Aiding Saints in Mental Health
In January of 2016, a friend of mine was given a curriculum for church membership that was from the early 1980’s in order to bring it up to date for an upcoming two-day program in his local church.
Somewhere in these documents, there was a statement that the problem with the mentally ill in the church is that they need to be reading their Bibles more. To which my friend responded to his pastor about me, and that I’m always reading mine, yet I struggled frequently with depression, among other mental health ailments.
So this got me into thinking further that there are more serious errors of thought in the Christian church today when it comes to mental health than I had previously assumed. I would like to, at least in part, clarify for people of faith that may be reading this, the fact from the fiction. And what the people in the pews with them can do to help and support their fellow believers who are suffering.
For this brief moment of thought, I’d like to talk about the idea of prayer and mentally ill Christians.
While it may seem like the most logical thing in a church prayer meeting to do is to mention the fellow believer who hasn’t been at church in a while due to their mental illness, and that’s great, I’m glad that you do. But I know that from personal experience, it says so much more if you’re not only praying for the fellow Christian, but actually picking up the phone or visiting the person to pray with them.
Did you get the difference there?: Praying WITH them, not just FOR them.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.James 5:16 (NASB)
Now granted, there might be some circumstances that prevent visiting a shut in. From my own life I can say anxiety would be one of many factors for a person not wanting you to stop by. However, this doesn’t prevent you from calling the person on the phone to not only pray with them, but to genuinely ask how they are doing and honestly mean it enough to listen without trying to “solve” their problems.
I would also like to emphasize that if you visit or call, please do NOT try to get the person to set a return date for coming back to the local meeting. In doing this, you could be showing them that you are not truly listening to them in regards to their present situation.
Again, from experience, it’s hard enough to get out of bed and stay home all day, so the person you are speaking to likely can’t even comprehend the next Sunday morning, let alone the next couple of hours.
Please don’t push for a return, it’s not the encouragement that you might think that it is and may very well discourage them from ever coming back. I have struggled with this countless times, and while I know that many of the saints mean well, sometimes it’s just frustrating.
Faithful are the wounds of a friendProverbs 27:6a (NASB)
Overall, just be prepared to listen. When the Christian has finished talking, then you will also know what to pray more specifically about with them, and if you have more details and you paid attention to them, then this will mean more to them than you’ll ever know.
When I broke a three year long silence on what the root of what was causing my depression, self-hate, and suicidal feelings with a trusted brother from my assembly, he wasn’t expecting that these issues had been rooted since I was ten years old. To his credit, he was silent until I was finished releasing so much pain that nobody had ever known that I was experiencing.
Some could say that this was my own fault, but to be fair, you can’t explain nearly three decades worth of mental and emotional pain in a ten minute conversation, and just being asked “How are you doing?” on Sunday just isn’t enough time.
There’s times you must be prepared to hear things that you could never prepare to ever hear from anyone who trusts the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour. I’m not advocating a license to sin; what I’m saying is that not everyone in your local church grew up in the so-called “Christian Home” that many others did.
I was saved after I turned 31 at a crucial point in my life where there was no meaning left. It has taken nearly nine years, but I have only begun to accept and understand that I am loved, and I actually can be loved by not just God, but by others as well.
Simple quotes from Scripture are not always the surefire antidote for a suffering saint, especially when the ill believer already knows it. Living out what you are telling them does wonders for the soul.
So if you happen to know one in your gathering that does suffer through depression or any other mental health related ailment, why not approach them next Sunday and ask how you can pray for them, and then do so, right then and there? It could very well shape the next six days of that person’s life.
Be kind. Be patient. Love them as Christ would.
Photo by Ian Espinosa