Why May Is A Special Month
May is always a special month for me.
There are a couple of reasons for that. My birthday is in May — feel free to send gifts 🙂
The second reason is that May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time when many individuals, groups and ministries seek to inform and educate the public about this issue. It’s important to me as someone who has had a lifelong battle with depression.
For too long this topic had been swept under the rug. No one talked about it. “Those people” were ignored and shunned.
News Flash: those days are over. We are a nation beseiged with senseless shootings. Millions of Americans still suffer adverse mental and emotional effects of the pandemic lockdown in 2020. Anxiety and depression are widespread. It’s a national crisis, and it’s getting worse.
It’s time to talk.
I’ve shared often on this blog about my own mental health struggles (see the Related Posts at the end of this article). My purpose here is to bring hope to others with mental illness, and to share some valuable free Christian resources to help bring understanding and healing.
3 Important Lessons
I hid my mental and emotional problems for many years. I feared the rejection of others. I was afraid I would be judged inferior by other Christians. And I worried about how this battle impacted my faith walk. I felt defeated and defective.
Though these feelings were very real, they didn’t reflect reality. When I finally became honest with myself and began to seek help, I discovered compassion rather than rejection and judgment. And I learned some very important lessons.
First, I learned that I was not alone. Many people, Christians included, have mental health issues. In fact, statistically the numbers are one in five Americans! In the Bible, we see that David fought depression, Martha struggled with anxiety, Elisha wrestled with suicidal thoughts. The great evangelist Charles Spurgeon had frequent debilitating bouts of depression. So if you are wrestling with sadness, grief, anxiety, know that you are not alone. It’s not just you.
A second lesson I learned was that it is not a sin to have mental health problems. It is not a reflection on your morality or spirituality. How you feel doesn’t determine your faith. Actually, faith is believing in spite of your feelings, and taking action despite your circumstances. Your mental and emotional struggles don’t separate you from God. Your identity is in Christ, not your illness. Throughout Scripture, God promises He will never leave you. Psalm 55:22 encourages us to “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.” Your salvation is secure regardless of how you feel.
The third lesson I learned was that God is always there for me. God does not abandon those who are hurting. In fact, just the opposite: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). God’s response to mental illness is compassion and closeness. Your feelings may tell you the opposite, but put your faith in Him and hold on to His promises. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).
A Mental Health Parable?
Jesus taught with short stories called parables. One of these is commonly referred to as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. But if we take a closer look, we’ll see that it also has some important things to teach us about mental health. (After reading this, you might begin to think of it as The Mental Health Parable!)
We find the parable in Luke 10:30-37. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead” (verse 30). The first thing to realize is that as we journey through life, all of us will face attacks from our enemy, the devil. A primary target of his is the mind. The Bible tells us his mission is “to steal, kill and destroy.” While there are genetic and physiological components to mental illness, we must also recognize it as spiritual warfare. Satan does attack us mentally and emotionally. No one gets through this life unscathed.
I find it interesting to note that in the attack, the man was “stripped of his clothes.” To me this signifies shame, which is often experienced by those who suffer from mental illness. Jesus, too, was stripped of his clothes when He was crucified. We are accustomed to depictions of the crucifixion with Jesus clad in a loincloth, but the reality is that He hung naked on the cross. Jesus is acquainted with shame; he is a high priest who can relate to how we are feeling.
The parable continues: “A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side” (verses 31-32). This has often been the response of society to mental illness. Rather than addressing it, the problem is ignored or hidden out of sight (think of the old mental institutions and asylums). Sometimes people don’t know how to help, but there are also times when many just don’t care. They are busy with their own lives and don’t want to be bothered. But this approach never solves a problem; it only allows it to get worse. We see that happening in our society today. The growing mental health crisis can only be changed as our awareness increases.
The next part of the parable introduces us to a Samaritan. In Jewish society, a Samaritan was an outcast, someone regarded as inferior by the Jews. Jesus surprised his listeners by presenting him as the hero. Help comes from a source they didn’t expect: “But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him” (verses 33-34).
