Mentally Healthy / Lives Transformed / 630 / Oct 2017
This is part of a 2-part talk. The first can be found here and they can both be listened to here:
Pt 1 Emotional health: Listen here
Pt 2 Mental health: Listen here
So we are continuing our series on lives transformed tonight, seeking for every part of our lives to be continually being transformed into the likeness of Jesus.
Last week we looked at our emotions and seeking to be emotionally healthy and today we are going to move on from that, to focus on our mental health. We are really moving forward from what we looked at last week, this is the next step if you like.
I also gave a sort of disclaimer last week, that I want to repeat. This is not an easy subject for any of us, it can be very challenging, especially for those of dealing with mental illness of any sort or supporting those who are.
I’m not an expert, but I want to be able to encourage us to seek Jesus in these themes and in our own situations. This is such an important area and as a church particularly we want to be able to explore it together, with grace and compassion so if you find anything difficult or you don’t agree with what I’m saying, please do come and talk to me or one of the leadership afterwards or drop us an email. And as always we have our prayer ministry team here and would consider it a privilege to pray with you either now or at another time.
So today I want to focus on mental health. We looked last week at how our emotions can get out of control but sometimes it’s more serious than that. MH issues are medical illnesses that thankfully we are becoming increasingly aware of. Diagnoses are better in this day and age than ever before. But there does also seem to be an increase in people suffering too.
As a church, as Christians, we NEED to have a better understanding of how to support people struggling with Mental illness. We can’t and shouldn’t ignore M illness because we don’t understand it or don’t know what to say. For example, I spoke to someone recently who has had some Mental health problems for some time, and is rooted in a church context and asked if they had been ever been offered prayer and the answer was no! and yet I feel sure if that person had a physical illness there would have been plenty of offers!
As I said last week, I’m not an expert, but I have received some invaluable advice in the last few weeks from those who have experienced Mental illness first hand or who support those with it. And that is our best advice – if we don’t understand it or don’t know what to do – lets find out! Don’t use that as an excuse. Ok?!
What is it
Did you know I in 6 people suffer from a MH issue of some sort. That means a significant portion of us here will be suffering with something, maybe anxiety, depression or other conditions.
It is a huge area and it is not something to be ashamed of, scared of, or something to be avoided.
Mental Health issues affect people in different ways, and come in many different forms, however what it IS, is illness, it might be through chemical imbalance, result of trauma, response to a deeply felt situation or another reason.
Someone said to me recently, and I think this is a very simple but helpful description:
They said: ‘we live in a broken world and I have a broken brain. As a consequence of that other parts of my life can be affected, my physical health, my spiritual health, and like any other illness the devil uses it to pull me away from God.’
And I’ve chosen Psalm 6 as a starting point today, I think it portrays some of the deep and all consuming nature of many MH conditions.
The Psalmist cries out: in v3
My soul is in deep anguish – can we really grasp the depth of what that means? His soul – deep inside is in unrest, and he can’t find his way out – as he says how long, how long Lord? So many MH conditions are long term, and can seem never ending.
In vs 1-2
Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.
There is that sense of wondering if the Lord is angry with him, is this his fault? Is this some kind of punishment?
NO! God is not like that, he is a God who loves us.
And verses 6-7 too are full of the physical outworking of that soul in distress: Worn out from Groaning, endless crying, growing weak with sorrow
and in v 10 David talks of his enemy being overwhelmed, so on the subject of the enemy, let’s address the elephant in the room shall we – the demonic or the spiritual angle.
Now, I know it’s controversial and people take differing views but here’s what I find most helpful:
: everything in our lives is spiritual, or has a spiritual element to it. We are spiritual beings, created in God’s image, with mind, body and spirit and we live in a world created by God too, in which the spirit is at work.
So if we can accept that everything is spiritual then we could say of a common cold for example, that it is spiritual – it’s not God’s intention that there is illness of any kind and it won’t be like that in heaven. But to be honest we wouldn’t say, the devil has given me a cold would we? And it would probably not be entirely helpful to attempt to cast out the cold would it? Might be better to go to bed and take a lemsip right?! But if that cold means we get overly angry at God for allowing us to be ill then something, potentially spiritually, is pulling us away from God.
Actually we can treat Mental illness in exactly the same way, it is not what God had planned for us, in the same sense as anything else then it is spiritual, but just as we would take lemsip for a cold, people suffering from Mental illness can and should be helped by medication – or therapy or by other means.
Now I’m not saying don’t pray, of course we pray and we seek healing for any sick person who wants it. We are always happy to offer to pray for healing and we should be open to doing that in compassion and grace and with sensitivity. I would always suggest that when we pray for healing we ask the person how they want to be prayed for first.
