It’s #oktosay - how talking about mental health in church could help us ALL feel better
Recent weeks have seen a media focus on mental health, encouraging us to have honest conversations about the often tricky world of feelings and emotions, and culminating in discussions between the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry sharing some of their experiences - from their own lives as well as those of people they have met. Their press release comments that ‘we have seen time and time again that shattering stigma on mental health starts with simple conversations.’ and encourages us all to recognise that ‘simple conversations can change the direction of an entire life.’
We were never meant to do this alone
The importance of talking to one another for humans is well recognised. In fact you could say that the first observation of how vital this is was made in pretty much the earliest days of the human race, when God looked at the man he had made and commented ‘it is not good for the man to be alone.’ (Gen 2:18) In fact the word used here carries a sense of not just loneliness but disconnection from other humans: there is something basic in our DNA that says we were never designed to do this life thing on our own, disconnected from other people.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry also talk about the value of family in our wellbeing - not necessarily your biological family, but of family groups where we grow and journey and do life together. Our modern culture has some great tools to help us connect and communicate but many people feel that they have lost this sense of family and community. In fact in a culture obsessed with communication and social media the irony is that loneliness is an increasing problem for many.
In the midst of all this then, how can and should the church have a role in improving the emotional health and wellbeing of a nation? Churches were traditionally seen as the heart of the community, and they remain, when they function well, a place where this true example of family and community still exists. Where else do you get such a diverse group of people thrown together, passionate about trying to make the world a better place, bring light into darkness, and support the vulnerable? Churches don’t always get this right - they are human after all - but the bible inspires us with what they can be: the most wonderful living example of family - messy, sometimes challenging, but ultimately loving and supportive.
Unconditional love in it's most amazing form
The Church has another vital message to us all about wellbeing. In a time where we are pushed to achieve and challenge our human limits in almost everything, where we love to hear of ‘super’ humans and our TV and cinema time is dominated by superheros, we can feel like utter failures for ‘just’ being normal, everyday, or when life deals us a hard blow and we find ourselves struggling even to exist never mind achieve the amazing. God reminds us that our value doesn’t come from what we do, but simply in who we are. If you achieved nothing else in your life: if you messed everything up and failed by everything the world holds dear, God would still adore you. This is unconditional love in its most amazing form. When we see ourselves through God’s eyes - when we take on God’s perspective on ourselves it gives us the ultimate sustenance we need to get through the riggers of 21st century life. The psalms tell us that those who look to God are radiant - literally meaning that they sparkle (Psalm 34:5) .Lost your sparkle? Try seeing yourself through God’s eyes and see how different you look.
We don’t always get it right of course. Just like the world around us sometimes we can become too focused by where we’re trying to get to and forget that we’re still loved right where we are. In the media reports of Prince Harry’s deeply personal admissions of his own emotional health struggles following his mother’s death the vast majority were careful to point out that he is ‘in a good place now.’ It is so much easier to talk about struggling once it is over: to admit that things were messy once they are cleaned up: to say that it is ok to be failing once you feel that phase in your life has drawn to a close. In the church too we can be much too recovery focused. We pray for people to be healed, then lose interest when they are not. We love and support at first, but struggle to know how to keep doing that when it becomes clear that getting over mental health problems can be a longterm process. We mean well, but share some of the awkwardness and stigma about mental health problems that can be seen throughout our society.
None of us have got this all sorted
We must recognise that none of us have got this all sorted. Paul himself admitted that he didn’t ‘have this altogether’ (Phil 3:12 in the Message). But he did say that he had found something which is so elusive to so many today: the ‘recipe for being happy’ (Phil 4:11, again in the Message). Interestingly this was about changing his focus - moving away from feeling that he needed to be perfect and instead recognising that ‘I can do do everything through Christ who gives me strength.’ In our worship of a perfect God, we find a promise that one day things that are not right in us and in the world will be resolved, and our focus on Him in worship takes our eyes for a moment off our own inadequacies and anxieties - as A W Tozer said ‘When we are looking at God we do not see ourselves - blessed riddance.’ We realise that we are accepted and loved as who we are and experience a peace beyond anything we can earn, or buy, or that the world can offer us.
A huge cheer then today, to the thousands of people in thousands of churches working hard to be great imperfect families worshipping an amazing awe inspiring God. To all those supporting people who feel like they are worth nothing and trying to help them see they are everything to the God who created them and loves them just the way they are. To all those fighting just to get through today and all those trying to bring light to their darkness. Keep sharing, keep loving, keep inspiring, keep comforting - and of course, keep talking.