Mental Health Sundays: What Can We Do as a Community?

On Sunday we were very blessed to have a few experts and professionals in the mental health field come and share with our church on a panel.

We believed it was important to hear from professionals in this area, who have given their lives to healing, caring, and supporting others. Receiving professional help is something that in the evangelical church receives some stigma in some circles but it is absolutely crucial.

So we are grateful to the panel for their discussion, which you can hear on our podcast.

We ended our time together with three simple challenges: welcome and include, pray, and continue the conversation.

First, as a next step we talked about welcoming and including others with mental health challenges. That this is something we can all practically do in any church you attend. We can create safe spaces for people to journey together, and to include those who often feel excluded by the church.

John Vanier and John Swinton write this,

If the church has anything to offer to people with mental illness (and indeed to anyone else), it is the provision of a space where they can truly feel that they belong.

And I believe that is so true, and absolutely needed.

Kathryn Green McCreight writes,

From a theological perspective, the most dangerous thing about mental illness is that it can lock us in ourselves, convincing us that we are indeed our own, and completely on our own, isolated in our distress.

This is why as churches, as communities of believers, as followers of Jesus we must welcome and include people who are struggling.

The second thing we reminded one another to do was to pray. That praying for others, and letting them know you are praying for them is a tangible reminder of our care and support. In some situations as we journey with people we are not always sure of everything we can do, but one thing we can always do is pray and remind them of that.

Miriam a woman who struggles with mental health writes this:

When you don’t know what to do or say, the one thing you can do is pray and let the person you are praying for know you are. It is a true expression of compassion and Christian love

And lastly, we reminded one another to continue the conversation. That this is the just the beginning and one thing we can do is to continue to learn and listen. We can learn more about mental health, and listen directly from those who are struggling. We can ask how we can help, and take action.

And through these three steps we can start to make a difference and changing the world, by changing someone’s world. As we remember to welcome and include, pray, and continue the conversation.

Mental Health Sundays: Myths, Lies, and Mental Health

mental_health_week_web_0_0On Sunday we opened up a really important topic: mental health. Mental health is someone that affects huge numbers of people (estimates are around ¼ of people), yet it is one health challenge that has tremendous stigma, exclusion, and a lack of understanding surrounding it. And that’s something we want to change.

So we began by exploring some of the realities of what mental health is. We shared some basic information about three major mental health illnesses. But then to move it away from theory, and “clinical” descriptions I read the following first hand accounts from people struggling with mental health challenges.

Liz writes:

“Depression is a very emotive subject for me, especially among people who have never had to live with it. It is that hidden disability that no one really understands fully – least of all those who suffer with it. The symptoms include feeling overwhelmingly tired, angry, emotional and with a need to withdraw from the world around you. Seeking treatment can also make you feel even more depressed as you feel that you are even more of a failure at not being able to get through it on your own.”

William Styron writes in Darkness Visible:

“The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come – not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute. If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow. It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul. So the decision-making of daily life involves not, as in normal affairs, shifting from one annoying situation to another less annoying – or from discomfort to relative comfort, or from boredom to activity – but moving from pain to pain. One does not abandon, even briefly, one’s bed of nails, but is attached to it wherever one goes.”

And Miriam writes:

“As someone with a mental health illness, you get the feeling that somehow you are more difficult to deal with within the institution of the “church”. In a naïve way I believed the church would be open to all. However, my experience makes me feel that I am on the outside of the institution and an embarrassment.”

The truth is that Jesus never turned away from someone in need, so neither can the church.

So to begin this conversation I unpacked 3 myths I see in the Christian world concerning mental health, and then next week we’ll look at how to help and support those with mental health.

The three myths we unpacked were: mental health is caused by sin, mental health can be cured by prayer alone, and mental illness isn’t welcome in the church.

The truth is that we love simple and easy explanations so when it comes to mental health we often reach for those easy solutions: you must have sinned. Yet this reduction of a complex issue that involves emotions, chemical imbalances, physical realties, and social environments to just personal sin that is “God is sending consequences” is directly against the Bible. I know that sounds harsh but in John 9 when the disciples try to reduce someone’s illness to personal sin – Jesus directly confronts them and contradicts their view. So we need to contradict this myth as well.

