Category Archives: Church

10 Things Your Church Member with Mental Illness Wants You to Know

I’m a church girl- always have been, probably always will be. I love church, I love the people in church, and I love all the possibilities of what the church can be. What I don’t love, is the way the church can tend to brush difficult conversations under the rug or make people to feel as though the problems in their life are the simple result of not enough faith. It’s just not that simple. Bad things happen to people who deserve it, and bad things happen to those who don’t. One of the areas where we seem to throw the most blame is those suffering with mental illness. They somehow become the “black sheep” of our communities, those who suffer silently, who pretend everything is OK because they are worried they will be chastised if they admit they are drowning. I think that most of us have good intentions. Because we believe in God’s omnipotence, we offer faith as the cure-all for every ailment. While that’s helpful, it’s not good enough to stop there. We don’t tell people with heart disease to just pray. We tell them to pray, and then go to the doctor. Mental illness is no different. In fact, we NEED to talk about it because 1 in 5 Americans is living with a  mental illness, including the folks you go to church with every Sunday! If you took the time to talk to one of these folks, here are some things they might say

  1. I have already prayed about it, and I will continue to pray about it. But sometimes I pray and nothing has changed yet. I need something else in addition to prayer.
  2. I can’t just turn it off, or “think positively,” I struggle every day to do all the things I’m supposed to do, and sometimes I am overwhelmed by my negative thoughts and emotions.
  3. I don’t always need advice. Sometimes, I just need you to listen and to know that you are there and you support me.
  4. I’m scared to tell people about what I deal with on a daily basis because I’m afraid they will judge me or think I’m “crazy.” I’m not crazy, I just struggle.
  5. What I face is not just mental- it’s emotional and even physical at times.
  6. I have thought about suicide. I don’t want to die, but sometimes it seems like the only way out.
  7. There are times I feel like no one understands what I’m going through, so I keep things to myself. It helps when other people share that they have struggles too.
  8. I put on a brave face so people won’t think I’m weak or faithless. I worry that if they know how much I hurt, they would think I’m not capable of anything.
  9. I am not my mental illness. I’m a person who lives with mental illness.
  10. I can get better if I have the right resources and support.

 

One of the best ways we can end stigma is by breaking the silence about mental health issues. You or someone you know has been affected by mental illness, I guarantee it. Your talking about it could be the thing that gives someone else permission to speak up and get the help they need. So don’t remain silent, let’s talk about it!

If you want to learn more about mental illness and what you can do to help, check out http://www.Nami.org for more information.

Thanks for reading and make Well Choices!

 

When it’s Hard to See the Why

Recently I’ve been dealing with a situation that is stressful and very frustrating for me. My expectations for what I thought was supposed to happen aren’t being met, and I feel as though my hands are tied– I can’t really do much to change what’s happening. Admittedly, I’m a control freak. Sometimes, I get into these types of situations because I have inappropriate expectations in an environment, or I’m being too rigid. But, I’m about 95% sure I’m being reasonable in this situation (my husband thinks so too, and he’s usually the first one to check me! 🙂 Anyway, I have all this frustration that I really can’t fix, so I decided to seek out the Serenity Prayer. I’ve been focusing on my prayer life anyway and I thought it would be a good practice for me to meditate on it for the week. Now, I can recite the beginning of the Serenity Prayer by heart. However, I recently realized there’s more to it! Here’s the whole thing:

Serenity Prayer
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

I read it a couple of times, and instantly felt myself calm. The scripture from Romans 8:28 came to my mind: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Even when things don’t seem ok, they will be ok. Woo- Sah.

Then, the next day, I ran into this article: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/no-everything-does-not-happen-reason. The author states that “No, everything doesn’t happen for a reason” and makes this argument about our insistence on using this language:

It serves as an emotional distraction, one that cheats us out of the full measure of our real-time grief and outrage. We stutter and stop to try and find the whys of all of the suffering, instead of just letting ourselves admit that perhaps this all simply sucks on a grand scale.

