Christians who suffer from depression or other emotional or mental distress often face disapproval if they try to find help in psychologists and pills. It is true that there are dangers with both. What kind of help are we offering them?
“Why do Christians shoot their wounded?” was the title of a book published some years ago. The question is entirely valid. Why do Christians in a fragile emotional or mental state find it so difficult to talk openly with fellow believers of their struggles? Isn’t it largely because we are apt to make them feel worse?
I believe there is a time and place for professional help and pills. They can help someone through a crisis. But many mood-enhancing pills carry warnings that suicidal thoughts may be a side effect. Some people find that these drugs make them feel worse.
These people need someone to listen to them. That is probably the biggest benefit from psychological counsellors. If you pay them, they will listen. Why can’t we learn to listen to people with emotional struggles? We may not be able to identify with their struggles, but would it really hurt to listen?
Our listening should not be passive, neither should it be judgmental. We will make things worse if we tell people to just snap out of it and stop always looking on the dark side of things. If they could just snap out of it, they would. We need to remind them of God’s love and our love.
If sin is somehow involved, it needs to be faced and repented of. But if we begin with the conviction that every emotional or mental disorder has a spiritual root, we will be miserably useless counsellors.
Years ago an older man began attending the congregation where we were members. He had spent time in a mental hospital and had been given electro-shock therapy. He was searching for peace, but in a horribly muddled way. His strong point was that when he was in a struggle, he had to talk about it. I was one of the brethren he called. Sometimes we wondered if his mind was damaged too much to ever find his way through, but after several years and many struggles he found the peace for which he had been searching most of his life. He had a peaceful and calm trust in God. He was baptized and we enjoyed his fellowship for a few months and then the Lord took him home shortly before his seventieth birthday.
His son also got converted and was baptized, but in one crucial way his nature was the opposite of his father’s — when something went wrong in his life he would disappear. He could not face the brethren and admit he had slipped. One day I happened to meet a man who had known the family years earlier. He said this son had always wanted to be strong, he exercised, rode a bike and lifted weights to increase his strength. A light went on for me, he was trying hard to be a strong Christian, too. He has hit some serious lows in life by always trying to be strong. Things are going better today.
For twenty years now my wife has had almost daily phone conversations with a lady in another province. This lady had a miserable childhood and seemed very paranoid when we first got to know her. I will give my wife a lot of credit for the fact that this lady is doing much better today. My wife has not agreed with the psychotic suspicions of this lady, but has been sympathetic and supportive and has repeatedly pointed out to her that God is more powerful than all the forces of darkness.
We need to let people know that it is OK to be weak. The Lord told the apostle Paul “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
We are not being an enabler of another person’s unbalanced state of mind when we listen in sympathy. Their suspicions, fears, and bizarre dreams seem like reality to them. By listening with love and patience, not giving a lot of critical advice but rather offering them truths from God’s Word, we can help them discern between their troubled feelings and reality.
Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations (Romans 14:1).
We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves (Romans 15:1).