Why the Debate About Mental Health?
In my last post I shared some of my story. There are several reasons for choosing to do that:
1. I believe that the readers need to know the background of the writer to fully appreciate the things that are written.
2. I believe that there are many believers in our Assemblies that carry a heavy burden in this area without the freedom to share it. They need to know that they are not alone.
3. I believe that there are many caring people who are not struggling with mental illness but do not know how to be supportive and helpful. I believe an open discussion will aid the “helpers” in identifying better with the “sufferers”.
4. I believe that there is a God-given longing in each of us to be transparent and real. This requires sharing our weaknesses as well as our strengths.
I recognize that there are also several risks in sharing openly.
1. Some people will discredit everything that I post as being subjective and defensive of my own experience. Some have already chosen to “write me off” because of what I have shared.
2. Every individual’s struggle is unique. Personal experience is not sufficient to deal effectively with other believers’ illnesses. In these posts we can only address a small part of the subject each time. What is shared can leave many unanswered questions and the sense of an unbalanced view. It can be hard to reserve judgment till the whole argument is presented.
3. The attention can be focused too much on one person. This could cause some to miss the greater “objective” discussion of mental illness in the life of the believer.
4. Some might see me as an “expert” on the subject because of my experience and writing on the subject. The more I read the more convinced I am that there is only one expert on the subject, the Holy Spirit. He is the only one that can guide us to truth in this discussion.
SOME OF THE DIFFICULT ISSUES
Perhaps the greatest difficulty that we face in dealing with mental illness is that its symptoms are manifested in every area of our being. It affects body, soul and spirit. It is not always easy to discern where the root of the problem lies. While the physical aspect is a malfunctioning of the brain because of chemical imbalances, it seems impossible to scientifically establish what causes these imbalances.
Many researchers are convinced that, at the very least, the predisposition to these chemical imbalances is passed on genetically. A very significant percentage of mental illness manifests itself in childhood. The physical aspect of mental illness is very real and needs to be addressed for what it is. If this was all there was to mental illness we would simply go to the doctor and address it like we address every other physical illness, but the solution is not so simple.
God’s Created Beings
God created man with spirit, soul (mind, emotions and will) and body, all functioning in perfect harmony. The brain is designed to be the “link” between our inner being and the body. When this link malfunctions, the harmony between our inner reality and our physical body is disrupted. This disruption can be physical, emotional or spiritual. I believe that most often it is a combination of all three. As fallen and sinful people in a fallen and sinful world, we have deep emotional and spiritual damage in our inner beings that are contributors to (and sometimes even the cause of) overloading the brain with stress that leads to its malfunctioning.
In this sense it is true that mental illness is a sin issue. Our sin does aggravate it and original sin and the general curse of sin caused the disharmony in the first place. Other people’s sins against us cause emotional damage that contributes to the problem. The enemy of our souls is an expert at introducing lies into our minds that we believe and then become spiritually weak and unable to function with the spiritual strength that comes from allowing the Spirit to guide us into all truth.
Our inability to logically and rationally draw a clear line between brain and mind, mind and emotions, mind and will, soul and spirit, physical and spiritual, makes it difficult to get a complete understanding of the reality of mental illness.
We also have a real difficulty in clearly separating symptoms from the cause. I believe that much damage has been done addressing symptoms without addressing the cause or even worse, treating symptoms as the cause. We need discernment in these matters that only the Holy Spirit can give us.
Another big hindrance to overcoming mental illness in our circles is our suppression of the emotional part of our being. Many believers are emotionally numb because they have internalized their emotional struggles and hurts. They feel trapped by the “spiritual” obligation of shallow forgiveness for hurts that they have carried for years and even decades. Instead of patiently helping people to a true and deep forgiveness, we encourage them to immediately “forgive” which too often means “sweep it under the rug”.
True forgiveness requires dealing with the sin for what it really is and coming to a forgiveness that looks more like a funeral than a housekeeping chore. Only this depth of forgiveness can free us emotionally from the sin that is committed against us. Any other “forgiveness” will have to be revisited or it will continue to shackle us all our lives with devastating effects on our mental health. We need brothers and sisters that are willing to face the ugliness of sin, call it what it is, put it to death and bury it for good. This will take time, energy, wisdom, discernment and a lot of love. We need to commit to this level of fellowship in order to see the Lord release fellow believers from their emotional bondage.
Perhaps you are wondering by now if we will ever get to the spiritual aspect. In the next post I would like to begin looking at biblical truths and principles that are key for us as believers in dealing thoroughly with the matter of mental health.