Secondly, we looked at how mental health is still believed to be cured by prayer alone by 35% of the church. This is also incredibly unhelpful and a myth. I’m not saying I don’t believe in prayer for healing, but that with any other physical illness we not only pray but also seek medical help. But when it comes to mental health there is the myth that prayer, reading your bible, and more self-discipline will be enough. This is simply not true, not helpful, not Biblical (see my sermon on James 5 for more), and needs to be stopped. I absolutely believe that prayer can cure mental illness, I just don’t believe it is the only cure.

Thirdly, we looked at how mental illness isn’t welcome in the church. I say this is a myth not because I don’t believe it’s true, or that it doesn’t happen in churches; but that in the church as it’s meant to be this exclusion should never happen. Jesus would never exclude or isolate someone who is hurting. So if we want to follow Jesus, this idea that mental illness isn’t welcome in the church needs to go. Following Jesus requires that we welcome and include especially in this area.

So those are three myths we unpacked, along with the myth that “the church can’t make a difference” in this area, because I believe we can. I believe that if we get serious about journeying with people and supporting them. Yes professionals and health care experts are needed (see next week) but so too are caring communities of support. And that’s what the church can and should be.

Jean Vanier & John Swinton write this,

The church has a history of pioneering in health and social care and I believe it is time for us to step up to the challenge of working in the area of mental health.

So on Sunday to wrap up I gave us one main point and one challenge. The main point was: Mental health is real and we need to address it. And then the challenge to do this was simple this week: to learn more about it. To fight against the stigma, lack of awareness, and exclusion by learning and growing. This is obviously just the first step but it’s a necessary one. And next week we’ll learn how to take another step as a community.

“Give to us grace, O Father, not to pass by suffering or joy without eyes to see; give us understanding and sympathy; and guard us from selfishness that we may enter into the joys and sufferings of others; use us to gladden and strengthen those who are weak and suffering; that by our lives we may help others who believe and serve you, and project your light which is the light of life.”   H.R.L. Sheppard (1880-1937)

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Mental health is real and we need to address it.

Teaching Points:

  • ¼ people experience an episode of mental health challenges.
  • It is not okay to hold prejudice against those with mental health challenges.
  • Three major mental health illnesses: bipolar, major depression, dissociative identity disorder.
  • Myth #1: Mental Health Challenges are caused by personal sin and punishment from God.
  • We cannot reduce the cause of mental illness to sin.
  • Myth #2: Mental Health Challenges can be cured by prayer alone
  • I absolutely believe that prayer can cure mental illness, I just don’t believe it is the only cure.
  • Myth #3: Mental Health is not welcome in the church.
  • We believe that people struggling with anything are welcome in this place
  • The church is one of, if not the most important thing in combating mental illness and changing it.
  • The church has a history of pioneering in health and social care and I believe it is time for us to step up to the challenge of working in the area of mental health. John Swinton and Jean Vanier
  • The greater our understanding the greater or depth of care

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? What experiences have you had in relation to mental health? Did you realize that mental health was that prevalent? Why do you think it’s important to talk about? What myths have you believed about it, or are still working through? How can you learn more about it this week?

Discussion Questions / Responses for Young Families

Today learn more about mental health. Look up on the internet for some good discussion guides to talk to your kids, and use one!

Challenge for the Week:

Learn about mental health

Mental Health in Church

Mental HealthOn Sunday we are opening up a really really important discussion. We are discussing mental health.

This seems to be a discussion that the church is a little unwilling, or unsure about opening up, but it is an absolutely needed one. Because if we ignore this conversation we end up ignoring and excluding people who are struggling with mental health issues. And one thing Jesus never did – was ignore, exclude, or isolate people needing help, healing, and hope. And this is what we as a church need to be doing as well – giving people healing, help, and hope.

And even though the area of mental health is incredibly complex, it does mean there are areas where we as the church body can help.

John Swinton and Jean Vanier write this:

The church has a history of pioneering in health and social care and I believe it is time for us to step up to the challenge of working in the area of mental health. The beginning point for the church’s ministry alongside people with mental illness is the recognition of the power of graceful love. In a special way people with mental illnesses need to hear, see and feel the message of the love, acceptance and graceful forgiveness of Jesus.

