Taking advantage of medications and therapy are ways we appreciate his creation
I recently heard an interview with Robert Vore in which he discussed some of the work he does with churches to help educate them on working with people going through a mental health crisis. (If you’re not familiar with him, take a moment and follow him on Twitter. He’s amazing.)
One of the points he made in that interview struck a deep chord in me: Often, the words we use as Christians to comfort are subtly stigmatizing. It comes from a place of good intentions and an honest desire to assist; unfortunately, even in the best attempts at help, it can cause damage.
In a similar spirit, I wrote about stigma and specifically addressed a common trope that Christians offer up in an attempt to comfort their Christian brothers and sisters: we need to focus less on our disorder and more on turning our worries over to God. Typically, this comes in the form of a reminder that the Bible tells us 365 times “do not fear” or some close variation.
Here is what I know: the Christians I work with, those deep in the pain of their illness, are in constant prayer. For most, they are in a state of continually turning their fears and worries over to him; the challenge is that they still do not feel relief even after uttering their “Amen.”
Often, the words we use as Christians to comfort are subtly stigmatizing.
It can be easy to believe, then, that the lack of relief stems from a lack of faith. Surely, it is easily reasoned, a true believer’s act of offering pain and worry up to God should be sufficient to gain relief. When our pain continues, therefore, it indicates that somehow we are falling short in our belief.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
In talking with other Christians learning to manage their disorders, a common theme comes about when we hit the topic of faith. “My God is a supernatural God,” they share, “and I believe that he will heal me and grant me the relief I pray for.” When questioned, however, they share that they’ve decided against medications and against seeing a therapist. Some even go so far as to say that they don’t want to hinder the “miracle” that God is working in them.
Let me be clear: our God is a supernatural God and nothing is beyond his power or capability. He can choose to rewire our brains and relieve us permanently of our afflictions. He even does it, sometimes.
That being said, when we choose to only rely on the Bible and prayer, we deny that God gave us all of his creation. He gave us medicines and people and art and beauty and science and research and brains, and makes it clear in Genesis that he expects his people to take advantage of it all.
Why, then, would we choose to deny ourselves the benefits we gain from engaging with all aspects of his creation and the healing it provides us?
When we choose to only rely on the Bible and prayer, we deny that God gave us all of his creation.
In fact, my head pastor likes to talk about “active waiting.” He describes it as praying for guidance from God to open the right doors, to close the wrong ones, and acting within our best ability while we wait for his response. Sometimes, he argues, the right action is no action: to simply wait, with patience.
Most other times, he reminds us, active waiting means that we move forward aggressively on what we genuinely believe to be the right course of action and trust God to stop the process or shut down the project if it is not within his will.
It seems to me that it works the same with mental illness. While we follow the acts of all true believers by praying, reading the Bible, and working on our relationship with Jesus, we also need to take the steps we know provide earthly relief: taking our medications, attending therapy sessions consistently, and doing the homework our therapists assign us.
When we utilize all his creation — such as the medicines he offers us and the people he puts in our way — we acknowledge that he gave us all this out of love.
In truth, not only are these earthly actions a sign of active waiting, I believe they are demonstrations of our faith in God. When we utilize all his creation — such as the medicines he offers us and the people he puts in our way — we acknowledge that he gave us all this out of love. We demonstrate our faith that he will work through these earthly (or natural) means and experiences to guide us to the healing we pray for.
In fact, his healing often comes to us through those we encounter:
- An unexpected discovery that our therapist is a Christian and embraces our faith as part of our treatment path.
- The psychiatrist who diligently works with us to find the right medication (or medications) that help us get the immediate relief we need so we can develop the longer-term habits that make better resilience possible.
- The story of courage or hope that we hear of another person walking the road to mental health.
- The small group that gives us hugs and encourages us as we walk our own, difficult road.
Each of us has a role to play in the Body of Christ and denying those whose gifts include healing from working within and on us denies them the opportunity to utilize their spiritual gifts. God works through every one of us in the Body of Christ; there is no shame in turning to it for aid and assistance in the healing process.
Mother Teresa and Florence Nightingale used every natural and supernatural resource at their disposals to help heal and restore those who suffered and were ill.
Further, we see evidence of Jesus and God using the natural world — God’s creation — as an aid in the healing process:
- Jesus uses a mud pie to aid in healing blindness (John 9:6)
- Isaiah creates a fig poultice to help heal the king, Hezekiah (2 Kings 20: 1–7)
Additionally, we see Christ’s love in the merciful and loving attention administered on the suffering. Mother Teresa never uttered a prayer, extended her hand and told someone to walk, and yet there is no doubt that God worked his healings through her. It is similar with Florence Nightingale, the renowned Christian nurse who figured out the importance of sanitation in preventing and healing cholera. Both of these women used every natural and supernatural resource at her disposal to help heal and restore those who suffered and were ill.
So, while we believe in a supernatural God who can, with simply a thought, work an everlasting cure in us, we also rely on his creation — his entire creation — to help us get the relief and healing of heart and mind that we pray for so earnestly. And in doing so, we demonstrate our faith in him and his creation with all our hearts, minds, and souls.