And I know of people in church (in the wider church) with MH conditions who have been hugely damaged by the suggestion that they are possessed or have a condition that is demonic. In some cases that has stopped them seeking medical help. So the spiritual attitude of someone else, has caused them to deliberately avoid seeking the medication that could help them become well. That doesn’t sound very Godly either does it…? So you could ask where actually where’s the force of evil in that?
So I’m not saying things are not spiritual, the opposite, everything is.
basically everything in our lives has a spiritual element, but that is no more so necessarily for those with MH conditions. There is nothing wrong and usually everything good in medical treatment and that it is not really all that helpful to go around suggesting that anything is demonic. And to attempt to cast things out of people who are already suffering deeply.
I’m more than happy to chat about that if you want to know more or question that!
Encouragements from the bible – David and Elijah etc
Now, I want us to look at a few biblical examples which might help us as we look at Mental illness and mental health.
Someone shared with me last week that they saw it like this:
God knows the world is broken, he knows as a result of that there is pain and suffering, including M illness, and so his response is to give us things to help us through that: being medical professionals, scientists who produce medication that can help with chemical imbalance, people to come alongside us and support us, he has not left us alone in it… So lets seek where is he in each situation?
So let’s start with King David, the Psalms
Last week we looked at Psalm 139, tonight Psalm 6. And I want to reiterate how great the Psalms are for looking at emotion and outpouring of our feelings from joy to absolute despair. They can be so helpful as we face our own situations.
Now David experienced great highs and lows in his life.
He started out as a shepherd boy before being chosen by God as the future king.
He had great riches and wealth as well as times of living in caves and being on the run.
He loves God but does not always walk the right path. He even suffered the grief of losing a child.
And much of all of this we can read through the Psalms. They cover a huge range of David’s emotions and different mental states. And actually a lot of what we see in his expressions of emotions has caused some to ask whether he was actually bi-polar.
Now we don’t know and the rollercoaster of his life’s circumstances might just be reflected in his continual extremes of emotion and behaviour.
But here in Psalm 6 we can see a bit of that where he starts from using words like being in agony, deep anguish, being worn out, weeping all night. TO the end where he declares that it’s all going to be ok because God has heard him and will overcome his enemies.
David takes his feelings, his wretchedness and puts it before the Lord in prayer.
It can be hard for us NOT to turn away from God when we are struggling or suffering.
All our Good positive spiritual habits we have built up can be torn down by the strength of the illness we face.
But I want to encourage you to keep the lines of communication open between you and God, even if it is to tell him exactly what you think of him right now – I’m sure he’s heard worse!
Think of it this way, if one of your children or someone you are really close to was suffering and struggling, wouldn’t you want them to be honest with you, for them to recognise you can be a support to them.
God feels the same. He loves you no matter what and he wants to be there in the agony as much as the celebration, perhaps even more so.
And as those of us seeking to support those with mental illness we need to be people who can help and enable others to do this, to pour own their emotions to God. To be willing to sit with someone while they cry uncontrollably; to hold their hand while they swear at God, but on their terms.
Not to take offence if they are angry and can’t face seeing you;
Not to try and fix things necessarily,
not to try and provide the answers – because sometimes there just aren’t any. Sometimes things are just bloody awful and there isn’t anything more to be said.
And that’s a tough ask coming alongside someone in that. But perhaps you can be a real gift to that person. The gift of being able to walk with them as they fight through the journey of depression, or anxiety or bi polar or anything else, unconditionally and with patience and understanding and on their terms…
So, another example for us to look at is
Elijah. It has been suggested that Elijah was suicidal or perhaps even pyschologically disturbed.
Elijah, was an amazing prophet and servant of the Lord. You can read about him in 1 Kings & very start of 2 Kings.
He had seen amazing miracles happen through God. God sent ravens to feed him, Elijah raised a widow’s son from the dead, he called down fire from heaven against idol worshippers and then as a result revival swept the nation.
So he’s not who you would expect to suffer from depression or suicidal tendencies is he? But that is the thing, sometimes there are markers or pointers, but actually its not always easily predicted.
And here Elijah, not who we’d expect to, spiralled into despair. In 1 Kings 19:4 we read:
1 Kings 19:4-9
He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”.
He wanted to die and we don’t know what might have happened, except that God sent his angels to Elijah:
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.
Did you notice that God said to him, the journey is too much for you.
Elijah clearly felt he couldn’t bear what he was having to face here, so much so that he wanted to die.
And what is God’s response?
he responds with compassion, and with simplicity. He sends an angel with food and drink and as I read this week this passage described as ‘ God is present in the wilderness with the broken’ – what a lovely way of thinking about it. And he is. He’s there with us in all seasons.
There’s also a lesson there for us in how we support those with M I. To just be there sometimes, to provide basic support if needed, but also to help point to spiritual nourishment, to draw the person towards Jesus when they feel that can’t do that for themselves.
