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A Dark Place
In July of 2016, a strange show made its way to headlines across the nations. By 2022, it is now ranked as the second most popular show on Netflix. It is no surprise, however, that a show with demagorgons, mental health issues, and romance would relate to today’s teens and adolescents. At least I know I have.
Because in a world where Black Lives Matter, Roe VS. Wade, and LGBTQ Pride are rampant, it is scary that the monsters Eleven and her friends face in the show are not only around us but within us. Moreso than any other season, Stranger Things is talking about mental health, and audiences are going wild. And why? Perhaps because the demons they portray aren’t that far off from the ones we face daily.
In the Scriptures, we often read about demons and things that go bump in the night as messengers sent from Satan. Mary Magdalena, for example, was possessed by seven demons until Jesus set her free. In Mark 5, Jesus meets a man possessed by so many demons they call themselves Legion. And every time Jesus encountered a sickness, disease, or monster, Scripture tells us He healed them all. Whether they were the results of humanity’s fallenness or the consequences of actions, Jesus’ response was the same: He loved both and healed all.
While I do not know a whole lot about monsters, and demons in a literal sense, I do know much about the ones that lurk in our hearts and minds from time to time. I know even more about the ones named depression, anxiety, and sickness. I believe Jesus had a lot to say about them too. But I also am certain, that they started with small beginnings. Small beginnings that saw all sicknesses and needs as just that–needs needing healing.
Matthew chapter 4, beginning at verse 23, tells us that “Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness” (Matthew 4:23, New Living Translation). The King James version says it this way: “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people” (Matthew 4:23, King James Version).
Jesus healed every kind of disease and illness and all manners of sickness and disease. I am not ignorant to think that would only include healing physical sickness or demonic possessions. Yet we as Christians tend to treat mental illness as if Jesus must have looked over that one rather than seeing it on par with our physical health. We often treat mental illness like Vecna in Stranger Things. A monster no one can see, but everyone knows is out there lurking in the shadows. It is time we take small steps like Jesus and be willing to acknowledge that people of all kinds are suffering from all kinds of illnesses. Our job as the Church is not to minimize their sufferings but let them know that we love them through them.
After Jesus healed many people in Matthew 4, His ministry didn’t stop there. We know from record, for instance, that though Jesus lived thirty-three years on this earth, it was only the last three that God called Him to use His ministry to preach salvation and miracles to a hurting world. Before that time, He was a Carpenter. I am confident that He experienced sicknesses and diseases of all kinds when He was a tradesman with tools and when He was a merchant of souls. Yet, nevertheless, He treated everyone the same. I cannot think or find a story where Jesus was unwilling to heal someone, either here on earth or later in Heaven, regardless of their illness. And He wasn’t afraid to take deeper strides to tell the entire world that mission, even when it meant death on a cross.
The English Standard Version pens it this way: “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan” (Matthew 4:23-25, English Standard Version).
If Jesus wasn’t afraid to encounter those who were sick and hurting, why should we be? The number of people I see ask for prayer for cancer, diabetes, or surgery is tremendous. I have heard so many prayers answered. But the number of people I see ask for prayer for anxiety, depression, or mental issues is stifling. People are afraid to ask for fear of judgment. For being seen as crazy like they truly are possessed by a demon (when 9/10 they aren’t, by the way). For being hurt too many times by the Church who tells them to pray more or have more faith.
Church, we are leaving people in a dark place. And like the demagorons in the Upside Down, we are cutting off their circulation from the life source they need most. It is time we are like Jesus and see mental health as just as important as physical health. It is time we set aside our swayed agendas and minds and look to what Jesus says about them.
Because Jesus healed those afflicted with various diseases and pains, and mental illness wasn’t excluded then; so why should it be excluded now?
If you are in a Church today, I want to encourage you with two easy steps to help those suffering mentally.
1) Silence the Stigmas by Breaking Them
When someone suffers from a mental disorder or illness, they can feel too paralyzed to ask for help. Then, when they finally get the courage to do so, they hear religious cliches like, “Just pray more and you’ll be healed.” That will damage their faith.
-To this, I would say two things: 1) We need to recognize that we are not God. Sometimes God heals right now, and sometimes He heals later. That is under His orchestration that we have absolutely no authority over. He is our Lord, not the other way around. 2) But with that, those who suffer mentally that come to the Church may very well already be praying, reading Scripture, and fellowshipping with other Believers. Continually telling them to pray or read their Bible more not only stifles their faith but makes them numb to its existence.
-Instead of shaming those who struggle, learn to silence these stigmas by becoming informed. Get truly educated on mental health and learn about the real diseases that are plaguing our world. Then, break these stigmas in your Church by speaking out. It only takes one person to start a wildfire. After all, Jesus was one man, but He saved an army. And He who created and saved an army now resides within us.
2) Listen to Listen, Don’t Listen to Respond
Once we have learned to silence the stigmas of those suffering, we then need to make sure we listen to listen and not respond.
-As tempting as it is, listening to listen and not respond is something that every member of the Church should actively practice. When someone asks to talk to you, and all you can think of is the answer you are going to respond with, you aren’t really listening. Most people just want someone to listen to them. Most people just want someone to care. And caring begins by listening and making them feel heard.
-I don’t know about you, but when I talk to God, I am really bad at listening. And I mean really bad. I can go on and on in my journal or in my head for hours without stopping to hear what He has to say. But just as Jesus wants us to listen to Him so we can seek His wisdom, He wants us to listen to those who are hurting.
-When the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years saw Jesus, she cried that if she could touch His clothes, she would be healed. I often wonder if she did not speak because she feared what others would say.
-In Luke 18:39, a Blind Beggar cried out for Jesus to heal him, but even those around him (and I assume even Jesus’ own Disciples, perhaps) rebuked him and told him to be quiet. No wonder people then (and now) often kept close to themselves and hoped if they just touched Jesus they would be healed (and wouldn’t have to hear everyone else’s opinions along the way).
I pray that we as a Church will take this dark place and light up every corner. I pray that we will not only make mental illness known but make it feel heard to the point that it longer exists. But while we are among the suffering, let us remember to love and walk through these valleys with one another.
Life is hard enough in the low places. It is time we start building souls up rather than tearing them down. It is time we extinguish these dark places by sharing the truth, listening to the call, and bringing hope and healing as Jesus did to those when they were suffering.