Christians and mental health: we should be good at helping others

By Beth Hiemstra

When I had a routine 18-week ultrasound for my second child, I was not prepared to hear that she had a serious genetic anomaly, and that her life expectancy would be short, if she survived birth.  One of the things that sustained me through the grief and stress that followed was the love of God shown through His people.

Ann Voskamp’s interview is in the Jan/Feb Faith Today.

Friends and our church family were there for us. The comfort of knowing that I was not alone and that I was loved, helped me cope during those difficult weeks and months. Some of the hardest times were the “words of comfort” by those who told me this was all for the best or that God told them my child would live.

From what I experienced, I learned how to show love through being present, by receiving love and support from God’s people. When I’m with friends who are experiencing anxiety or depression, I try to remember these lessons. At times, I slip into problem-solving mode, and that’s almost never helpful.

January 25  is Bell Let’s Talk day, a day to raise awareness and understanding of mental health issues.

Let’s Talk resources remind us that mental illness is a common form of human pain and suffering: “Being a good listener and asking how you can help, sometimes just even being there for people you care about, can be the first step in recovery.”

As Christians who are called to love others as we love ourselves, this seems like a natural fit for Evangelicals. We are a people who recognize our brokenness and are sustained by hope.

As Ann Voskamp points out in her interview in Jan/Feb Faith Today, our culture avoids suffering at all costs, but that it is in the places of brokenness that resurrection can happen.

Voskamp says: “The characteristic you see most attributed to Christ in the New Testament is compassion. He was moved to compassion. Compassion is co-suffering. We like the idea of being compassionate, but are we willing to suffer with people?”

Jesus said the identifying characteristic of his followers would be their love for one another. Reaching out to those with mental health issues to listen and be present is one of the ways we show the love of Christ.

We can’t explain away or minimize someone’s suffering. This isn’t the time to tell them that “all things will work together for your good,” or that they just need to pray harder. The most helpful words we can say are often: “You’re not alone” and “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Ann Voskamp again:  “I believe that in the deepest grief, words should be the fewest. You don’t need to say anything. In shared tears is multiplied healing. I think if we just sit with people, and weep with people, that waters a kind of communion, a kind of healing.”

Let’s not wait for January 25 to reach out to others, to be compassionate and to be kind. One of the best things about the community of faith is that God does show His love through His people.

Beth Hiemstra is a policy analyst with The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, publisher of Faith Today. Did you miss the Ann Voskamp interview? Subscribe today

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