Recently, there’s been several prominent Christian pastors and organizations that have tweeted messages about mental health that many have found upsetting. The implication in these tweets is that mental health is found solely by focusing on God, which means the opposite is implied as well: mental illness is a direct result or reflection of someone’s lack of focus on God. What’s more, the treatment for any mental illness is to just stop being so darn self-centered and spend more time focusing on God.
I have a lot of thoughts about these types of tweets and the kind of thinking that goes into them. Given that a huge part of what I do is try to help the church improve on engaging with mental health, I have no shortage of arguments at the ready for the theological and logical problems with statements like these, statements that point to lack of faith as the cause of mental illness. I can rattle off statistics like the fact that 1 in 5 adults in the United States this year will encounter some type of mental health struggle and point to research that says that the most common place people turn first for these types of crisis is faith leaders, and other research that says that most faith leaders report feeling underprepared for these exact types of crises.
I can make logical arguments about the inconsistency between statements like this one and the way we would talk about other types of health. A tweet declaring that we could all attain physical health if we just stopped paying attention to ourselves would be seen as outlandish and outdated (in fact, the responses to a recent video on Jesus curing the flu prove my point.)
I could point to story after story I’ve heard about people who prayed desperately and believed God would heal them of depression or anxiety or countless other mental & emotional pains, but didn’t get a miracle cure. I could tell you my own story, one of depression and suicidality, one that has almost always included God but for so long felt like these topics weren’t up for discussion within church walls, and thus weren’t up for discussion with God. I could point out that linking ‘lack of faith’ to ‘lack of healing’ for mental anguish reinforces shame and guilt felt by those suffering. I could point to research that says those exact things are huge problems in contributing & exacerbating emotional pain.
I’ve written those types of pieces before, and I suspect I’ll write them again (more frequently than I’d like to). But this time, for this moment, on this page, I want to focus on the other side. I want, instead of arguing with Twitter accounts ran by people I do not know, to offer simple statements of reassurance and hope and truth to you.
I know tremendous men and women of God who battle mental illness. I know a God who is present with us in our suffering, who hears our cries and whose heart breaks for our pain. I know of healing that comes from all over, a God who works through our friends and through our family and through counselors and through medication.
I know that finding relief from my depression, finding myself wanting to live again after years of wishing to die, that counts as a miracle. That healing involved community, honest & painful conversations, hours with counselors, medication, encouraging days followed by discouraging weeks. It also involved praying for myself and others praying for me and searching for truth in Scripture and learning how to believe that the God of the universe loved me, intimately & infinitely. The presence of all of those things does not discount God’s hand in it nor disqualify it from it from being His work. If God is in the business of miracles and healing, than I am not in the business of placing parameters on what counts and doesn’t count. (tweet)
If you find yourself discouraged by statements that say otherwise, I want to say this: I understand. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been fighting the same battle repeatedly, like I shouldn’t have to anymore, like we should’ve been done with this by now. But I also want to say this: don’t give up. Get tired, take a rest, look around at the people standing alongside you, and then push forward.
Look at the work of Rick & Kay Warren, of Jarrid Wilson, of Amy Simpson, of the many brilliant people I’ve talked to on CXMH. Look at the leagues of counselors and social workers and psychologists and psychiatrists and mental health advocates who declare that Jesus gives hope & healing, while also acknowledging that He so often works through mental health professionals. Look at the sheer number of replies to tweets and posts like the ones mentioned above, replies that are pushing back against oversimplification or overspiritualization of mental health problems. Hold on to the things you know to be true, and if you need to borrow some in the meantime, I’d like to offer you these:
God loves people with depression.
God loves people with anxiety.
God loves people with bipolar disorder.
God loves people who have suicidal thoughts.
God loves people with ADHD.
God loves people with OCD.
God loves people with Borderline Personality Disorder.
God loves people with eating disorders.
God loves people with Schizophrenia.
God loves people with trauma.
God loves people with substance use disorders.
God loves you, in and through your suffering. He doesn’t trade mental health for your faith anymore than He trades physical health for your faith. You can’t pray away cancer & oftentimes you can’t pray away depression. (tweet)
I promise you, I wish there were simple answers to suffering that fit in pithy tweets. There’s not. Don’t let anyone sell you a cheap explanation for pain and especially don’t let anyone sell you a cheap imitation of God. (tweet)
Counseling is not anti-Jesus.
Medication is not anti-Jesus.
Psychology is not anti-Jesus.
Learning about your emotions is not anti-Jesus. (tweet)
If all good things come from God, than all healing things come from God.
If God works through all things for our good, than God works through all things.
Any idea of God that sets particular methods of treatment or healing outside of His use is an idea of God that is too small.