In 2014, around 15.7 million adults age 18 or older in the U.S. had experienced at least one major depressive episode in the last year (6.7% of adults in the U.S.) according to the (National Institute of Mental Health). That’s a lot of people. In church, I’ve found that many people still don’t talk about this and if you do it’s a 50/50 gamble between someone being thankful you are bringing it up and someone saying that God will heal you. While I think both can be valid I also think we need to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. If God is the great physician why are people still suffering with pain. What if you struggle with depression or mental health your whole life? Is there room for faith and chronic mental illness?
So without further ado – let’s get Ugly.
I remember having my first panic attack in elementary school. It didn’t feel like one, I didn’t know what it was but looking back now I know that this was the beginning of my mental health journey. We were singing a song in choir in the multi purpose room. It was hot. I remember feeling really hot. It was a combination of the room, maybe the time of year, and two enormous spot lights shining on us. I remember one girl passed out and we had to stop singing. I felt panicked. I was worried. We waited for her to be taken to the nurse and we started our production again. But I felt sick. I told the kid next to me I didn’t feel well and next thing I know I was looking up from the floor. I was next.
Looking back – yeah maybe it really was that hot, but I also know I was always very empathetic. Maybe I was so empathetic that I passed out too from seeing someone else pass out. Maybe I was stressed. Things weren’t always normal at home – who knows what had happened that week. Were my parents fighting? Were girls in class still making fun of me? It’s hard to say. But I still remember the lights. The smell of the gym and the feeling of a million little speckled lights right before I passed out.
It would be many years before my next panic attack.
It was my first job. It was very stressful. People were verbally abusive. I felt sick all the time and it was hard to eat lunch most days. I remember being so upset Sunday night knowing I would have work the next morning. I would have a panic attack on the way to work and one on the bus home. I remember reading Bible verses over and over to myself on the way home so I wouldn’t pass out. I remember having to stand in the aisle of the bus when there were no seats and having to get off early on more than one occasion because my panic would often make me feel nauseous.
I say all this because while this scenario might feel very relatable to you because of your own experiences or sound like the experiences of someone you know – it is still not something that is adequately discussed in the church and with so many people suffering with depression, anxiety, or other mental illness you would think this would be exactly what the body of Christ would be doing.
Often times with any illness – well meaning people at church will offer to pray for you. You know what – I’ll all for that.
But I also think there is a gray area when it comes to healing. God can definitely do whatever he wants to do and he doesn’t need my permission for any of it.
However, I think there is an obsession with healing that can take over if we’re not careful and this can be damaging to people who actually have these issues.
Two of the most common things I’ve heard is either.
Now one is actually biblical and one isn’t.
Jesus does say in Mark 5 and Luke 17 that a woman’s faith has healed her of a lifelong condition. But this is where it gets complicated for most of us.
Honestly? I don’t have the answer and I suspect I never will. Does this mean I’m a failure of a Christian? I don’t think so.
I think this means simply that I don’t understand God 100% and why he heals and why he doesn’t.
And while I think we should always pray because God is listening I think we need to be careful not to believe this is a formula that gives us what we want. And you know? There’s a lot of times I wish it did. Because living in uncertainty of an outcome or watching someone suffer from something isn’t great. It often tests your faith and makes you question if God is actually good or not. But that’s a story for another day.
God never says in the Bible that he won’t give you more than you can handle. I’m still trying to figure out where that phrase came from and why people use it. Because it stinks.
The Bible says in John 16 that in this world we will have trouble – and fam – that is an understatement. Life is hard. Life is painful. And even though I have faith in God and my foundational beliefs are solid I have had many seasons, this one included, where I question Him. Where I am hurt or disappointed by Him. Where I know full well that I have been given a heck of a lot more than I can handle. And He’s allowed it.
If you find yourself in that messy place like I do – trust that you are not crazy, you are not a terrible person, and you are one hundred percent not alone in it.
We all have our journey and our personal relationship with God and with faith in general. And the peace I’ve gotten out of the mental health portion of it is this:
It’s ok not to be ok.
It’s not revolutionary. But it gives me peace because I think so often I’ve been scared to fall completely apart. Especially as a Christian. You feel this unspoken pressure that you are supposed to be the one who has all the answers or can encourage all the poor lost souls out there who aren’t Christians. But we forget that a lot of us are struggling with the same stuff everyone else on the planet is. And just one of them is mental health.
Regardless of where you find yourself – I want you to know that it’s okay to rely on the Lord and Lexapro. You can have faith in God and what he can do and also at the same time has faith in what doctors and medicine can do.
This tension is normal and I believe it’s ok. It’s ok to be tired of fighting on your own. It’s ok to get professional help. It’s ok to be put on medication. It’s ok to tell people you are ok taking medication. It’s ok for people to have their own opinion on it. It’s all ok.
Ultimately I think we need to just be ok with where we are personally at and where everyone else is at – especially if we want to be a fully functioning body of Christ. We don’t have to solve every issue. We don’t have to convince God to heal people. It just takes empathy for yourself and others and the reminder that we are all on a unique path to healing whatever that might look like.