It seems to me that it is common to separate the mental health benefits of participation in our church from the other things we do to gain and maintain our mental health. We go to therapy, we practice mindfulness, we exercise, we do yoga, we journal… oh! and I guess there’s church, too. I don’t think most of my incredible partners would ever say, “Circle of Hope is not a benefit to my mental health.” By no means! They would say the opposite if asked. But I don’t think we are always asking. Church is not part of the mainstream conversation about good mental health regimens. This blog post aims to make what is implicit and fairly obvious, explicit and very obvious.
Why don’t we think of church as part of our mental health?
- Church is less marketable – It’s not like people haven’t tried (and succeeded) at making a lucrative business out of the Gospel. But true discipleship doesn’t really sell that well. Love your enemies, bless those who persecute you, share everything in common, discipline your appetites. These are not blockbuster sentiments. It’s hard to sell a free gift. And really, it’s things that are bought and sold that get the world’s first attention. If the church is not on the open market it must not be important. I don’t think it will be too hard for us to resist this temptation, but we must accept that ours is a quiet revolution — unlikely to be televised and trumpeted by those whose eyes are trained on the big money.
- Because it is not a technique – One way “Self-Help” and other beneficial practices like mindfulness and yoga have gotten onto the tips of our tongues when we think about our mental health is that they are techniques that can be mastered and practiced, and they have been marketed as such. There is great appeal to learning the moves, and conditioning our minds. These are good things to do, but they center the individual as the master of their fate. Take your life back. That sounds like winning! The messy, and often difficult, way of living and loving in Christian community doesn’t seem nearly as easy — and it’s kind of all over the place. There might be a thing or two we can learn form the clear paths that have been made by folks who teach these techniques, but maybe not. Our question is “How can the most excellent way of Love, as Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 13, be lifted up as the most excellent way to mental health?” I think love in Christian Coimmunity definitely leads to mental health, but it is a way of life, not a technique; and it can be somewhat unwieldy.
- The cure is communal and cannot be done in isolation – It’s being together that really has the biggest impact on our mental health. We are part of a community that cares about us. Our cells and congregations are sized so that you can be known face to face. You can find acceptance for who you are right now. But, of course, that requires the risk of being with others. You could have any number of reasons why that is hard for you. I say it’s worth the effort and the risk, and the faith it takes to trust others is the same faith it takes to trust God. The community is a proving ground for our trusting and a place for healing hearts that have experienced a lot of broken trust.
- Mutuality is required and requirements are hard when you are hurting – In Circle of Hope we help one another process the inevitable conflict that comes with being closely related. We are taught to relate in ways that help us recover from trauma. And if you are hurting, the mutuality that can be such a source of healing can seem like an impossible demand. It’s hard. I can’t say it isn’t, but I will vouch for its efficacy.
- Somewhere along the lines church and psychology got in a fight – I don’t know enough about it to expound upon it, but somehow a significant number of Christians decided that psychology was against God. I still meet people who have been told that to seek the help of a professional therapist is a faithless act. Ugh. We are doing our best to de-stigmatize professional counseling and we dedicate a significant portion of our budget to subsidize counseling at the counseling center founded by one of our pastors. Circle Counseling is amazing!
So if you are working on gaining or maintaining your mental health (especially in quarantine)…
Invest in the church! Invest in your relationship with God! Of course Jesus can heal you in supernatural ways, but the simplicity of life together ought not to be overlooked. The Church is a great source of mental health resources. I am particularly glad that Circle of Hope is trying to be a psychologically healthy church. And to that end we have compiled a list of resources for you and our community wayofjesus.circleofhope.net/wind/mentalhealth. May we find our way together through this mess and beyond.