Jesus said, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”
My friend Sarah Lund wrote a book about her experience being a Christian dealing with mental health struggles in her family. It’s called Blessed Are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence about Mental Illness, Family, and the Church. She is now traveling throughout the country opening up conversations in churches about mental illness. Because maybe you’ve noticed- we don’t talk about this much.
If we talk about it, it’s usually depression. Or perhaps an anxiety disorder. But acknowledging bipolar disorder or schizophrenia or other illnesses seems more difficult to express.
My first experience with mental illness as a young pastor was with a couple struggling in their marriage. They came to talk with me and it became apparent to me that there was something unwell about the husband’s frame of mind. A little gentle digging in conversation revealed that he had been diagnosed with a mental disorder but was not taking medication for it. “We pray every day for him to be healed, that’s what our faith tells us to do,” the wife said. Meanwhile every day was an emotional roller coaster that left me queasy just hearing about it, much less riding it.
But somehow they’d gotten the idea that their faith told them to pray instead of taking medication and therapy, rather than to pray and take medication and therapy. I’ve heard that sentiment many, many times since then. When my own depression came knocking 20 years ago, I too was very slow to seek help. I thought if I could just somehow believe enough, pray enough, read Scripture enough, think positively enough, surely God and I could shake this thing! When I finally reached out to my doctor in desperation, he said, “If your arm had been broken for the last 6 months, would you have tried to gut through it and pray through it? No! You would have sought medical help as well as spiritual help. Why be any different about the chemistry of your brain?” Within two months of treatment I was mostly out of that depressed darkness and back into the light of day.
Epiphany, the season the Church is currently celebrating, is a time of celebrating how Jesus Christ shines brightly in the world. It reminds us that Jesus’ purpose for coming to us is to give us light, so that no one should live in darkness. May that be true of all who battle mightily with mental illness as well! Let’s dispel our shame and our misunderstandings about mental illness. May we walk together, church, all of us, in more of the light of Christ.