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Just One Thing
I was asked this week, to give advice to those struggling with their mental health in one sentence. My mind froze. How in the world could I give a single statement to summarize everything?
Those who have suffered mentally for any amount of time know how difficult mental health is to describe. It is even more challenging to offer advice in a single phrase that will help them. But here, is the beginning of what I would say.
As a Christian
As a Christian, I want to tell them that God is not punishing them. I want so desperately to convince them that He still loves them amid this pain. That He is still here even when it feels like He’s not. That He knew all about our suffering and endured it all on the cross before we would even take our first breath.
But just because we are saved by grace through faith, that does not exempt us from the problems of this world. Nor does it mean that our mental health struggles will magically go away if we just read our Bibles for more hours or pray on our hands and knees. There is no magic formula or solution to restore your mental health. And while Jesus is a mandatory and necessary part of this solution, you can love Jesus and still have anxiety.
You can love Jesus and still feel like you want to die.
You can love Jesus and still suffer from depression.
You can love Jesus and go to counseling.
You can love Jesus and have an eating disorder.
Just like any other sickness, mental or physical, you can love Jesus, yet still, get diagnosed with cancer.
You can love Jesus, and die young.
You can love Jesus, and face many hardships in life.
Truthfully, I do not know or understand why we try to separate physical from mental suffering in the Kingdom of God.
Scripture is clear in John 16:33 that here on earth we will face turmoil and suffering.
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, New Living Translation).
This trouble or tribulation is the Greek word thlipsin, meaning persecution, affliction, and distress. A quick Strong’s Word Study defines it as someone experiencing pressure, feeling stuck in a narrow place that “hems someone in”, or tribulation, especially internal pressure that causes someone to feel confined (restricted, “without options”).
This compression or tribulation, thus carries the challenge of coping with the internal pressure of a tribulation, especially when feeling there is “no way of escape” (“hemmed in”). It is interestingly noted that by contrast, the Greek word stenoxōría, focuses on the external pressure exerted by circumstances.
It is as if Jesus knew, perhaps, that the struggles we feel inside our minds are sometimes harder to fight than those we face externally.
There are forty-five occurrences of the word thlipsin, in the Scriptures from John 16:33 to Matthew 24:9, Mark 4:17, Mark 13:19,21, John 16:21, 33, Acts 7:10-11, Acts 11:19, and Romans 12:12. Jesus makes it clear that in this world we will face trials and hard times. But nowhere in that verse is it indicated that we are facing such times because we aren’t praying or reading our Bibles enough.
Yes, we live in a fallen world and face the repercussions of our and our ancestor’s mistakes and sins. Again, this world is temporary. It is not our everlasting and eternal home. However, while we are here on earth, facing trials also includes mental health struggles, and the presence of one or more mental disorders doesn’t indicate we aren’t strong enough or don’t have enough faith.
You Can Love Jesus And…
To those who are struggling with their mental health like myself, please hear me when I say that you can have anxiety, and still love Jesus. Not because you want to have anxiety, but because you are human.
You can pray and read your Bible and be a great Christian, but you very well may still suffer from depression, anxiety, or something else.
The absence or presence of your trials is not and should not be an indicator of the measure of your faith or your relationship with God.
While I may not yet have the ability to tell those struggling with their mental health one thing, I want them to know that everything is going to be okay, even and especially when it feels like it is not. And that is the exact hope that Jesus brings us in John 16:33.
We will face these things.
It is painful.
It is challenging.
But, these challenges you face will not last forever.
Jesus says, “I have overcome the world,” and He means it. It is a promise. And if you know Him, then you will rise above them. For some, that means here on earth. For others, that means healing when they arrive in Heaven. It is not our decision as to when the healing comes. It is our choice to believe even when our eyes cannot see.
Nothing Is Wrong With You
As a fellow human being in a fallen world, I want to tell you that nothing is inherently wrong with you. Especially when you look at yourself in the mirror and continually ask “What is wrong with me?”
Because while sin, external pressures, and family chaos can influence our lives, you need to know that you are loved and accepted as you are before you are told everything you are not.
I am not preaching a twisted Gospel. I am preaching that we show love to those suffering mentally and physically, and that begins by leveling the field: seeing mental health as just as important as every other aspect of health.
Leveling this field, so to speak, begins with love. And that love begins by knowing the source of Love Himself, and offering hope and healing through the resources He’s blessed us with.
I cannot tell you that there is just one thing that will help or heal your mental health because there are many. But what I can tell you, is that you are not alone. I am with you. I see you. I know where you’ve been. I’ve walked many of the same roads.
But someone greater than me has been through worse than me, and He has the ability to live within you. Not to magically take your problems away, but to give you hope that there are and will be brighter and better days.
I will validate your circumstances and listen, but so will He.
I will encourage you to take medication if needed and listen to your doctors, but so will He.
I will press you to go to counseling and talk to someone, but so will He.
I will be a light in a dark place, but I am not the light myself. He is.
Be encouraged today, sweet friend. There is not just one thing that will magically cure your struggles, but there is someone who sticks closer than a brother and will sit with you through them all.