Just Pray Through? Mental Illness & The Church
As someone who's spent most of their life in church, African American Pentecostal church to be exact, and a large portion of that time dealing with depression, it would be my job to tell you to "Trust God, and pray through". I should tell you to read the Word and grow the faith that you obviously don't have because if you did you wouldn't let "this" get you down. Just a few years ago I would say these things with fervor and conviction all while I was silently suffering because often I couldn't even find the words to say what I felt let alone pray about it. I would spend time in church and in prayer circles seeking deliverance and freedom, and leaving no doubt feeling good for the moment, but losing that time being worried about when the inevitable darkness and loneliness would return. I was ashamed to continue to have the same prayer request over and over again out of fear that I would indeed hear "Where is your faith?". "Lord, how do I get out of this? I can't shake it, I am tired of living on top of it, and most of all I CAN'T CONTROL IT!!!" And then it happened I finally "read my Word" for the answer. You see I don't doubt that everything is indeed in the Word. In fact, He will send you exactly where you need to be..... THERAPY!
Ephesians 6:10-15 (The Message Bible) says
And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.
Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet.
You see what I've figured out is that we aren't using ALL of the weapons that He gave us. We use the ones that we are familiar and comfortable with but we don't take full advantage of the resources that the Source has provided. Therapy is a resource, support groups are a resource, dare I say medication is a resource. Its flu season and the ER's are packed all over the U.S. I wonder how many people are going to church instead of the doctor, or visiting their local urgent care? Are you taking prayer over Tamiflu? So why then do we insist on treating mental illness any different?
The church in fact is supposed to be a hospital that seeks to meet the needs of the people and nurse them back to health. But we must remember not to exclude forms of treatment. Instead we should embrace them and be committed to walking with each member as they journey through mental illness. How do we do this? I'm glad you asked!
Compassion, patience, a willing heart, an open mind, and a desire to be the change we want to see in the world. Compassion, we must have a genuine concern for the suffering of others and a level of patience with the understanding that this is no "afternoon athletic contest", but instead a journey to wholeness. We have to be willing to take the time to learn not only facts about mental illness, but ways that we can support them both in and out of crisis. Our ability to be open-minded about the issues that people deal with is essential. I've heard that sometimes we can be "so heavenly minded, that we are no earthly good". However, we have to address issues, consider new ideas, and be unprejudiced. There are training's, workshops, certifications, and talks related to helping those in need that are not bible based, but are still very applicable as long as we are able to view them through an unbiased lens. Finally, if we are deliberate in our efforts to be the change we want to see in the world, we will not only be able to help heal in our own "hospitals", but the faith-based community as a whole.
The Take Away
So did I just tell you not to pray, and seek God for your healing? Absolutely not! I am instead encouraging those in the faith community, both in leadership, and lay members to pray, seek His face, and use the resources that The Source so graciously set before us. Remember the next time you want to tell someone to "have faith", that James 2:17 teaches us that "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." So lets be all that He called us to be and erase the stigma on mental illness one step at a time, starting in our Hospitals!
-Thanks for listening