Here’s a shout out to the band We Are Messengers. Over the weekend, at the Joyous Noise music festival, lead vocalist Darren Mulligan shared a tragic story of a young lady he knew who suffered from mental illness. I won’t share the story here, but I will share a point he made quite emphatically:
It’s time the church recognized depression and anxiety for what they are: illnesses.
There are church settings where those of us who face depression and anxiety are – let’s just say it – marginalized. If we worry about things, or can’t get past the anxious thoughts, or feel low, we must be hiding some sin. We must have insufficient faith (or none at all).
Before you begin throwing Bible verses around, swinging His Word around like some spiritual billy club, do these four things:
- Stop. Put down the club, understand you don’t understand, and stop before you inadvertently do damage to an already fragile human being.
- Shut up. A big point Mulligan made. Don’t let your words cause harm. Instead of talking you need to,,,
- Listen. Hear what your brother or sister in Christ is saying. Actively listen. Empathetically listen. Sympathetically listen. Lovingly listen. Shut up and listen.
- Love. Be there for your hurting friend. A hug. A kind word. A willingness to pick up the phone at three in the morning.
Please understand this: there are times when people suffer from mental illness because of situations out of one’s control. PTSD. A lack of serotonin.
And, yes, there are times people are tormented by sin and guilt and shame.
Either way, it isn’t our place to point out the problem. That’s like staring into a flooded house and telling the owner, “Hey, your house is flooded. What did you do wrong to cause your house to flood?” How does that help?
The problem with anxiety and depression is that the thoughts cloud our ability to see the Truth, to recognize the fullness of God’s love for us. We don’t need to be told we’re faithless and unfit to minister. (In fact, I want a pastor who has walked down the dark path of hopeless and fearful feelings. If your car is broken down, you don’t take it to a bakery. The pastry chef may know his way around an automobile but, let’s face it, he’s probably better with croissants than engines.)
When we face the hard times, we need to be held up. We need to be encouraged.
When we’re struggling, there are things we need to do to stay afloat (pray, remember God’s promises for us, pray, be part of a loving community, pray…). Please don’t point at the flooded house. Grab a bucket and help.
And, please understand this: time in God’s Word is vital to helping stay focused on the Truth we cannot easily see.
“…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8, ESV).
Just because we are hindered from seeing the Truth, that doesn’t make the Truth any less valid. My point is simply this: don’t (mis)use God’s Word to show us why we’re wrong to feel down or anxious.
The time has come for the church to remove the stigma of mental illness. Taking medicine or going to counseling is not a cheap replacement for faith. Anxiety and depression don’t always indicate a lack of belief. For many of us it is an indicator of illness. Just as you wouldn’t chastise someone with cancer for taking their chemo, don’t marginalize a person struggling with mental illness.
Love one another.
Hang tight to God and His Word.
And thank you Darren Mulligan.