WHAT IF?…. You were afflicted with cancer and raised your hand in a Sunday School class to ask for prayer and support and as a result, you experienced any or all of the following responses from your family in Christ?
“Have you prayed about this cancer thing yet? Because God will certainly take this away if you just pray with enough faith.”
Someone handing you a piece of paper with a bunch of Bible verses about being healed as if you’d never read any of them before.
“Well you should be thankful you’re not a quadriplegic or something like that which causes REAL suffering and pain.”
“Have you asked God to show you where there might be hidden sin in your life which might be the thing which is causing this?”
“This is a stronghold or a demon, and you need to get deliverance from it because if you don’t, you can’t be a useful Christian.”
“Real Christian’s don’t get cancer. You should make sure that your faith in Christ is sincere.”
“You are just letting Satan have his way with you. You are cooperating with him!”
“Have you tried reading your Bible?”
“I don’t happen to have cancer, so that pretty much qualifies me to teach you how to get rid of your cancer.”
“You’re seeing a doctor?! How is that trusting God??”
“You’re taking medicine for this? That’s trusting in the wisdom of men, rather than trusting in God for healing.”
“Physical therapy?? That’s for weak and spineless people. Just trust God to strengthen you instead.”
“If you would just trust God, you wouldn’t be suffering like this!”
“I would have to question whether or not you have received the Holy Spirit because the Spirit of Christ and cancer cannot dwell in the same body.”
“This is probably due to generational sin which has put a curse on you. You’ll need to ask God to reveal the specific sins of your ancestors and then you’ll need to do this 7-step process of renouncing those specific sins and then your cancer will disappear.”
“Every time you go to a psychologist you are cooperating with the work of Satan!!” You are on his team!”
Pretty “crazy” stuff – eh?
Sadly…I could go on with more of these of these absurd responses, (many of which I have personally experienced), but I think I’ve shared enough to demonstrate just how hurtful and counterproductive these statements would be to someone suffering from cancer.
And guess what? For every person that you know who is suffering from cancer, there’s someone else you know who is suffering from mental illness. The difference is that they aren’t free to talk about it because if they do, they know that rather than being supported, they will face accusation and judgment.
The point I’m trying to make is that these are the kind of responses that people who suffer from mental illness experience and the consequences are truly painful and counterproductive. This is what drives them into isolation and separates them from their family in Christ just when they need prayers, compassion, empathy, and support.
These are not isolated or rare events. They are, sadly, very common.
And, if we are honest, the real reason that this happens is that there are still so many people within the body of Christ who deny the validity of mental illness. To them, it is always viewed as a sin/spiritual issue rather than a disorder of the brain.
Change will only happen when churches begin to validate the experience of mental illness in the exact same way they validate the suffering of any other type of illness and to treat those who are afflicted in the same manner that they treat others with differing afflictions. This why I continue to write about it.
Our online support group for Christians with anxiety disorders has grown very large because people are desperate to communicate with someone who really understands that their pain and suffering is real, that it’s often excruciating, debilitating and life-altering. They are desperate for prayer and encouragement and someone to tell them that it’s more than okay to seek medical/professional help. That it’s not a sign of weak faith. That it’s not their fault that they are sick. And that God’s grace is sufficient for this thorn too.
Affliction is a common experience for the Christian, but it’s not without purpose. There are lessons to be learned through all kinds of suffering, and mental illness is not an exception to the rule.
What if The Church of Jesus Christ was a leader in showing the world how to support those who are suffering from mental illness in the exact same way they lead the world in how to support those who are suffering from any other form of trial, tribulation or persecution? What if I could feel at ease to raise my hand in a Sunday School class and say:
“Please pray for me. I’m going through a very bad flare of my OCD, and I’m experiencing a great deal of mental pain every waking minute of every day.”
And what if, when I did that, I wouldn’t need to fear the experience any of the above responses that I’ve just shared because people would automatically know that my affliction was valid just like they understand cancer to be valid?
I feel very strongly that this kind of change would lead to people getting the help they need. It would free them from guilt and shame and allow them to talk openly about their affliction and in doing so, they would quickly discover they aren’t alone; that there are many other Christians who can relate to what they go through. The freedom to share without fear of stigma will open the doors of hope and allow for productive communication which can guide people toward getting the professional help they need without having to feel that it’s wrong to do so.
I realize that I’ve written about this matter before and that people might wish I’d stop being so redundant, but this is a problem that hasn’t gone away. As long as these hurtful responses continue to happen to my brothers and sisters in Christ who are afflicted with mental illness, I’m going to keep on talking about it and hoping and praying for change.