Written by Pastor Thomas Anderson Jr. Campus Pastor, Willow Chicago; M.Div., PhD Candidate, Adjunct Professor Moody Bible Institute, Podcaster, Husband, and Father.
Mental Health and Faith
Since the pandemic, it seems as if our culture has taken mental health and the issues surrounding it a bit more seriously than before. People recognize on a large scale that our mental health is extremely important. However, this is an area where many experience shame and isolation. One question I would often get from people would be, “As a Christian, is it ok for me to go to therapy?” It used to be a common posture that only “crazy people” or “really broken people” went to see a counselor or therapist (unfortunately, this stigma still exists today). In Christian circles, the stigma centers around having a lack of faith. Each of the above statements is harmful and keeps people from living healthy, God-honoring lives. So, the common question, “As a Christian, is it ok for me to go to therapy?” needs to be addressed. The short answer is–absolutely!
The journey to health or wholeness is lifelong and includes the development of our spiritual and mental health. I look at this as a discipleship issue. The word “disciple” is not a religious term; it refers to a student of someone. Many people throughout history had disciples. Someone they taught, trained, and coached to become skilled at something. So if a disciple of Jesus is growing in their faith, becoming more like Jesus, healing must be a part of the journey for us to be whole. However, it is essential to remember that God did not create us to travel alone. God has designed us to be relational beings. Learning on our own, outside of community, is not the primary way we grow. Like in our spiritual journey, we need someone to walk with us, show us things, and help us when we make mistakes; the same is valid with our mental health journey. Having someone trained to help us process moments in our lives is critical to our healing and growth.
Some people think they need to have a major catastrophic event when thinking of going to a counselor or therapist. While that is one reason to seek help, everyone has experienced a traumatic event. Trauma is defined as an event that includes anything that overwhelms a person’s nervous system and ability to cope. Aundi Kolber, in her book “Try Softer,” mentions the difference between “Big T” trauma and “Little t” trauma. “Big T” traumas are events or experiences that lead to PTSD, while “Little t” trauma is not a catastrophic event but still challenges a person’s ability to cope. When these events or experiences occur, we commonly blame ourselves or say, “that’s life,” and attempt to move forward. However, without processing those painful moments, we lose the ability to continue our journey of health and growth.
Our spiritual journey is a holistic one. God cares about all aspects of our being, mental health included. Some doctors specialize in treating the injured area when you are physically hurt. When we experience trauma, some people specialize in treating the mind and how that impacts our bodies. It is evident in scripture that God desires people to live lives full of love. We watch Jesus love unconditionally even when it cost him his life. So, what should we do if we find ourselves unable to live as God intended? As stated earlier, this is a discipleship issue. If I cannot keep a particular spiritual discipline (reading my bible daily), the answer shouldn’t be to hide it and act as if everything is fine. Nor should we try harder nor shame ourselves for “failing” at it. We should have a safe community in which someone can help us take the next steps to learn more about God without overwhelming and shaming us. The same is true with our mental health. When we cannot live as created due to the brokenness of this world and how it has impacted our minds, we might pray, hoping it disappears. Instead, we pray to ask God for courage, strength, and wisdom to find a trained individual who can help us cope with our past experiences.
God deeply desires us–all of us–including the awesome and fun parts and the painful and hurting parts, too. When we seek help to navigate our hurting selves so we can continue to live as God intended, He is pleased. One could say it is even faithful stewardship of the life we have been given.
Often the bible is used out of context to explain away or offer false hope concerning mental health issues. However, I want to share two verses with you in the context of how God cares.
God allows for the full range of human emotions. Just read the psalms, and you will see people felt all kinds of ways, and God is big enough to handle all of it. (For example, check out Psalm 13)
The two verses, in particular, I want to share are Philippians 4:5b-7 and 1 Peter 5:7
The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This verse does not say Christians should never struggle with anxiety because we know God. First, we need to realize that Paul is not addressing questions or issues about mental health. He is writing to people suffering and scared due to persecution. While there may be similar feelings (suffering and scared), the main thing to note is that believers must “not be anxious” because the Lord is near. How often do we feel alone and afraid when struggling with mental health? Paul wants us to know that God is near to us. When things seem out of control, He is in control. We can ask Him to give us a sense of peace even when things don’t make sense.
7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Peter informs his readers that we serve a God with whom we can be our whole selves. No matter how scary or massive our feelings or thoughts become, we can give all of it to God. He is willing and able to handle it. The heart of all of this is God’s love for you. God loves you so much that He wants to receive all of you.
Read one woman’s story of overcoming the stigma of depression and seeking help: Overcoming Depression: Katie’s Story
For more practical ways to deal with mental health issues, and stories of others who have been there too, go here for our full list of resources.