Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to give a damn.
Sometimes all it takes is for someone to say “How are you?” and then to follow that up with “Okay, now tell me the truth.”
Sometimes all it takes is for someone to put up a red flag. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to pick up the phone.
Today is World Mental Health Day. And look, if you’ve stumbled here and you feel like you need to want to hurt yourself or stop the pain forever, then please, talk to someone, call someone, please just stop for a moment and pick up a phone – there’s a list of numbers at from around the world at this link. Or at least ask a mate to take you out and buy you a drink.
I’ll be honest, because honesty all round is a good starting point when it comes to mental health: I suffer from anxiety. I suffer from stress. I take medication for this, and talk to a counsellor, but there are still days, like yesterday, I binge eat, days on which I can’t focus or concentrate because of thoughts failing to cohere, buzzing like static, like bees without a queen. And yet I have a lovely family, I hold down a decent job, and I try not to take this for granted because this is an illness that takes its toll, and there are those whose suffering is greater than mine will ever be. And then there are those who fall through the cracks, those who take their own lives despite everything. And that leads to guilt and grief, shock and shame, and we have to be able to look after each other then as well. Often those are the times we just need to shut up and weep with those who weep, to mourn with those left behind. No-one wants to talk theology when they’re folding away those clothes for the final time.
That meansd something for the Church. Worship is important, vital even. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think God’s interested in our songs if they’re distracting us from noticing the person sitting at the back who can barely get the words out because they’re hurting so much. Our churches need to be spaces of raw honesty rather than places where we pretend everything’s okay because of some impossible obligation. There’s a phrase I once heard, and I wish I could remember who said it because I’ve quoted it a thousand times: “Every worship group should have a break-up song”. In other words, there’s a time to dance but also a time to mourn. And there are some of you out there who need to sing sad songs in church, because someone, probably without realising it, has told you that you lack faith, that you don’t really trust in God, that stress is you being Mary when actually you should be Martha.
But this trivialise the problem, doesn’t it? It adds an extra layer of shame and guilt, and most of the time people don’t realise it’s happening. You sit quietly in a sermon as the words fly towards you like bullets. And waking up feeling scared every day, no matter what’s actually happening, isn’t just ‘worry’. Having a negative physical reaction, shallow breathing and panicked thoughts when you see an email alert isn’t just ‘being a bit overworked’. Spontaneous bursts of anger or paranoia or despair aren’t healthy. You know that, and so does God, because no-one who once sweated blood is unfamiliar with stress or fear or anguish.
And so, in the middle of this, God doesn’t leave us. In the middle of this we are not condemned or damned. Because none of this is about the power of your faith or your acceptance of dogma. It’s about you being a child of God, ir’s about you being covered by grace, it’s about you being loved. And it’s about God being with you in your illness, even when you feel abandoned, even when you feel lost, even when you’re trapped in a fog that feels solid as stone. And if there are times you can’t believe that, try to let others believe it for you.
This year’s theme for World Mental Health Day is greater investment and greater access. We hear that and we think budgets, we think programmes, we think setting up meetings to discuss new ministries. And if that’s where you’re led then go for it – seriously, go for it. But as we continue to live through Coronatide, we’re being prompted to reimagine how our churches do community, and so maybe the investment we need to make is relationships, is extending an open hand, is repentance for past mistakes, is imagining the ways we can create a safer, more healing environment for all those who need it. And I don’t know what that looks like for you or your church, because the Spirit knows a million different dances and is happy to lead.