Seeing a church filled with folk all focused on their corporate worship of the Lord is a wonderful sight to see. Isn’t it?
The fact that so many people coming and joining together in worship is such a blessing and such a positive thing.
And yet perhaps the key words for us to consider in that last statement are ‘coming and joining together’.
And in our considerations perhaps the question we need to start with is are they all really ‘coming and joining together’? Because looks can be deceiving, can’t they? Especially where mental health issues and mental illness are concerned. And in fact, what I am going to say next is not only experienced by those who have mental health issues or mental illness.
Because whilst to the casual onlooker the picture above maybe what they are seeing, when you are struggling with personal issues, such as low self-worth or a deep routed sense of being unloved or unlovable. When you experience mental health related issues or mental illness, sometimes – even when everyone else seems to see a picture like the one above. All your mind allows you to see is the picture below.
A picture which – due to that sense of worthlessness or a deep routed belief that you are perhaps unlovable or a deep sense of not belonging – seeks to convince you that even though you may be sitting in a crowded church full of other believers, you are very much alone.
And trust me, I am not writing this as someone who is simply of the opinion that this is the case. I am writing as someone for whom this really IS constantly the case.
In truth I go to a tremendously loving and caring church. One in which I am fairly involved in and one in which I would doubt very many would know (let alone understand) the way my mental health issues make me feel.
But, look at the wording I have used. Words such as ‘worthlessness’, ‘unlovable’, ‘a deep sense of not belonging’. Aren’t all of these contrary to the gospel of Christ? A gospel which tells us that we are all worth something, that we can all be loved, that in fact God very much desires for us to know Him as our Heavenly Father and through Christ fur us to belong, for us to be a part of His family.
See I know the gospel of Christ and in fact I know Christ. Likewise I truly know the love of Christ. But, trust me, knowing the love of Christ does not mean that the voices or the harmful negative thoughts and internal dialogues automatically stop. And like so many thoughts they need (as Paul and possibly Timothy in 2 Corinthians 10:5 said) to be taken captive to the obedience of Christ. Something which we can often find quite hard, can’t we?
So where does (or should) the church stand in all of this?
Is not the church called – as part of its calling – to be the evidence of Christ on earth? Are we not called to minister His love to one another?
You see we may not be able to instantly stop the thoughts and voices or internal dialogues that someone else is experiencing. But we can – if we try, if we constantly reach out in love – choose not to feed those thoughts or voices but instead to counter them. If, in fact, we make a very definite effort – through both our words and our actions – we can show very real and tangible evidence that they are not true.
But, since the voices and thoughts are frequent – often times fairly constant- and long lasting, so too does our love need to be constant and frequent.
And here, in my opinion and from my own personal experience, is something very real, and very essential to our understanding and thus the appropriate response here.
When someone is constantly bombarded with harmful voices or internal dialogues and thoughts (not to mention the negative comments that many people experience from the people around them) which seem – to all intents and purposes – to be determined to convince them that they are ‘worthless’ or ‘unlovable’ or ‘do not belong’. The repetitive and constant nature of these harmful and unhelpful thoughts or voices adds weight to them and leads one to the demoralised and defeated belief that perhaps, just perhaps, they are actually true.
And in the face of such constant or repeated negativity and such an onslaught, our phrases such as ‘you are loved’ or ‘your are valued’ or ‘you are wanted’ can all too often pale into insignificance. Often only having any real weight when they are accompanied by very real and often repeated actions.
See, as I said before, yes I do know the love of Christ. I accepted Christ many many years back now. And yes I do constantly try to take captive the harmful thoughts. Do constantly try to counter – with the gospel of truth- the negative and demoralising voices and internal dialogues that I experience. And I do know that God’s love is far bigger than any mental health issues or any mental illness. It is just that sometimes when lost within the depths of them it is hard for us to remember or hold on to that.
And, as I also said before, I am a part of an extremely loving and caring church and I know first hand that as His disciples, His representatives, His church, we are both called and very able to reach out – truly reach out to others and to show His love in a very real way.
And it is by the grace of God, by the love of Christ and yes all so often through the love of my brothers and sisters in Christ at the church I attend that has kept me going and kept me fighting so long.
But here’s the question that I challenge every Christian and every Christian church with…
“Until we are willing to lay aside; our own personal prejudices, our own personal fears, our own personal hesitations. Until we are willing to see each other and to reach out to each other – including those of us with mental health issues or mental illness – with the love of Christ through very real and tangible and continual actions and not just words and sayings. How can we expect those who are weak, those who are suffering, those who feel defeated, to reach out to the love of Christ?”
Kind regards and God bless you all.