The man in the parable represents us, and the Good Samaritan is Jesus. Notice that he “came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.” God did not leave us lost in our sins; he came to earth in the form of a man, because He had compassion on us. He came where we are and experienced what we experience. Jesus knows and understands, and like the Samaritan, he brings healing. He does for the man what the man could not do for himself. Those who battle mental illness cannot heal themselves; they need outside help.
Guess Who God Is Calling?
But the parable doesn’t end there. A new character is soon introduced: “The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have” (verse 35). We see that two people are involved in the man’s healing. We’ve already seen that the Good Samaritan represents Jesus– but who is the innkeeper?
The innkeeper is the Church. God calls us to care for those who are hurting. Every church should be a safe place for those who are wounded, a haven where it is safe to share, a place where healing can occur. This is part of God’s design. We are to emulate Jesus to those who are broken. Only the Church can bring God’s peace to a desperate hurting world. God wants to use you to be part of their healing. We are not meant to heal in isolation. We need community. We need safe spaces to be cared for. We need to receive grace, compassion, love. Does this describe your church?
I think it’s important to note that the man was not healed instantly. We love to see miracles, of course, but in most cases healing is a process. There is no timeline; the implication in the parable was that the innkeeper was to care for the man as long as was necessary. The goal is wholeness, not a bandaid. Are you ready to provide longterm care? The Samaritan told the innkeeper that he would provide whatever was needed. Are there skills you need to learn? Are there ministry tools you need to obtain? What can you do to prepare to help those who come to you broken and in need?
And if you are the one who is struggling, are you willing to trust someone to help? Pastors, therapists, counselors, and medical professionals can do much, but only if you are willing to let them. A good church can provide the support network you need. It can be scary to let others get close and tend to your wounds. There is the risk of being hurt again. But you need community in order to heal. Are you willing to expose your struggle and reach out for help? Ask God to lead you to the right people, those you can trust. He answered that prayer for me, and I know He can do the same for you. I urge you to get the help you need.
Some Helpful Resources
For Christians and churches that want to know more and be part of the solution, there are many resources available that will help you to minister to those with mental illness. Here are just a few:
hopemadestrong.org has a free Mental Health Sunday toolkit which contains a multitude of resources you can use to host a Mental Health Sunday service in your church. Their website states, “By having a Mental Health Sunday, you can equip your church with biblical resources that offer hope, break down the stigma surrounding mental health, and build community.” You can find out all about the toolkit here: http://www.mentalhealthsunday.com . (My thanks to Laura Howe at hopemadestrong.org for allowing me to use some of these resources in writing this article).
hopefortheheart.org has free booklets to download on a variety of topics, including “What Is God’s Heart on Anxiety?” and “What Is God’s Heart on Depression?” which provide helpful information. These and other resources can be found at http://www.hopefortheheart.org/free/ .
ccda.org, the Christian Community Development Association, has an online Mental Health Survey you can take at http://www.surveymonkey.com /r/BSDDYDG .
markdejesus.com is the website of Mark DeJesus, who has a Christian ministry which focuses on mental health, anxiety, and OCD. He has a resource library at http://www.markdejesus.com/topics , as well as a YouTube channel with many informative videos. His latest, “Fight Mental Health Battles With Compassion,” can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zL3rOnLhZkw .
I hope this article has been helpful to you. I know that Jesus can bring healing to those who fight mental illness. Let’s increase our awareness of this issue during Mental Health Awareness Month, and prepare ourselves to reach out to those who are hurting with the Good News that they, too, can live the transformed life!
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“What You Need To Know About Depression” http://www.livingthetransformedlife.com/what-you-need-to-know-about-depression
“Stamping Out The Stigma of Mental Illness” http://www.livingthetransformedlife.com/stamping-out-the-stigma-of-mental-illness
“I Sat In Darkness” http://www.livingthetransformedlife.com/i-sat-in-darkness
“A Little Lesson From Lazarus” http://www.livingthetransformedlife.com/a-little-lesson-from-lazarus