It seems that one of the biggest misconceptions about Christianity is that when you become a Christian, life just automatically gets easier. No more problems, no more struggles. You’re home free until you die and go to heaven. And on the off chance that something does happen, all you have to do is pray it away and your life is golden again.
Then it happens.
A close relative dies.
A relationship ends unexpectedly.
As a society, we’ve come to accept that death and broken hearts are a part of being human. Their humanity doesn’t make them any easier to live with, but we won’t question the reality or pain of them. One hot topic issue that we haven’t so easily accepted, however, is that of mental disorders.
Anxiety. Depression. OCD. Bipolar. ADD/ADHD. PTSD.
As Christians, those words tend to be a little taboo. We don’t believe they’re really issues because they’re in the mind and that should be easily healed with just a little belief and prayer. We hear that someone struggles with anxiety and we think, “The Bible says not to worry about tomorrow… that’s the cure to anxiety.” We hear that someone struggles with depression and we think, “If they truly had Jesus in their lives, they would be joyful, not depressed.”
Heather Palacios, a staff member at Church by the Glades in Florida and a champion for people with mental illnesses, puts it this way:
Your brain is an organ. Your heart is an organ. Your lungs are an organ. When you have heart problems – you go on heart medication. When your lungs are failing – you take medication to strengthen them back up. Your brain is an organ… but when it is ill, for some reason, it doesn’t deserve the same respect. If you have to take meds for your brain it’s because you are weak or lack faith.
Isn’t that true? How often have you heard someone (or maybe even yourself) say these phrases about mental illnesses:
“If you’re struggling with this, it means your faith isn’t strong enough.”
“Taking medication for anxiety means you aren’t trusting God to heal you.”
“If you pray hard enough God will take it away from you.”
“You must have done some pretty bad things to struggle with depression now.”
I guarantee you know someone who struggles with a mental illness such as anxiety or depression. Whether they’ve shared it or not, it’s there if you look hard enough. How do you, as a Christian, respond when someone is struggling with that?
Have Grace. Be kind, merciful, loving. Know that they’re going to have a lot of bad days and you’re most likely not going to be able to empathize with them. Know that being close with them isn’t going to be easy and it may not necessarily be fun, especially when they’re in the darkest part of it. Know that, and have grace. Love them through it, showing them that you’re there for them and you’re not going anywhere.
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:36
Be Understanding. One of the best things you can do to show someone struggling with a mental illness that you love them is trying to understand what they’re going through. Do a little research and discover what it’s like to live in constant sadness, or fear, or with obsessive compulsions. You’ll never fully understand without going through it yourself, but their are hundreds of blogs and articles out there with the sole purpose of helping people understand what it’s like to live with those disorders.
“Let the wise listen and add to their learning…” Proverbs 1:5a
No Judgement. If someone is struggling with a mental illness, it does not mean they’ve done something in their life to ‘deserve punishment’ or that they don’t have enough faith. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of judging someone for something just because you aren’t struggling with it, or for handling the illness in a way that you wouldn’t have handled it (such as with medication, doctors, etc.). As I said earlier, do everything you can to approach situations like this with love and grace.
“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:7
A mental illness is just that—an illness. We wouldn’t tell someone with cancer that they’re suffering because they didn’t believe hard enough or because they did something to deserve it, and we should approach mental illnesses the same way. Jesus was pretty clear in John 16:33 that, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” The best and most important things we can do are love people through their troubles and have hope that Jesus really has overcome the world.