How the Church Can Support Emotional Health
If you can’t find healing in the Body of Christ, where can you find it?
Lisa is going through a divorce and she’s afraid to tell her fellow church members. She is slipping deeper and deeper into depression, with no one to talk to. John has lost his job and he’s having an emotional breakdown. He’s questioning his worth as a man since he can’t provide for his family. Sarah is in an abusive relationship and she has developed low self-esteem. Brad is being bullied at school and is suicidal. Laura doesn’t like her body and has developed an eating disorder. Sam was sexually abused last year; no one knows, but he’s smoking marijuana to cope with the pain. Keisha comes to youth group every week, but she cuts herself every night. Kyle serves at every outreach event, but he’s lonely because his wife of 25 years left him.
All these individuals* are Christians and all of them attend church regularly. They all love Jesus and have a relationship with him, but they are hurting. Who should reach out to them? Is it the church’s responsibility to help them? Is it the church’s job to support them? Is it the church’s obligation to walk with these people until they get to a place of wholeness?
I have been through a few traumatic experiences in my life and I went to the body of Christ for help. I was told by some, “It is the past; move on and get over it.” I was also told, “You need to pray more because if you prayed more, you wouldn’t be so sad.” I’ve known others who were struggling with depression and were plainly told that they must not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I also know people who have been told to read the Bible more and if they did that, they would become emotionally stable.
While I truly believe that studying the Scriptures and prayer are major parts of emotional stability, I also believe that most of the time people need other people in their lives in order to process their personal pain. We need others to help carry the load. If I hear the quote “All you need is Jesus” one more time, I may literally explode…literally. The truth is that God created us for companionship, and nine out of ten people who say things like this have more people in their circle than Jesus did.
How to Help
How do we help emotionally struggling individuals? How do we help melt away emotional pain? First, we offer support. I think it is important to have support groups, counselors, or mentors who can support church members who are fraught with depression, eating disorders, anger/bitterness, low self-esteem, abandonment issues, and addictions.
So often we respond when it is too late! An individual usually hits rock bottom before we begin to take notice. We often say, “I had no idea he/she was going through that.” When someone enquires, “Have you ever talked to him?” “Have you helped her find ways to connect with the church?” The answer is usually no. When we greet one another, we usually offer the courteous “How are you?’ and we are usually halfway out the door before we get an answer.
We may also ask ourselves, “Where did we go wrong? Could we have done more in this situation?” In some situations the answer is yes, we could have done more. I’ve had my share of nights sitting in rapt attention while listening to others vent. I also have had others who have sat with me and allowed me to pour out my heart for hours. I’ve been able to offer a safe place for tears to be shed, but I have also been the person needing a place to sob. I needed that time and place to process, and I know others do as well.
I have witnessed a few churches in my city who strive to create support and fellowship for those who are hurting in the church. One of the churches even has a recovery service. This service is for those struggling with all types of addictions. All are welcome to attend. In this same church, I’ve seen support groups for those struggling with depression and other mental health disorders. Such churches also offer support to those who have experienced divorce and abortion. These churches want to be places of healing.
How wonderful it is to go to the body of Christ to receive healing and deliverance. Many churches don’t support Twelve Step programs, medication, or counseling but fail to offer any alternatives. People need to connect deeply with others, and many times it is crucial for them to connect with people who are going through (or have gone through) the same dilemma.
Second, be present when someone is pouring their heart out to you. If you are meeting in person, it doesn’t help if you are on your cell phone the whole time or constantly looking at your watch. If you are speaking on the telephone, it is frustrating if you are constantly talking to others around you or you keep placing the person on hold. This sends a message that the person is not much of a priority. Also keeping the conversation private and confidential is essential. I don’t think anything hurts more than when you pour your heart out to someone and that person shares it with someone else. I’ve shared my deepest and most intimate thoughts with a person, only for her husband to repeat what I said to me later. I felt so violated, especially since her husband is known to gossip.
I also recommend spending time with a person just for fellowship. It really bothers me when people call me out of the blue and ask me a hundred questions about my life. I feel like I’m going through an interrogation. It appears that the person is performing a duty by contacting me, and it just doesn’t feel genuine. If you are not invested, please don’t call out of the blue or set up a lunch appointment just to grill someone. When people want to share and are ready, they will. They don’t want to feel pressured and don’t want unsolicited advice! It is really hard taking advice from someone who has never walked in your shoes. If they ask for advice, it’s one thing, but if they don’t, it can cause more pain.
It would also be helpful to just have some fun together! You don’t have to just talk about “issues” all the time. Most people want friendships and someone to share life with. They desire someone to call during times of celebration and times of grief. They desire people to break bread with them or to go see the latest movie. The church needs to be intentional in creating opportunities for people to meet and develop relationships. The lack of companionship can weigh on a person emotionally, so I believe it is the church’s obligation and a ministry opportunity to be a loving source of support for those individuals who find themselves lonely or depressed.
I believe Jesus wants us to be emotionally stable and healthy. He tells us in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” The Lord states in Jeremiah 31:25, “I have given rest to the weary and joy to the sorrowing.” I know that God does. I am a living testimony of his renewal and refreshing. The Lord used people in the body of Christ to love me back to a place of wholeness. They loved me and cared for me. At one point in my life, I was overwhelmed with church hurt. I could not find any answers or support in the church, so I didn’t know where to go. It is at this time that most people leave the church and never return. I considered it myself. If you can’t find healing in the body of Christ, where can you find it?
You can find it in authentic followers of Jesus. In my quest to find answers and a message of hope, I found a website called Church Exiters, where I met Barb. I emailed her and shared my story of spiritual abuse. Barb emailed me the same day and has emailed me ever since. She sent me emails several times a day and allowed me to vent my hurt, pain, and frustrations. Barb telephoned me and listened to my stories. She offered Scriptures, songs, books, and sermons of love. Barb sought to connect me with trusted pastors and friends in my area, who could shepherd me through my process. She introduced me to several websites and communities of love and support. She never passed judgment and always offered the love of Christ. Day by day, God used her to keep pointing me back to his love and his true followers. God used Barb and a few other faithful friends to love me back to life. It is my hope that others who are suffering in the body of Christ receive that same type of healing love.
*The individuals are a combination of people and situations I have encountered in ministry.
Carmille Akande is a licensed minister, attorney, speaker, writer and blogger based in Dayton, Ohio. She has a heart for outreach and discipleship ministries and blogs at carmilleakande.com.