I believe this is true, and this is what we are going to seek to do over the next few weeks. On Sunday I’m going to be sharing about mental health, and specifically some of the myths found in Christian circles. Then on the following Sunday we are going to have a panel of experts in the field share with how we can address some of the issues, and more importantly what we can do to help.

So I hope you join with us, because this is one conversation everyone needs to be part of.

Dealing with Feelings of Loss

432071_70194656Today I’m thinking about loss. In the past few weeks in our church family, we have had two wonderful men go to be with the Lord. Their passing has left a hole in many people’s lives and hearts. So the question I’ve been thinking about today, is what do we do with feelings of loss? We all have these feelings at one point or another, so what are we to do with them?

Well I think one response is to try to bury the feelings. This is where we seek to avoid dealing with the feelings of loss, and where we hide from the feelings or refuse to “feel the feelings”. Another response is simply to avoid the feelings of loss altogether. We keep busy, we seek to move forward, or we don’t give ourselves space to process what has happened. But I don’t believe that either of these responses are helpful or healthy.

For me, I think the best response to loss is to acknowledge it and lean into it. And while this may sound odd, or even counter-intuitive I think it is helpful. Why should I try to pretend that I’m not feeling loss, hurt, and sadness? Why should I pretend that the passing of two men whom I deeply respected doesn’t affect me? The truth is I am feeling loss today – because there has been a loss.

So for me I’m not shying away from my feelings, or avoiding them. Instead I’m acknowledging them and entering into them. This is the only way I believe that we find comfort and hope. Jesus says that those who mourn will be comforted but we cannot be comforted unless we mourn. Unless we actually enter into the loss, acknowledge it, recognize it, feel it, and ask God to help with it.

This is how I think we best get through the difficult times of life. We don’t avoid it, pretend its not there, we recognize it, share that it is difficult, and ask God to meet us where we are at. Because I truly believe that’s what God always does, comes to us wherever we are. So wherever you are at today, may God meet you there, and carry you forward.

The Valley of Dried Bones and FreshWind

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Sunday we looked at an amazing passage in Ezekiel 37, the valley of dry bones. The valley in this vision from Ezekiel is a place of death. It’s a boneyard, or a graveyard where all life has vanished. And God comes to Ezekiel and asks him “Can these bones live again”. And Ezekiel says he doesn’t know, that it is up to the Lord.

The beautiful thing about this passage is that it is up to God, and God shows what his desire is. His desire is to give life to lifeless things. His desire is to renew dry and death filled things. His desire is to resurrect out of a boneyard new life and new spirit.

So in the story a wind rushes and Ezekiel sees the bones comes together, and God’s spirit fills them. His breath, his life, his Spirit, his wind flows into the bones bringing a freshness and a newness. This was not an act that happens at the end of time, but an act in time. God brings healing and a fresh wind to people in real life dry and dark circumstances.

We ended looking at how God did that years ago with the Israelite people but that he wants to do that with us today too. Because God is in the business of brining life to dry bones. God is in the business of rejuvenating broken spirits. And the amazing thing about this decision of God is that it is unilateral. If you read in the passage God continually says “I will do this…I will do this…I will do this”. God acts because that’s God’s desire.

So on Sunday we left everyone with one simple challenge. If it’s God’s desire to fill us, to send forth his life, Spirit, wind, and breath – then simply breathe deeply. Breathe deeply asking God to fill all of you and trusting he will. I gave them this impossible challenge, to each time you breathe this week,  remember and picture God filling you. And yes the challenge might be impossible, but that’s the beautiful thing about God. Sometimes the impossible happens and life flows into dry bones.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: God wants to breath new life into you

Take Aways…

  • The life of faith is one of change
  • Dead souls do not produce the same stuff as living ones do. Michael Gungor
  • “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”
  • You are in the valley of dry bones, when no hope seems possible and no change is on the horizon.
  • God will give new life to prove he is truly God.
  • God wants to breathe it into us
  • My soul cries out / My soul cries out for you / These bones cry out / These dry bones cry for you / To live and move / ‘Cause only You can raise the dead / Can lift my head up. Gungor, Dry Bones
  • Breathe Deeply
  • God is in the business of filling

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it?

