a time to remember that God is real and holy, and that through His sacrifice, the missing pieces of our Christian family will be restored.

If you need more peace this season, start with a simple prayer like this one:

“Thank you, Father, for all that you have done for me. Help me to remember the miracle of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, and to appreciate what it cost you. Please give me peace and comfort, especially during this season when I miss my loved ones more than ever. I trust that all things happen according to your plan, and that you love me and want good things for me. Thank you, Father. In the name of Jesus, the reason for every season. Amen.”

May you come to know the heart of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—this Christmas season.

“I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).


[Click to Tweet: Our gift of Christmas came at God’s expense. #bigsisterknows #crosslife #christmas2017]

 


I want to hear from you! How is the Lord helping you deal with loss during the Christmas season? Are you helping others who are going through a difficult time?

 

Why Our Chickens Crossed the Road

Standard
Chicken1_info

Our girls, Lu Ellen and Lula Bell (asleep).

It’s often hard to believe, but God has our best interest at heart, even on the darkest of days. Earlier this year, God let us know that He loved us and was caring for us–by way of two chickens crossing the road. Here’s an excerpt from the blog, which is now posted at Lift Up Your Day.

 

Chicken2_info

Lula Bell in the dandelions.

 

We didn’t know when Sue would leave this world, but God did. We didn’t know what joy the chickens would bring us, but He did. He orchestrated the whole thing and brought us encouragement by way of the Smiths and two plucky hens, Lula Bell and Lu Ellen. 

When the night seems the darkest, we should remember that God is not blind. He is not surprised when our circumstances change, and He is not hindered by our grief. All things work for the good to those of us who love God and are called according to His purpose (see Romans 8:28).

 


To read the full blog, click here.