Breaking the Stigma: How the Church is Addressing Mental Health

Breaking the Stigma: How the Church is Addressing Mental Health

A couple of weeks ago, it was 7:45 am, and I was sitting on my couch with my head in my hands. It was a Tuesday, and we were minutes from all loading in the car. The house was a disaster:

  • Dirty dishes piled up from the night before.
  • Toys were thrown chaotically throughout the house.
  • Every room needed special attention.

My two boys slept restlessly that night, which means we also slept restlessly. It would be a busy day, lost in a busy week, heading into a busy weekend. I was stressed, overwhelmed, scared, and exhausted.

It's likely the majority of you can relate to that moment. On the surface, you're still showing up, smiling, and trying to do your job. However, you suffer from persistent anxiety or even more severe depression. Or perhaps you are stressed. There's too much. You don't feel like you can handle it all. It feels like you're about to snap.

This post is the beginning of a 5-part series on mental health. Too many people are missing peace in their lives and God has promised us something better.

Thessalonians 5:23. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Church & Mental Health History

While the church is getting better, the long standing belief is that you shouldn't battle with your mental health because if you come to Jesus, he will solve everything. He will work in all things to benefit those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. And that is 100% true. Jesus has forgiven you. He saves you. He gives you His strength. He'll never abandon you. And everything works together for the best. All of this is correct, yet it is insufficient.

This may frighten you, but it's true. Just because Jesus rescues you doesn't imply He immediately cures every flaw in your life.

  • People don’t come out of the waters of baptism with 6-pack abs and healed arthritis.
  • Giving your life to Jesus is not going to redeem your credit score.
  • You won’t have a conversation at the water cooler and say, “Yeah, Jesus has really turned my life around, and my hair has gotten thicker, too.”

Maybe God will work that miracle in your life, but just because you come to Jesus does not imply that your boss is now nice to you or that your bank account has suddenly increased. In the same way, just because you came to Jesus doesn't imply you're now mentally healthy.

What Is Mental Health?

We need to begin here because there are too many misconceptions about mental health. First, the elephant in the room, I am not an expert. For that reason, I am relying on resources outside of me.

The CDC categorizes our mental health into at least three aspects: emotional, psychological, and social well-being.

We need to know that because our mental health is not static. What I mean is that you might be healthy for a short period of time,  something happens, like a change in your body or trauma,  and then be in a horrible position the next.

Our entire body is interconnected. Your mental health influences how you think, which influences how you feel, which influences how you act.

Mental Health Myth #1: Christians Shouldn’t Struggle With Mental Health

The idea goes like this: If you're a Christian, filled with the Holy Spirit, and saved, you shouldn't have anxiety, be depressed, or be burned out.

And if you are struggling with one of these issues, it is most likely your fault. In other words, you need more faith or pray poorly. Or, if you pray a lot, you need to be praying correctly. Or you have a sin in your life that you need to confess and get rid of, and if you get rid of that sin, you won't be stressed, overwhelmed, burned out, or battling with your mental health.

The Truth:
- I want to show you that you can love Jesus while fighting depression.
- You can be in the Word regularly and still struggle with anxiety.
- You can consistently attend church and still fight with stress.

Did People In The Bible Struggle Like Me?

Let's let out a synchronized, "YES!"

Heman Son of Korah

This would have been the church's deacon. This is the guy at work who you go to for advice. This is the man you want as your father-in-law or father. This is a God-fearing man. (1 Kings 4:31; 1 Chron 6:33; 1 Chron 25:5-6; 1 Chron. 25:6)

Wait until you see what he wrote in Psalm 88. One commentator I found said, “Psalm 88 is an embarrassment to conventional faith.” That is because this Psalm does not have a good conclusion. Psalmists frequently moan, weep, and complain. Then they add, "But the Lord is faithful."

Not Heman. Check out what God's man said:

"I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death. I'm counted among those who've gone down to the pit. I'm like one without any strength left. I'm set apart with the dead like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more. God, You've forgotten me. I feel like I'm cut off from Your care.” - Psalm 88:3-5

Now that’s real. That’s raw emotion.

While Heman will never offer of praise to god, he will still give his eyes towards him. That's key.

He says, "But I cry to you for help, Lord. In the morning, my prayer comes before you." - Psalm 88:1
When trouble hits, are you turning eyes toward God, or away from him?

And the last verse of Psalm 88 is haunting. He says, "You've taken from me my friend and neighbor, darkness is my closest friend."

Darkness is my closest friend. This guy loved God. He's a man of God. And this is in the Bible. This is in the Psalms. And I love that it's there with no positive ending because it shows that God is not afraid of our honesty and that he cares that you may love, question, worship, or be hurt because of him.

Because even if you’re yelling at God, your mind is still on Him.

How Does The 🧠 Works?

What does Jesus say is the greatest commandment? "Love the Lord, your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” While preparing for this content, I wondered how I should love God with all my mind. How does the mind and the brain work?

I want to talk to you about how the brain works. Some of you might know I am in the process of writing a book on Purpose. How to move from Puposeless to Purpose: I am writing out 5 principles in story form (you follow along with a young man as he begins to put these principles into practice). Hopefully, it will be finished one day so you can read it.

I bring it up now because there is a portion of the book where I (or one of the main characters of the book) break down the mechanical processes of the brain that might help us understand. So, if you don’t mind, I will just read you that portion of the book and then I’ll connect it to our discussion.

