Starting is always difficult, and I feel like at least once a week I go through the *tomorrow’s another day* pep talk. I’m tired. Living is hard. And I know I’m not alone in this sentiment.
Over the past couple of years I’ve talked with numerous Christians with various forms of mental illness who feel that they have to pass as “normal” among fellow Christians. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, passing is when someone is able to pass as a member of an identity category different from their own (as able-bodied when they are disabled, for example). And, research shows how emotionally and psychologically tough it is for the person who goes throughout their day always donning a persona. I can tell you from firsthand experience that to say “it’s difficult” is an understatement.
As I began hearing these stories, I couldn’t help but wonder: where had the church gone so wrong? When did it become a place where we had to appear to be already whole? And, why do people continue to deny that we have bodies, physical, flawed, human bodies, while we’re on this earth?
Jesus came to earth in flesh, in a physical form, and as Hebrews 4:15 tells us, we have a Savior who is capable of empathy and that is a beautiful thing: “ For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”
The American ideal is independence and agency and stoicism, and we have let this slip into the church. The church has become too much like an institution, and institutions favor the normate. Disability scholar/rockstar Rosemarie Garland Thomson coined the term normate to mean “the imagined everyman whose self-determination, independence, rational thinking ability, and physical sturdiness makes American democracy philosophically possible.” As she wisely points out, this imagined ideal is far from the reality than many of us live (or, at least, live in secret).
We will not find perfection on this earth; we will be broken again and again, and the best we can do is forgive ourselves and others, encourage, try again, and live in hopeful expectation of the only place where we will be free of our bodies: Heaven.
“In bloom” aims to start a conversation that brings mental health and spirituality together in a way that does not overlook the body. Too often Christians who struggle with depression are treated like lesser-Christians because finding joy is hard. Too often Christians who struggle with eating disorders are regarded as selfish and vain and the antithesis to a God-centered life. Too often Christians who struggle with anxiety or self-harm are just thrown Bible verses from a distance. And these are just a few of the vast amount of mental illnesses that people in life, in the church, have.
Jesus tells us himself in John 9 that disabilities are not caused by sin, and that perhaps He designed us with them so “that the work of God might be displayed in [our] life” (v3).
Monday I will be sharing my story, my testimony if you will, about being a Christian woman who has high-functioning depression and anxiety, as well anorexia-nervosa. And I want to hear your stories. Right now I envision “In bloom” starting as a series of individual spotlight pieces. But, I would also love to have regular contributors (everyday-living posts, themed-columns on areas like intimacy, family, etc., as well as those from different perspectives, not just those that have mental illness, but our supporters, too, because they need support). Please contact me if you are interested in contributing either once or perhaps more regularly. This is a place not just to share, but to ask for help, for prayer, for advice, for someone just to say, “I know that it’s hard.”
Having high-functioning depression and anxiety means (among other things) that I do a lot, that I literally can’t just “slow down” or easily be kind to myself. However, when I began to look at all of the things I do, I realized that none of them were fueled by ministry. Although “In bloom” has been on my heart for a while, God slowly nudging at my heart over time so I don’t get overwhelmed, I felt the final push during a recent sermon on the Christian life: “Survival is not enough [when you follow Christ] and mission becomes your passion. Mission, ministry, and service mark the life of one who has encountered Jesus.”
So, what would happen if we started talking about mental health as a bodily condition, not a spiritual deficiency? What would happen if we felt brave enough to share our stories? What would happen if we started actively practicing empathy in the church body like Jesus advocates?
I don’t know, but I’m hoping to find out.
Let’s return the church to a community that values empathy, that acknowledges the church as a body of imperfect bodies.