We might suggest ‘Church is the best place for you’ – but it might actually be the opposite, someone who is struggling with M illness might find coming to church impossible. We do not beat them up for that, we can find other ways to support them for that season… and lets do so but gently and encouragingly, not prescriptive, and give them time.
So we can see how God helped Elijah through what he could not bear, even seeking death. And I’ve spoken about suicide before and I’m not going to go there too much tonight, but briefly I want to say:
does God, in seeing someone in their darkest hour, their absolute moment of need, suddenly become uncompassionate and turn away? When a person might be the most in need of some love in their entire life? I don’t think that sounds like our God does it? Despite what some church teaching has said in the past and particularly in relation to Judas, we just don’t know what happened at the point of his death, but we do know that our God is about redemption, about taking people out of brokenness, of healing, of wholeness with God. Mercy and grace are all about us getting what we don’t deserve. I think it’s more helpful and encouraging to focus on that isn’t it?
And one last example. Naomi, who we can read about in the book of Ruth. She lost her husband and both her sons and becomes understandably overcome with grief and bitterness and as she says in verse 12 – she feels there is no hope for her.
I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me…?
No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”
She goes back to Behtlehem, her home town with her dil Ruth and when she arrives people almost don’t recognise her: She says to them:
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.
She feels that God has taken away all goodness from her and instead afflicted her with a life where she will be consigned to poverty, where she has no one to look after her in her old age.
She has named herself ‘bitter’ but that gives us a good lesson –
the illness does not identitfy the person. We show compassion to the person not the illness, we don’t want to loose sight of who they are. Every one of us is made in God’s image. As we looked at last week with Psalm 139, we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Our identity is not ‘depressive’ or ‘anxious’ or ‘schizophrenic’ it is in being a child of God.
So when we come alongside people let’s see them not the illness, when we identify with a condition we have or others have, lets not allow it to take over who we are. Those suffering with Mental illness are not ‘a problem to be fixed’ but children of God needing to be loved just like anyone else.
John 10;10 SAYS :
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
The devil will do all he can to draw us from God and take us away from what God has for us – the abundance of life he has for us. We should not forget that.
A person who is ill in any respect, has a life, a purpose, and wonderful gifts from God, and is as worthy as anyone else, as loved and precious as anyone else. Steve was talking last week in the morning about how sometimes we can see people as worth-less, as worth less than us. And that is not how God sees us. He loves each and very one of us the same. Lets remember that…
And what seems to help Naomi out of her situation?
I think it is in having someone alongside her in Ruth. Ruth commits to Naomi when she doesn’t have to, she works to help them both survive, and she humbles herself, she seeks advice from Naomi, giving her some sense of self worth and being able to do something useful. And even when Ruth is later married to someone else she remains with Naomi, in her life, she even offers her, her child. She has committed to her completely.
We need to support people with MH conditions and we need to commit to it but not to do so lightly.
and on that… – The ‘how are you’ question.
So here’s the thing, if you see someone looking upset or sad or down at church, whether they might have MH issues or not, ‘how are you?’ is not a great question. If that person is struggling they have 2 options – to lie and say everything is fine because they don’t want to have to face it all right now, or to tell you the truth that things are not ok. They might have just about being holding it all together and then suddenly a question like that breaks into it all.
I’ve been there when it has taken everything in me to drag myself to church and then to be just about holding in the tears when someone said how are you?
Cue the damn opening and and it was not someone who I wanted to share how I was feeling with. And they clearly had no idea what to do next anyway, so it was horrible and awkward and I just wanted to run away.
Of course we want to be people who care and to have compassion so I am not saying don’t look out for other people, but if you think someone might need a friendly face or you want to enquire, why not go and start a less threatening conversation with them instead? – can I get you a coffee? I like your jacket, what have you been up to his week? – which easier to respond to and less intrusive.
And more, do not ask someone how they are if you are not prepared to pick up the pieces if there are some. Or if you are not prepared to follow up with them later in the week and see how they are doing, or to take them out for a cuppa to chat or whatever it might be.
If someone is already feeling low or struggling with how they are mentally. If you offer a hand and then withdraw it, that can be hugely damaging. It would be better not to offer it in the first place.
So there’s just a few examples from David, Elijah and Naomi and there are plenty more in the bible that might give us help or encouragement in situations of mental illness.
If you are struggling with a MH condition remember you are not alone, perhaps you can take some comfort from those who have been there before, who have expressed their pain and despair in God’s word.
Try and keep those lines of communication open between you and God, like David, tell him what you are thinking, let out the emotion and pain.
And try to remember that God is always with you, you are always precious and loved, fearfully and wonderfully made.
And if we are supporting someone with MH issues, lets try to learn more of how we can be helpful. How we can support. And let’s do so with love and grace and compassion (and not by asking how are you?!)
Lets be: present in the wilderness with the broken, isn’t that what Jesus would do?
however you can always contact us if you’d like some one to pray with you another time..