This is not a researched piece, and I realise that there is generalisations as there are those within the faith community who are fully engaging in these areas but I suspect that for many of us who are by all appearances functioning just fine regardless of the mad kicking of legs under the water to stay afloat are not aware of those organisations. Maybe because like myself there is a sense of not wanting to have to ask for help because we know how thin any support/resources are already stretched and we tell ourselves we can manage if we just worked a bit harder on sorting out our lives ourselves in one area or another. But in my heart of hearts what I read in my Bible and allow God to whisper is something that I so seldom see within churches and I know others are asking the same question of disparity.
I have been genuinely challenged by the number of friends who have shared since I my previous post addressing anxiety. More rather than less have said that I have echoed their own struggles and thoughts. And just tonight the first news headline I heard was that young women are the highest risk for mental health problems. While I don’t fit that age category and my friends are spread across the age spectrum, the reality on the ground is that women in all walks of life and ages are wrestling significantly. I am not a researcher, what I share here is by way of anecdotes, of simply being a friend and sharing conversations. I cannot back everything up with facts and figures and to be honest I don’t want to, though I am sure I could do so if I took the time.
What has struck me though in sharing is that while being vulnerable can be hard and unsettling I have actually felt a deep sense of calm and no anxiety in sharing that post which was the very opposite of what I had anticipated I would feel. I did not feel vulnerable afterwards. I felt a weight lifted off me that I no longer had to pretend to be someone else.
And because of my faith my biggest questions come back to what is the church doing in light of such headlines that young women are at the highest risk of mental health? Is the church engaging with mental health practitioners? Is the church a safe place? Mental health is not just an issue for women, anyone can wrestle with it. And the reality is too many times over the church is not a safe place for many different reasons but this seems such a juxtaposition. If we truly believe that the gospel is good news, that Jesus who at the well with the Samaritan woman, offered her living water and at others times speaks of rest and a yoke that is light then why is the church not a safe place and why are we not engaging in the care of those wrestling with mental health issues and why are we seeing so many, including those who have faith, battle?
What are we doing to engage with the culture around us that is pushing us all to the point of breaking our mental health? As I heard recently the answer to the question ‘how are you?’ is no longer the ambivalant ‘fine’ but ‘busy’. We all need to be seen to be busy, to be stretched to the hilt. Everything needs to be done to the edge of breaking point. And it is no different inside the church it seems to me these days. When someone has time someone else can quickly fill it. Just this past week one mum said that as she grieved that season in life when none of her children were home full time as the youngest had started school she already had people wanting to know if she could fill that time now from 9-3 with extra activities and work. There is no space to breath, to stop, to reflect. We simply have to be busy and doing. Yes there are many good things to do within the life of the church but that does not mean God is calling us to do every one of them.
The church needs to not be afraid of mental health, of emotions, of mess, of medication, of therapy, of the gospel, of the power of the Holy Spirit. The church needs to get back to preaching the gospel of life giving water and extending it in overflowing jugs to those who come parched and weary and broken. With no time limits, no limit on the number of jugs a person can drink from. With no expectations of getting a new volunteer for the Sunday school or tea rota in return. We need simply to hand out jugs of living water and sit awhile with our friends and invite others to join us.