When have you ever felt to be in the valley of dry bones? What did it feel like? What made you feel that way? Was anything of a help in that time?

What were you picturing as we read the story? When we read the story what emotions filled you – hope, numbness, desire, intrigue, wonder, doubt? What brought on those feelings?

As you were breathing do you believe that God was filling? What helps you to believe that, and what is a block to believing that? How might God want to fill you even now with new breathe and life? What did you think of this quote: Dead souls do not produce the same stuff as living ones do. Michael Gungor. If God breathes into your soul making it alive what might he want to produce through you?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Take sometime to talk to your kids. Talk to them about what you love about them. Talk to them about their wonder, their awe, and why having a “wide-awake” soul is a beautiful thing. Ask them what they want to create, maybe read the story of Ezekiel and ask them to draw, or paint it. Talk to them about never losing their wonder, breathe, and life in their soul.

Challenge for this Week: Every time you breathe remember God

Dried Out Old Bones…

645124_49603802Have you ever felt dry?

I mean brittle, burnt out, scorched, barren, soul-dry?

Do you know what I’m talking about where you just feel so empty, and done?

Come Sunday we are going to be looking at one of the most important stories that first recognizes that followers of God can get dry. We can get brittle, we can get bleached, and broken. But more importantly, come Sunday we are going to look at how to find life again.

Sometimes the most difficult thing in the world when you are dry and feeling tossed aside is to find life. But I think that’s exactly what we need in the dry, barren, and desert times. We need new life. We need new spirit, we need even a rejuvenated soul.

The question is how do you find it? Well to give you a hint as to where we are going it doesn’t have a lot to do with us, but a lot with God.

So that’s what we are looking at come Sunday, because God wants to pour his life into us so that we have wide-awake souls. Michael Gungor writes this, Dead souls do not produce the same stuff as living ones do.

And he’s right. Our souls need to be alive if we are going to be able to change our lives, change our communities, and change our world.

So come Sunday we be finding out how to find life. But before we get there why not listen to this amazing song by Gungor that is all about our topic. It might even give you a hint what passage we’re looking at. I’ve included the lyrics below too. Listen and reflect and if you’re in a bit of a desert or dry place why not invite God into that place. Because he’s the only one who can bring life to a valley of dry bones.

Learning to Leave the Desert

1412359_51543500How do you leave the desert?

I mean honestly. When your life is feeling dry, distant, and you feel alone – how do you leave that place? When you feel like you are wandering around in circles, when life has passed you by, when you look back and regret decisions wondering – how did I end up here? How do you leave “here”? How do you find a place with life, hope and grace? How do you leave the desert?

I don’t know if you’ve been there but I have. I have been in a place that once was good but got drained of life and was draining me. I have been in a place where all of a sudden I felt alone, distant from God, and wondering where I was. I have been in a desert staring at the empty world around me wondering how I will ever find my way out. And maybe you’ve been there too. It is a difficult place to be. The trouble is that life seems to take us to the desert.

The question is how do we leave? How do we find new life again? How do we find hope again? How do we find a land flowing with milk and honey?

That’s what we are exploring on Sunday how to leave the desert and find new life. We are going to be exploring a pretty well known passage with some pretty not-so-well-known conclusions.

Come Sunday we’ll explore how to find your way out, which not so surprisingly, begins with God finding you.

But that’s Sunday, what about today? What if your desert is so difficult, and oppressive that you can’t wait till Sunday to start leaving it?

Well I’ll give you a hint of where we are going on Sunday. It doesn’t begin with you. It doesn’t begin with you forcing or finding your way out. It begins with God finding you and leading you out.

So today why not make yourself easy to find. Why not take some actual time, sit in space with God, ask him to direct, and to wait on him. Give him time to speak to you, give him your attention, and wait patiently on him. This, of course, isn’t easy, but it’s a lot easier than languishing in the desert.

So come Sunday we’ll explore how to find your way out in more depth, but it does begin with God. So no matter how your life has been these past few weeks, days, or even years why not let yourself be found by God. Don’t fill your weekend so full of noise, business, and stuff that he can’t break through to you. Sit still, stop, and listen. And who knows maybe God will show up in a burning bush and lead you out…