Don took another spoonful of soup and set the bowl on the ground. He leaned in and continued. "Between your ears are billions of brain cells called neurons that work as a team to shape everything that makes you Ethan. Different neurons have different responsibilities; think of it like a corporation. There is the eating division, the threat department, and the learning think-tank. Being human is complicated, so these neurons work in synchronicity.
"Here is where things get fun. When you have an experience—let's say you accept a job in a different state or come across a crying child in a park—the relevant neurons are activated and fire off. This firing causes neural connections to strengthen and new synapses to grow. In non-science talk, the neurons that work the hardest are fortified the most. Not all 100 billion neurons work on every project. Only the specific department for the experience.
"Eventually, the no longer needed neurons wither from lack of use. This isn't bad; it's normal and healthy for your brain to clear meaningful real estate in your mind for relevant neurons to grow and thrive."
It was beginning to click for Ethan. "So every time we have an experience," he asked, "the corresponding neurons are activated, and they are elevated to a stronger and more important status every time they are activated? As this process repeats, unused neurons wither away, and other neuron connections are strengthened."
"You got it,” Don exclaimed. "It's why you can sing your favorite song word for word, or your mind drifts while driving a familiar route to work. Those repeated activities eventually formed rock-solid connections. Neural plasticity matters because every experience you have alters the physical structure of your brain, Ethan. The people you spend the most time with, every feeling, the ruminating thoughts, and every action you take influences the wiring of your brain and determines who you become.
"If you are not deliberate and conscious in shaping your brain, other people and experiences will do it for you. Your attention and focus are always somewhere, but maybe not where you want them to be. You can directly impact the future shape of your brain, but it's not going to happen by being passive. That is why it’s essential you know the third Principle and win the war of your mind. - Learn more about the book here.

Isaiah 26:3 - You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!

Who will experience perfect peace?

  • Those whose thoughts are fixed on CNN. . .no no no.
  • Those who are locked into Newsmax, nope.
  • Those whose eyes can barely peel their eyes away from their phones when they get home after work, not a chance.
  • How about those who binged watched the entire season of Love in Blind this past month?

The ones that will experience perfect peace are those whose thoughts are “fixed” on God.

The word “fixed” in Hebrew is "Samak": to prop, the rest your full weight on an object.

Mental Health Myth #2: God Doesn’t Care About Your Mental Health

He is unconcerned about this. He's too preoccupied. He has greater issues. Have you seen what's happening around the globe right now? Do you believe God has time to deal with you trying to cope with your weird in-laws or whatever? He has no time for it

The thing is, when you read the Psalms, you'll realize how much God cares about every aspect of your life. Let me read a couple of these to you.

  • Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation, and my God. Psalm 42:11
  • “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
  • The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

There's strain and heaviness if you're like so many people right now and you're just not doing well. You're concerned about an array of issues. You're at a loss for what to do. You despise your work. You don't like the people around you. You're simply not okay.

And God cares.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. 2 Peter 1:3

It’s his divine power. Not my power. Not Fox News' power. Not Donald Trump’s power. Not Disney’s power. Not Satan’s power. Not my counselor’s power. God’s divine power.

According to this verse, He has provided me with everything I need, including the people I need, the resources I need, the friends I need, the counseling I need, and the strength I need. He's always given me everything I need, over and over and over again. And those whose thoughts are set on God will be preserved in complete peace.

Consider What You Actually Need

Sometimes in church, the message is that you need more God. You need nothing more than God. You just need more God. And I'm here to tell you that you absolutely do need more God, but you might also need more sleep. God designed our bodies to sleep; you're not giving your body what it needs.

Or, you might also need better friends. You do not belong to a church community, a bible study, or a discipling group, and you wonder why you feel so alone and detached and why no one is supporting or praying for you. How can you expect to remain strong against the powers of evil when you don't have any meaningful relationships?

Remember, our entire body is interconnected. You might need a better diet. You may need to see a doctor because you're experiencing hormonal changes. You may require more profound therapy, whatever the case may be.

It doesn't mean you're not a good Christian if you're struggling. It means you're human.

It means you're human.

And there's a myth. And it's a lot of time; you'll see it. Around the church that, as Christians, we shouldn't struggle with mental health. You can struggle openly knowing God cares deeply about it and has given you everything you need to live a godly life.

Jesus Promises Peace

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. - John 14:27

Jesus doesn’t promise a piece of his peace. He promises all of his peace.

And the significance is found in the moment he offers it to his followers. Jesus offers His peace the night before His suffering, the night before He faces the worst bodily torment conceivable, possibly to teach us that true peace, complete peace, isn't achieved in the absence of issues.

True peace can only be found in the presence of God. Even when awful news comes, there is peace. Even when you lose your career, you may find peace. When your marriage is in trouble, it's peace. It's peace when your children make decisions that break your heart. It's peace when those you love the most hurt you.

The world cannot give it and cannot take it away. And God has not given us a fearful spirit, but one of power, love, and a sound mind.

In the next post, we will drill down on anxiety 👇

To The Christian With Anxiety
Discover how to overcome anxiety and find peace through prayer and faith. Explore the inspiring story of Jehoshaphat and gain valuable insights for dealing with overwhelming anxiety in this powerful blog post.