I want to open up with the clarification that I am a strong believer in the power of God’s Word. Personally, if I didn’t have God’s Word in my life, speaking truth to me in the midst of my disorder, I don’t know where I would be or what I would be like.
I also, would like to note that I will be sharing part of my past experiences with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I don’t go into intricate detail, but if you need to know more, feel free to ask.
So, that being said, let’s dig in 🙂
As you and I both know, there seems in a lot of churches (not all by any means) that separate psychology and religion…or even just discount psychology all together. Personally, I believe that the two should be intricately balanced and that psychology should be viewed through the lens of what we know about God–the same way we should view chemistry, biology, history, etc. However, that is not the argument I am trying to make. How should leaders and people in the church respond to individuals that struggle with depression, bi-polar disorder, self-harm, etc?
First off, I think that it is the church’s responsibility to be educated on mental disorders and on what various orders look like, especially ones that we are most likely to come in contact with like eating disorders, autism, depression, ADD, ADHD, OCD, and bi-polar. Knowing that we are part of God’s created order, it is our duty to learn about the world around us, including that of abnormal brains, thought patterns, and behaviors of those around us.
So, if an individual comes to a leader of a church and confesses to them that they have been dealing with violent thoughts of hurting their spouse or other people, we need to be gracious and comforting with them, realizing that this may not be some deep rooted sinful desire to hurt others, and then urge them to get the help needed. We need to be supportive and realize that there is a strong possibility that this is not merely a spiritual matter but primarily a physical one as well. It is imperative that the church is educated and unified that when an individual has an issue it is not solely a spiritual one. Being physical entities as well, we have tangible issues that need to be dealt with in kind. For example, when an individual is going through a period of depression, I believe it is unacceptable for Christians to simply quote scripture and tell them that we are not supposed to “be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present you requests to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” and then send them on their merry way. By doing so, we would completely ignore and bypass the physical needs of the individual who is clearly in distress. Now, I do believe that God’s Word is powerful and I am by no means intending to limit its power in our lives. I just believe that we need to simply acknowledge and deal with the physical side of mental and psychological issues.
From personal experience, I was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder as a fifth grader when I started having thoughts of hurting my mother and exhibiting compulsions as well. I was first taken to talk with my pastor about what was going on. Let’s just say it was not something that particularly helped me–in fact, it made me more anxious than I already was. The thoughts and compulsions only started to recede when I went to a mental health professional to get the therapy that I needed. I think the strongest response against mental disorders like OCD, depression, and bi-polar is the combined use of God’s Word and the therapy provided by mental health professionals.
That being said, I also believe that just because an individual is diagnosed with a disorder, it means that it defines who that person is. By this I mean two things: 1) the label of the disorder should not be used as an excuse for an individual’s actions, simply used for us to understand the current state of the individual and how to treat them most effectively. For example, if a child with ADD is out of control and disrespectful to their teacher at school, we should not simply excuse the child’s actions just because of the disorder they have. Instead, we should provide them with the behavioral and drug treatment that they need to make the social adjustment. Scripture, in conjunction with these types of therapy, I believe is a very effective treatment option. 2) Even though someone has a mental disorder it does not mean in any way that they are not made in the image of God. These people with psychological disorders are not different than the average person. They are loved, cared for, and were died for by their Savior, Jesus Christ. We all have aspects of our body and personalities that are less than perfect. Think of disorders in a 2 Corinthians 12:9 sense: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in your weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” Simply put: psychological disorders are just another way God’s grace is expressed to his children.
So here is part of my journey and struggle with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and the importance of family support…
When I was in the fifth grade, I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder after started having intrusive, unwanted thoughts about killing my mom and developing particular rituals that I would perform throughout the day, like gagging myself when I brushed my teeth and checking the locks on doors. The obsessions recessed after therapy and continued to do so when I was in junior high and high school. However, the obsessive thoughts came back my freshman year of college. They came back with a fury after a particularly traumatic event. I developed thoughts challenging my sexuality, my future, and my desire to go back to my hometown and date an ex-girlfriend. All of these thoughts were unwanted, intrusive, and very uncharacteristic of who i knew myself to be. I was suffering so much that I eventually was taken to a specialized clinic in Dallas, TX for treatment. Things were not looking so good for me at the time. I was terrified of the thoughts, depressed, and felt extremely helpless against the thoughts. But there were rays of hope that helped me get through this traumatic time in my life.
Besides the truth and love I sought for in God’s Word, I had tremendous family support. The summer after my freshman year, I lived in Pittsburgh at my brother’s house with him, my sister-in-law, and their dog, Jack (which was also very therapeutic:) ). In the midst of my seemingly insane state, My brother and sister-in-law were so supportive, kept me involved, and tried to keep me busy even when I did not feel like doing so. My parents also played a huge role in my road to recovery as well, especially my father. When I flew to Dallas, at the end of the summer for treatment, my dad drove over five hours to meet me at the airport. He took over two weeks off of work to spend time with me while I was going through treatment. He also sacrificed financially for me to get the treatment I so desperately needed. The way he would listen to me when I tried to reason out my thoughts and not judge me for what was going on, was incredibly encouraging in that disheartening time. The ways he unconditionally sacrificed for me were almost beyond compare. I knew that no matter what, I had family that would love me and care for me.
I truly believe that if it was not for family support through this time, I would not have recovered the way I have been able to. Knowing that you are unconditionally loved and supported is one of the biggest factors in an individual’s prognosis. That is why it is imperative for the church to be supportive and understanding with those that are struggling with mental disorders.
To wrap up…while humans are spiritual, we as Christians have to remember that we have a physical side to our problems we deal with. As such, we need to be flexible and gracious when dealing with individuals that struggle with mental disorders. They are precious and priceless in the sight of God and are worthy of his love. We need to realize that there is a strong possibility that they will need specialized treat that only individuals outside of the church can provide. But above all, know that we are all created, sustained, and saved by Yahweh and his precious Son, Jesus Christ.