It's High Time the Church Got Real About Abuse and Mental Illness
The bible tells us Christ will be despised and rejected by men. It also tells us to be like Christ. Yet I never thought one day I would be despised and rejected by the church. Yet months after a diagnosis and months into struggling I never thought I would experience, here I stand — alone.
Before my mental illness came to light, you used to call on me all the time to help in different ways. There were weeks I spent hours upon hours at the church building, serving and working for the good of it. If a member was sick and needed food, we were there. If a ministry needed help preparing for a big event or cleaning up afterward, my family was there. We stayed late and showed up early to help, to feed into this big church family because no one can do it alone. If we all serve together, we share the burden together.
Except when someone’s burden makes you uncomfortable.
As my mental health started deteriorating months ago, I did what we’re taught to do within the church: I went to the church for help. There was help. I was shown the way to a therapist and then wiped from memory and thought. But at that time, I was thankful for that. The church must love me because they helped me find this therapist. As the therapist and I started wading into the hard truths, things got darker and darker and I wasn’t sure where God sat in the midst of all of it. My friends begged me to go to the church for help because they were worried about my faith. With a one-sentence reply, I was turned away.
When the message preached from the pulpit said to repair all relationships, no matter the past hurts, I reached out, brokenhearted, to remind you some relationships involve abuse and can’t be repaired for the safety of the victim. And with harsh words, I was turned away.
And somewhere within that time, people became concerned for me, but no one ever contacted me. They allowed whispers and speculation to fuel their fear, but no one ever asked how I was actually doing. No one picked up a phone to call or asked to meet in person with me. And when that fear became so deep within them, they crushed me with their actions. And that’s when I learned that concern that’s not backed by loving action, is actually judgment. I was judged and rejected.
Finally, the worst blow came. I realized that to you, the church, I am not a family member or loved one. I am a liability and make you uncomfortable. If you were that concerned for my safety, if I was ever loved by you, why didn’t you check in with me after you destroyed me? Because when someone sits in a meeting with two pastors and is broken to pieces, but is then dismissed without a single follow-up or word of care, it cuts deeper than you can imagine.
So to you, the church, I have these words and requests:
1. Get real about helping people with mental illness.
Mental illness is real. So many in your church are struggling each week with mental illness, yet because it makes you uncomfortable, it’s ignored. Jesus washed gross, dirty feet that had walked miles upon sandy miles in nothing but worn sandals. It wasn’t comfortable to Him, but it was meant to be. It’s time for you to get real about helping others with their mental health.
2. You can’t handpick who you serve.
Let’s face the truth — if my illness was outwardly physical, the church would have probably been there. If I was unable to do physical labor because I had broken my legs, the deacons would probably be out mowing our grass. If I was unable to cook for my family because you could see how sick I was, a food train would have probably been made. If I would have been so sick I was visibly on the edge of death, people probably would have been there to love on and counsel my husband. None of those actions happened — yet that’s exactly where I have been. But because my illness is on the inside and invisible, it’s ignored by the church.
3. Struggling is real and it’s not pretty.
The modern church lives a pretty existence. Everyone shows up to Sunday school in their best clothes, smiles permanently fixed on their faces and the church moves forward. The altar calls are empty because no one wants to be the one to admit they have a problem. People won’t talk about their mental illness in public because of the stigma, and the church refuses to even admit it’s an issue, making the stigma worse. You, the church, could be the one who opens up this conversation in our community. People are struggling with mental illness. We need help. And we can do it without the church, but we shouldn’t have to.
And finally, on a very personal note, I want you the church to know that I have been told for the majority of my life I wasn’t worthy. I wasn’t worthy of parents who put me above their own selfish desires when I was a child. I wasn’t worthy of a parent who put my own personal needs above their daily alcohol and drug requirements. I wasn’t worthy of food, health care, respect, love or a safe place. I wasn’t worthy.
But then God found me and told me I was, and I’ve spent the last two decades trying to learn how He thinks I am worthy. Now you, His church, are speaking loudly to me I’m not. During a time when I’m trying each day to repair my life to heal from trauma and abuse and I need more support than ever, you are turning your back on me. His hands and feet here on Earth are abandoning me because mental illness isn’t pretty and doesn’t fit the church picture.
I don’t know if I’m worthy anymore. But I do still believe there’s a lot of people out there who are and if you continue to ignore mental illness, you’re going to send a message to them they’re not worthy of life or love.
Wreck the perfectly put-together church image if you have to. Tear down walls and flip the tables. Whatever you do, please don’t abandon the people who are struggling with mental illness because it’s uncomfortable. It’s terrifying, I know. But how much more terrifying is it for the people walking through it alone? Don’t leave us out here alone.
The one who made you uncomfortable.
Unsplash image by Ben White