Do you know what? Let’s talk about mental health and churches.
Let’s talk about how I have sat in sermons where, in a list of sins, depression was lumped in with violence and sexual impurity. Let’s talk about how fellowship is so often centred around food – making it even more difficult for those struggling with eating disorders to be part of the community. Let’s talk about how I have been told it is impossible to be a Christian and be depressed. Let’s talk about how I have been told that not believing with your whole heart 24/7 that you are wonderfully and fearfully made means you are a terrible sinner.
It’s not that I doubt there is some truth mixed in here. Certainly the line between sickness and sin can get very blurred. I did so many things when I was unwell that I would never have done otherwise – I left my younger siblings feeling like they were walking on eggshells in their own home, because who knew what would trigger me to start smashing plates on the floor. I don’t doubt that I need forgiveness for this.
But people struggling with depression do not need to be battered even more. I certainly already believed that I was a horrible person, an unlovable sinner. What is needed is compassion, love, and truth. What’s needed is grace.
There were scars before my scars
Love written on the hands that hung the stars
Hope living in the blood that was spilled for me
JJ Heller – Control
Because simply stating that depression and sin are often linked misses out the gospel. It misses out the part that God loves every inch of who you are, that there is a way out of this, that life has meaning – and it’s knowing Jesus. That in order to solve the issue you don’t have to try harder to not sin – something impossible for anyone, but even worse for someone battling mental health – because the impossibility of this results in you sinking lower and lower. So let’s start by providing a complete gospel. For anyone reading this who is currently battling mental health issues and finding it hard to reconcile them with their faith, this blog post by the incredible Emma Scrivener really helped me.
And because depression is an illness, it is possible to be a christian and still be suffering from it. In fact, I believe that the fact that there is a God is how we can know that depression is not how things should be. Without a God, isn’t life meaningless anyway? And Jesus provides a way out, because he is a healer, and a saviour. Arguing that christianity and depression are incompatible is like arguing that christianity and sin are incompatible – we all know that there are contradictions between the two, but that does not change the reality that we are still broken people in a fallen world, and so both sin and depression are still very present. In this way, everyone in church is simultaneously broken and restored in Christ. That’s why church should be a place we can be honest about our brokenness, so that our brothers and sisters can understand us, support us, and pray for us. So let’s make sure we provide that space for each-other.
And let’s actually talk about it. Let’s share our experiences – 1 in 4 people suffer from mental health issues, so it’s a pretty big deal. The more we share, the more we can understand. Let’s bear it in mind as decisions are made in churches, and let’s watch our tongues, which can say damaging things without us even realising. And if there is a testimony of God’s love shining into the darkest of places (which there always is, because it always does), let’s rejoice in it to glorify Him.