A beautiful young, vibrant girl died yesterday. I only knew her casually but she felt like somebody I had known for a lifetime. Everybody who met her felt that way. She had an ugly aggressive form of brain cancer. From the time she was diagnosed, doctors used the latest technology, medicine, and surgery to try to eradicate or at least slow the effects of the disease.
This is the thing. Nobody told her it was something she imagined or made up. Nobody told her to just read her Bible, find joy in spite of the cancer or just find peace in her faith. She was prayed for by hundreds, maybe thousands. People who believed and lived out their faith cried out to God on her behalf, as did she. She still lived with the effects of her disease and it killed her, in spite of faith.
A local church was asked about starting a support group for people with Complex PTSD, depressive disorders, trauma based mental illness. “It’s not necessary. You should find joy and peace in the Word,” was the answer. “Its the same as you having cancer,” the aspiring group leader said. “What if you were told to just go pray about it and never seek treatment for your disease. People need support. Don’t you think the church is place they should find that?” “We just don’t see it that way,” said the pastor. “That’s something totally different.”
In a world where we talk about our breasts, colon procedures and weight challenges without shame shouldn’t mental illness also be acceptable conversation? Sadly, it is still met with disbelief and distrust, which frequently turns the corner to blaming the sufferer for lack of faithfulness, especially in a church setting. Even worse is the accusation that all mental illness is simply being possessed by evil or demonic spirits.
Diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, auto immune disorders . . . The list is endless of lifelong diseases and yet those sufferers are allowed to continue to pray for their healing while accepting treatment, without the stigma of not working out their faith more efficiently. Why? What is it about mental disease that can cause the church to turn a blind and even accusatory eye to those who suffer?
I pray for healing. I accept treatment. I walk out my faith. I live with hope. I am still ill. I rely on family and friends to stand with me and allow me to process frustrations, burdens and setbacks, without shaming me.
The Church will not diminish itself by acknowledging that we pray with hope and without guarantee of the outcome. In fact in a culture in which the relevancy of the church is questioned it has the potential to provide a place of peace for those who suffer, simply by “seeing” those who live in fear of their mental illness being “found out” . Grace people. Let’s extend grace.