Three teachings in the church that can hurt those with mental illness

Read Part 1 of this series here.

Last week at our church’s women’s ministry we sat in small groups and shared our stories with one another. Some shared recent victories and others shared their life challenges. It was a powerful evening and it reminded me that behind every Christian is a person seeking wholeness and purpose. It made me feel proud of the hope we have despite the intense trials. This article is not an attack on Christians – I am one.

When I went through my mental breakdown several years ago I was a part of a very little church but boy did we love one another. The support I had was incredible and this little church knew how to support me and they did it well. They were instrumental in my healing and recovery. I had a good experience with a church that was incredibly safe for me to heal. After reaching out to many battling mental illness I realize that not everyone experiences this support and often the support they do get can be very hurtful. I believe some, not all Christians still love to throw around harmful theology and scriptures to help someone with mental illness ‘just get over it.’ This article is not an attack on the church – I am The Church.

This article is about challenging how we as the body of Christ attempt to help those battling severe mental illness and how we can do better.

Next week for our 4 part series, I will talk more about how the church can help those in need of mental health support, but for today I want to share some common Christian responses and teachings that are very hurtful to those battling severe mental illness.

3 Destructive Teachings that Hurt Those With Mental Illness.

God Holds Us Accountable For Every Thought.

In part 1 of this series, I mentioned in detail a very common form of mental illness called Religious OCD. With those struggling with this form of anxiety they are riddled with unwanted thoughts. Thoughts that they have no control over and thoughts that repeat themselves over and over and over again. These thoughts are tormenting and to a Christian who loves the Lord and places high value on their salvation, these thoughts can rock them to the core. The brain perceives these thoughts as a threat and puts them on repeat until the threat has diminished. This is when people battling severe OCD will find rituals and compulsive behaviors to ease the thoughts. Things like repetitive prayers, excessive repentance, unhealthy fasting and more. People with Religious OCD engage in rituals as a way to ensure they’re meeting God’s standards for salvation.

In order for someone with OCD to find control over these thoughts is to find the courage to dismiss them as “just a thought” when they learn to minimize the thought, they minimize the brain’s perceived threat of it and the cycle breaks.

When I was caught in a cycle of OCD and intrusive thoughts, Jesus showed me that my thoughts were not my truth and that they were ‘just thoughts’. This directly contradicts the popular teaching that what we think is who we are. I do believe that we have a responsibility to guard our thoughts by guarding what we see and hear. However, I strongly believe that Jesus understands why we think the way we do and he’s after our hearts and fights for our behalf. He is not against us, he is for us. I love this following Scripture of how God “understands” why we think the way we do and he has immense grace and love for those who need healing.

1 Lord, you know everything there is to know about me. 2 You perceive every movement of my heart and soul, and you understand my every thought before it even enters my mind. 3-4 You are so intimately aware of me, Lord.You read my heart like an open book and you know all the words I’m about to speak before I even start a sentence!You know every step I will take before my journey even begins. 5 You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way, and in kindness you follow behind me to spare me from the harm of my past. With your hand of love upon my life, you impart a blessing to me. 6 This is just too wonderful, deep, and incomprehensible! Your understanding of me brings me wonder and strength.

Psalm 139, 1-6 TPT

Feeling Anxious Is A Sin.

Can I make a confession to you? I used to believe this and I am pretty sure that I probably said it to someone in my attempts to help them. That was until I was thrust into the arms of severe anxiety and held captive against my will. I remember a moment on my bed, crying to God asking Him what was wrong with my mind. I was shocked at His response. “Your mind is a gift. You just need to know how to use it” He whispered.

Counselling someone that their anxiety or mental illness is a result of sin in their life is very destructive. Anxiety is in all of us, it just shows up in different ways, some through control, others through poor eating habits, others through anger and others through legalism. We all have fear and anxiety. We are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. Anxiety creates an opportunity for people to get closer to the heart of God and his comfort not deter them in shame.

What help is it to point out the sin in one another, Jesus did not think there was any point considering the source.

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

John 8:7

Prayer is Enough.

I recently published an article titled “Why You Can’t Just Pray Anxiety Away.” The post went crazy online with over 17,000 shares. The comment section exploded on Facebook, mostly with those thankful for the article, and the readers were quick to share how they had prayed every prayer, read every scripture and still battled mental illness. BUT there were still comments from other self-proclaiming Christians criticizing people who suffered, telling them that it was their faith, or they needed to just speak in tongues all day or say different prayers or repeat scriptures and so on. How hurtful to those who have prayed for healing for years.

Prayer, fasting, speaking in tongues, speaking out the Word of God were all instrumental in my recovery but it brought me closer to the heart of God so that I could hear His direction for my healing.

Praying for God’s peace is not what we actually think it means. We think it means God supernaturally changing the emotion of fear to calm. Which I TOTALLY believe in, and many times I would have to run to Jesus and sit there and beg for peace in that moment. However, the true meaning of God’s peace actually means to “restore order” When we pray for God to give us peace, we have to be willing to allow Him to restore order back in our lives and minds. Order – spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally.

It is absolute ignorance to tell someone who is broke to ‘just pray’ and not get a job.

It’s foolish to advise someone with diabetes to ‘just pray’ and not take their insulin.

It is equally as foolish to advise someone with an ill mind to ‘just pray’ is away.

Conclusion

There are so many other comments I could mention like, “Just give it to God” or “Where did you leave an opening for Satan?” but you probably have an idea how I will respond to that.

I believe in the Word of God, it saved my life! But it must be used in love, and we must first genuinely love the person and stop trying to fix them with scriptures for problems that we have never experienced. Next week for part 3 of this series I am going to share 10 ways to minister and support someone going through a mental illness.

Let’s move forward with compassion.

This was the second installation of a four-part series. This originally appeared on Saraheball.com and was republished with permission.

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Sarah E. Ball, is an author, speaker and mental illness survivor. She inspires others to live fearlessly by sharing her humor, vulnerability and wisdom on overcoming anxiety. Sarah offers fearless hope to many through her blog – saraheball.com, online courses, speaking and book – Fearless in 21 Days, A Survivor’s Guide To Overcoming Anxiety.


 

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