In our profound distress, this idea forces us to run down dark, twisted rabbit trails, looking for the specific part of the greater plan that this suffering all fits into.

Even if somewhere beneath all of it; far below all the dizzying trauma that we experience here there is a fixed, redemptive reason for it all, it’s one that will likely remain well beyond our understanding so long as we inhabit flesh and blood.

Well, now I’m confused. Both of these things really do make sense to me. I want to believe that there is a purpose for my frustration and suffering, but I also want to feel justified in being angry, or upset, or saddened by what happens in my life. The therapist in me craves the validation of my human reactions to things, and I’ll admit that sometimes it seems our religious mindset does attempt to minimize or do away with our humanness. The author cited above goes on to say that while he doesn’t believe hard times are caused by God. He does believe there is something to be learned in the sacredness of suffering. I have to agree.

What I’m not ok with, is our using Romans 8:28 as a tool for shutting people up when they’re expressing frustration, or placating those who suffer rather than showing them our love and support. I also hope we can honestly admit at times, “I don’t know why this is happening. It doesn’t make sense. It feels unfair” and still believe in the omnipotence of God and our ability to withstand struggle. I haven’t found any scripture that says we aren’t allowed to feel sadness, anger, or frustration, even if those emotions are directed at God. If you don’t believe me, check out Psalms. Talk about honesty!

So, when I face these times, I’ll try to focus on how I can learn or grow, and something new I can learn about God. It won’t be easy, and I can’t even honestly say I look forward to the challenge. But, I do think it will be rewarding. Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

What’s the Point of Church?

I ran across an Article recently on the “Spiritual Openness of Younger Unchurched” that basically challenges the notion that Christianity is dying in America. The article makes the argument that while church attendance is declining, young adults in particular are actually open to the idea of spirituality and religion, but seem to be resistant to the idea of church. The article provides these statistics from a Lifeway Research study:

The overwhelming majority believe the church is full of hypocrites (67% of young unchurched). A significant group, approximately 39%, believe their lifestyle wouldn’t be accepted at most Christian churches. Finally, about 90% of young unchurched think they can have a good relationship with God without the church.

I have to admit, I’ve heard plenty of people say something to the effect of “I don’t do church” and I would bet, it’s because of these things- feeling like church folk say one thing and do another, or feeling like they would be judged at churches. Still, there are others who feel that they can have a great relationship with God without needing to go to church. However, according to the study these same people were open to hearing about God, going to bible study, or joining a small group. So, it doesn’t seem like a resistance to God, maybe just a resistance to church. Though I’m not in the camp of folks who believe this, I can understand the sentiment. So, what does this mean? Do we not need church anymore?

I would say that yes, we do. But, it’s high time that we start taking some of the criticisms of the church critically. Why would people want to come to a place where they feel they will be judged by people who do (or have done) the same things? What’s the draw? For me, the draw is connection; not just to God (you can get God alone), but to others who you know share the same values and are along the same journey. But, just like any other organization with humans in it, church can get cliquish, complicated, political, etc. These are the things that can sometimes get in the way, especially for people who are new to church. I also think that we have a really limiting definition of church. My pastor preached a sermon last week about the importance of what we do outside the church walls- what we do at work, at the grocery store, and at the gas station is also a representation of the church. What if our behavior at the grocery store made people want to come to church?

I love my church and THE CHURCH and I see the benefits of it. I also understand why some people won’t step foot near a church. We all have our reasons. The part that is most disheartening is that there are people who are yearning for Christ, but can’t get what they need because we humans are in the way. There are so many people who need connection, home, family, support, and love. We have the opportunity to be just what people need, if we get out of the way. My hope is that church can be a place where everyone can get their questions answered, feel as though they are an important part of a community, and be spiritually nourished. I think a lot of the responsibility is on us to walk the talk, to be people who exemplify Christ and draw people to God just like moths to a flame. We should be that contagious! This extends not only to our conversations, but also to our social media presence, our demeanor at work, any time we are around others. It means that we can endeavor to be forgiving, loving, understanding, and kind. Even when we don’t feel like it. Even at the end of a long day. This idea is not new at all, but I believe many of us have lost our way. Here are some scriptures to remind us:

Matthew 5:14-16:  You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

1 Peter 3:15:  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect

John 13:35: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

So, let’s endeavor to be the kind of people that people will follow to church! Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

Reasons You Should Be Praying for Your Pastor

image

I was having a conversation with some Minister’s Wives and Widows about some of the challenges associated with being a “PK” (pastor’s kid) and it reminded me of the heavy mantle that pastors and their families are charged with carrying in the church. That reality was all I knew growing up, and it had both perks and challenges. Because I was a kid, I didn’t really have choices or even the skills sometimes to navigate the challenges I faced. I think my parents did an awesome job trying to provide balance for me, and still, there were times when it was really hard. There were other times when it was really cool. Both of those things are true. Preparing for the meeting really caused me to reflect on some of my experiences and now that as an adult I’m not in the same position, I am reminded of the importance of praying for my pastor and his family. Here are some reasons why:

1. Pastors and their families are always being watched. Growing up, I almost always felt like I was “in the spotlight.” Because my dad was a pastor and my mom was a minister, people knew who I was, even if they didn’t know who is was. I could pretty much count on any little mistake or accomplishment being reported to my parents quickly. (Actually, that still happens!) Pastors and their families are humans just like the rest of us, but our expectations often equate them to superhuman robots who aren’t allowed to make mistakes. It’s just not realistic. Your pastor, despite her close relationship with God, will sometimes make an error. His children might not be able to recite every single memory verse from last week’s Sunday school lesson. This is not some great tragedy. It is human nature. As a child, this sometimes felt to me that I wasn’t allowed to make mistakes and I tried to perfect. To be fair, this was not an expectation placed on me by my parents. But, I felt it and carried it and still fight with it to this day.  I try to remember that my pastor and his family are humans like me. I try not to put them on an impossibly high pedestal.

2. Pastors and their families care deeply about the people they serve. Being in leadership at a church comes at great emotional cost. All of us have friends and family that we care about and want the best for. Just imagine if a couple hundred extra people were added to your list! It takes a lot of emotional and spiritual energy to care about, pray for, support, and love on the people in our congregations. The challenge is that because they are in a leadership role, we sometimes forget to tangibly give them that love and support back. Pastor’s are on call 24/7. I remember 3am phone calls, after church visits, late nights, early mornings, you name it. All of that, they do in love. Because they care about their parishioners- mind, body, and soul. The least we can do in return is pray for them, that God restores everything that they pour out into us. It’s a big responsibility and it comes at a cost.

3. Relationships can be challenging for Pastors and their families. They can be tricky because people want you to be there for them, but they can’t always handle when you have needs. Maybe they want to tell you certain things, but they have this perception that there are other parts that should be kept from you because of your perceived status. Guess what? This happens to the kids too! It can be hard to find people with whom you can be your whole self and not be worried about it being shared or held against you later. The life of ministry can be lonely- people don’t know how to interact with you sometimes. They might think that they have to censor themselves around you. You don’t get invited to stuff if certain activities are going on. The reasons make sense, but it doesn’t make it any less difficult.

4. Pastors can have an over-developed sense of responsibility. As noted in “2” above, pastors are often the kind of people who care deeply about others. It can make them really good at their jobs, and really bad at caring for themselves. My father was the victim of burnout the led to depression. He did a great job being a pastor but he had to relearn how to care for himself. Pastors are more likely to experience marital and family problems, health issues, be overweight, and suffer from mental health concerns than the regular population. All you have to do is a quick Google search to see how much of an issue this is. In addition to praying for our pastors, we can encourage them to take time away from us to restore. How about a paid vacation? How about showing up to church even when you pastor isn’t preaching? How about respecting other church leaders so the pastor doesn’t feel like things will go awry if they go away for a week?

These are just a few reasons to pray for your pastor; there are many, many more. The bottom line is they need you to pray for them just like you need them to pray for you! Take a minute today and pray for your pastor.
Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!