‘We all have physical health and we all have mental health. Each will vary from time to time. And it’s important we take care of both to promote our overall well-being’. So begins a brilliant little booklet I picked up a few weeks ago on a visit to Romsey Abbey.
These days in the UK we seem to be waking up to the fact that mental health and mental illness is a much stigmatised and misunderstood thing. For those who suffer from mental illness and their families, it is a very real and sometimes quite frightening experience.
One of my previous blog posts looks very briefly at the example of Elijah in the Bible as someone who suffered from discouragement and perhaps depression. Elijah was on mission with God and he’d seen God do great things. But one day he found himself burnt out, scared and on the run. He was quite literally on the run and had every reason to be so. There was a very real threat to his life from Queen Jezebel who didn’t like what he had just done to her prophets.
Being on mission with God is stimulating but deeply challenging. There are quite likely to be times when we feel like Eljiah or perhaps even worse. Here are the points I made from 1 Kings 19… But I’m adding one further point with more direct reference to mental health.
To get the most out of the points below, please take 3 or 4 minutes to read through the Old Testament book of 1 Kings, Chapter 19….
I deduce the following points from that story:
1. Discouragement, burnout or depression can happen to the best of us and is not something that only affects non-believers or weak Christians (Don’t forget the Apostle Paul’s experience in 2 Cor 1:8-11)!
2. It can happen apparently unexpectedly (see ch.18) – although burnout and depression are most likely the result of/related to underlying issues that have been there for some time.
3. Remember that God is gracious and loving in his approach to you (vv5-8).
4. The short term answer may be as simple as the need for good food and sleep (vv5-6).
5. Be aware that during a difficult time you may not be seeing things clearly/accurately (vv10,14 & 18).
6. An important part of God’s remedy for you is time spent consciously in His presence (vv11-13) – through time alone with Him and/or through the Christian community/corporate worship.
7. Don’t shrug off your experience as unimportant – it could be that God wants to communicate something new or significant to you through this time (vv15-18).
8. And don’t be a loner like Elijah! Find someone you can trust and talk to about what you’re going through. Use this chart below as a way of helping you discern whether or not you need to see someone urgently to give you support. You should be able to click onto the image to make it larger…
Let’s be part of a culture change in our churches and mission agencies. For those who are struggling with their mental health it can be difficult to talk about these things. But whether you are a mission partner/missionary or simply on mission with God through your local church locally, let’s start making it possible for people to talk freely about their mental health and receive the love and support of caring communities.
Mission, just like Church, is NOT for ‘perfect’ people who never struggle. And we must repent if we have given others that impression. God uses us in our weakness. But we also need to be aware of our own boundaries and limitations.