Editor's Note: We are a non-religious magazine. However, we acknowledge that spirituality is an important part for some. Our Faith column is a place for anyone to discuss how faith positively affects their mental health and how to improve the conversation around mental health within faith communities.
Community is an essential part of faith. Intimacy with our brothers and sisters and sharing our journeys, including our struggles with mental illness, is crucial to growth.
Yet, I, and many other Christians with mental illness, hesitate to share these parts of our lives with the church community. Instead, we hide them away, protecting ourselves to keep our weakness from being exploited by spiritual leaders, and to protect ourselves from the alienation and judgement that comes from mental illness.
Author and pastor Sarah Griffith Lund speaks to this, writing, “Christianity, with its starched white communion linens, didn’t seem to want my blood stains on it. Jesus’ blood was okay, but not the crazy blood that ran through my body.” This crazy blood, mental illness, seems to be unwelcome in the church today.
We don’t talk about mental health in most faith communities.
Many try to pray it away or cast it out. The church’s solution is often more prayer, more rigorous Bible study, more faith. Mental illness then becomes a faith and character issue and further reinforces what many of us already feel — that something is wrong with us.
Years ago, while searching for greater hope and healing in the cross, I found myself indoctrinated with these beliefs. I was blindly following leaders that stigmatized me for something I had no control over, and involved in a community which exploited my vulnerabilities in order to convert me to their brand of faith.
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It has taken me years to become open to the idea of entering into a faith community again.
Healing from this kind of spiritual and emotional damage is a lengthy process, yet it is possible. As I’ve begun to heal, I’ve learned we don’t have to settle for a faith community that harms us and further ingrains in us the lies of our addictions, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders by telling us it is our fault.
We owe it to ourselves to walk away from a community of believers that is harmful to our mental health. We deserve a faith community that is supportive of our recovery. These communities attempt to be Jesus to us in our struggles with addiction and mental illness. Jesus didn’t — and still doesn’t — run from us in these struggles, nor does he tell us something is wrong with our actions. Instead, as Sarah Griffith Lund said, “Jesus himself got crazy blood on his hands when he touched people with unclean spirits and exorcised demons from his followers.”
A healthy community is not afraid to get your ‘crazy blood’ on their hands.
They aren’t afraid to sit with you when you’re so depressed you can’t move. They aren’t afraid to walk out of church in the middle of sermon because you’re having a panic attack. They don’t accuse you of a lack of faith when your addictions overcome you.
They remind you to take your meds and they go with you to therapy. A healthy faith community is one which understands the complexity and nature of mental illness and knows it is not a lack of faith or character flaw.
Don’t settle for a faith community that doesn’t accept you and meet you where you’re at.
Find one that seeks to understand your journey and welcomes you regardless of what that journey is. Look for a community that doesn’t expect you to be filled with joy or peace during worship. Get involved in a community that allows you to ask questions. As people of faith and especially as people in recovery from mental illness, we need other people to come alongside us.
We need a community of believers to walk with us and build us up. This community should never harm your mental health and recovery, but encourage it. It shouldn’t take advantage of your vulnerability and try to indoctrinate you in your weakness. This community should accept you and walk alongside you as you figure your faith out for yourself.
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The opinions and information shared in this article may not represent that of Libero Network Society. We hold no liability for any harm that may incur from reading content on our site. Please always consult your own medical professionals before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process.