This is part one in a series of posts I will do on “The Church” which I refer to as the body of Christ or Christian church in America. Today’s topic is on the Church and mental health. How can I say this nicely? I’m thinking back to reading “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie where I was told never to criticize anyone. Maybe I can share out of my own experience? Maybe that will be more helpful?
I have struggled most of my life with depression. It is complicated because there are other factors involved such as temperament and personality. I am a highly sensitive person. Often growing up in the church I felt very ashamed of myself. I was trying too hard to be a good Christian. I would feel terrible, ashamed when I sinned, and would feel bad for a very long time. I thought God was mad at me. Today, I have learned otherwise. I learned that God always loves me even when I sin. I am His child and He delights in me, maybe not everything I do, but that doesn’t change how He feels about me.
I have heard some sermons on depression over the years and of course they will always point you back to the Bible, which is good. However, I just remember feeling so guilty when the pastor stated that Americans consumed the largest percentage of antidepressants in the world. I don’t remember if he cited his source on that. His sermon was some sort of “rah-rah” that we need to get off our medication. It gave me that impression that it was bad or I was bad for needing medication. I was on anti-depressants at the time.
Being on medication is a personal thing between you and your doctor, not between you and your pastor. You need to decide what is best for you! That is what being an adult is all about. I being, highly co-dependent and around somewhat controlling spiritual environment, felt compelled to go to my pastor for “permission” to take anti-depressants. I look back on how silly that was. I mean it was good to get advice, but very not good when you can’t make your own decisions and always going to others for advice!
This is why I am writing. I guess mostly for those who resonate with my story. If you don’t go to church then you probably don’t really care about this topic. But maybe you do. I think I can see why many people don’t go to church now! There is a lot of guilt and shame hanging out in those places. Well, not all churches and not ever Christian.
I need to write another post on spiritual abuse. I have in the past. But as a Christian, I was under so many layers of misconceptions about being a Christian. I was trying to be a good Christian, but it was killing me. The guilt and shame I feel were compounded by my depression. Because I was told and I really don’t remember where I got this from that you are not suppose to be depressed if you are a Christian. It could have been implied.
Sometimes we get the wrong impression from what is said or what is not said. Other Christians seemed so happy all the time. I thought they were weird frankly because they never seemed to get upset. It was rather creepy. I mean who is happy all the time? The Stepford Wives?
Perhaps the other issue is that I did not know the boundaries for myself and the church or myself and my pastor. And again, I do not know where I got the idea that I had to listen and agree with everything my pastor said. But it was not good. That makes your pastor into your cult leader. Okay, maybe he isn’t a cult leader, but you are following him like he is one. This is not good! I always have to learn the hard way.
It was not my conscience decision. I couldn’t see what was going on. But in 2014, the bubble burst for me. I finally broke away. I finally made my own decision. I felt like a rebel. I felt bad. I did not know if I was doing the right thing. I felt like I was walking away from God. Perhaps that is why it was so hard for me to make my own decisions. I thought the church and the pastor had all the information I needed to live.
Today, I think otherwise. I go to a different church and I have nothing bad to say about it. I don’t want to say anything bad about any church really, but my past experience was horrible for me. I remember singing how free I was and I was suppose to be happy, but I didn’t feel free and I felt sad! 😦 I did not know how uncomfortable I was in that environment. I thought there was something wrong with me.
The peer pressure within groups can be positive or negative. I never knew that churches had their own societies or culture. (Cult) Like I said I am a little obsessed with cults now. I never realize that my decisions could be influenced by the people I was associating myself with. Now, I KNOW. That is why I am so interested in group dynamics and cults.
I don’t want to speak for God. I could be wrong, but I don’t think God wants us to copy each other. I think He made us to be unique individuals and I think He likes us that way!
Okay, I am digressing in this post but please hear me out. Speaking Christianese is NOT a requirement for being a Christian. God wants to have a personal relationship with everyone and not a relationship with us through another person! We need to hear God speak to our hearts for ourselves. I would be careful now if people come up to me and tell me that “God told me”… I use to say that, but I hesitate to say that today. If God wants you to know something He is going to make it clear to you personally. But again, I would be very careful with this kind of talk. A lot of times I hear this in church, it’s not true. But this is just my experience.
Anyway, back to mental health. Talking to your friends and pastor can be a good thing. But never hang on any one’s word. Again, it’s a personal thing and my mistake was sharing or oversharing. And you have to be careful with controlling personality types who start telling you what to do.
I recommend getting counseling, advice, and therapy. But you have to listen to yourself. Well, that is what I call it. Maybe it’s listening to the direction of the Holy Spirit, the still-small voice. I listened to myself finally. I did what I thought was best for me. And for me it was leaving that church. I still can’t believe that I did. It took a lot of guts and courage.
Here is a quote from Rick Warren about mental health from “The Huffington Post” article “Rick And Kay Warren Launch Saddleback Church Mental Health Ministry After Son’s Suicide.”
“There is no shame in diabetes, there is no shame in high blood pressure, but why is it that if our brains stop working, there is supposed to be shame in that?” said Warren, who said the family kept Matthew’s illness a secret from the public not because of shame, but “because it was his own story to tell.”
Like I said before I felt very bad for being a depressed Christian. I felt ashamed. I didn’t want to be depressed. Who does? But today I am doing better. I need to reflect on all the positives things that have contributed to lifting my depression. I think one key thing is not being ashamed of myself. Not feeling bad or like a bad person and not equating doing wrong with being wrong.
To be continued . . .
Update on a verse that I discovered today.
2 Corinthians 7:6 “But God who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus; . . .”
This really stood out for me today to show me that God is not mad at me for being depressed, but comforts me. I am excited to read this today!