In 2017, 60% of clergy in the Church of England reported that mental health is a ‘major’ or ‘significant’ problem in their area.
For many of us, myself included, mental health is a personal struggle, and an ongoing battle. Danielle gave us some great advice at the start of this year, helping us to cope when we are personally struggling. However, Galatians 6:2 tells us to ‘carry each other’s burdens’. As Christians we are to carry the burden of mental health together, as a community, not just as individuals. So how can we do this?
Let’s explore four Bible verses that give us an insight into how to fight this battle together.
It’s OK not to be OK
‘This is what the Lord says: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”’ (Jeremiah 31:15)
One of the first things we can do is recognise that the Bible speaks of intense emotional and mental distress. There is nothing new about it and the Bible makes no effort to hide it. Being open and honest about how we feel is important. We may feel like crying out, and not glossing over that is the first step to take as church. Sometimes your role is to speak and other times it is to listen.
Minister to basic needs
‘He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.’ (1 Kings 19:6)
Elijah, a hero of the faith, returns from an amazing ministry adventure and yet finds himself weary and worn. He even asks God to take his life. After falling asleep under a broom tree, God sends an angel to tend to him. Notice that the angel just leaves bread and water. He doesn’t give Elijah a pep talk or try to cheer him up, he just ministers to his basic needs. Later in 1 Kings 19, we hear that this food strengthened Elijah to go on a little further in his journey. Be ready to minister to one another’s basic needs.
Stand alongside each other
‘Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?”’ (Mark 14:37)
When Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he dies, he says his soul is ‘overwhelmed with sorrow, even to the point of death’ (Matt 26:38). He asks the disciples to stay up and pray, but they fall asleep. Sometimes, being alongside people in their anguish and praying with them is hugely significant. You might have to fight your instincts to do something more exciting, or even fall asleep! However, we are made to stand alongside one another.
Pray in the Spirit
‘In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.’ (Romans 8:26-28)
Often the only thing we can do is sigh, groan and cry out. This isn’t what God has intended for us. He desires that we flourish, but that is prevented in a broken world. Know that the Spirit intercedes for us and that whether we are sufferers or supporters, the Spirit strengthens us in our weakness. Lean on Him for guidance and support – Jesus came to Earth to share in this pain, so trust him with it.
We’ve only scratched the surface on what the Bible has to say about the Church responding to suffering and mental health, but hopefully these are some basic principles you can use to see some light shed into the darkness. Recognise that our minds and emotions can be agonising, minister to basic needs, stand alongside each other, and pray in the Spirit.
We recently released a special mindfulness episode of the Together Podcast. It’s not the ultimate answer for those who may be struggling, but we hope you find it helpful to de-stress and rest in God’s peace.