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Category Archives: Healthy Church Life

Please Don’t “Church” My Mental Health

Please Don't Church My Mental HealthThis title (and topic) has been floating around in my head and heart for quite some time now. Recently, I went to a Stephen Ministries conference where I learned quite a bit about the ministry end of this equation. But let me tell you: I’ve been on the other end too many times to count.

Today, I want to focus on that part of the story. If what I describe in this article has been a way you have personally interacted with someone, please know there is a learning curve. I have a lot of grace for that. I am not writing this to cause any shame.

But I have spent so much of my time, passion, and advocacy on the intersection of faith and mental health, that I can’t sit still and be silent. In fact, my small publishing house, Ground Truth Press, is due to put out a fascinating and very thorough book on this subject in a few months. I am so proud of the author who took the time to try to explain both “subcultures” (for lack of a better word) and why they do not need to remain polarized. She has taken great care to educate both camps on the other’s perspective/viewpoint.

Today’s words are my own, but when she approached me about publishing her manuscript, my soul screamed: YES!

Too much pain, too many misunderstandings, so much disillusionment on the topic of mental health, and I’m sorry, fellow Christians, but I’m referencing the inside of the church.

I’m so pleased to be part of a church body that is very committed to educating its members on mental health inclusion and ministry, but that has not always been the case. I have attended churches with a mindset that was openly hostile toward those struggling with emotional and mental health. I’m sorry to say that in more than four decades of church life, in this arena specifically, I’ve found the most support in secular environments.

I believe this can change. I know it can. In fact, I think the current title of this article can one day change. “Church” as a verb can have a positive connotation. Ministry to this group of fellow sufferers (we all suffer with something, right?) can be righted within the church environment.

How? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Unmasked: The Importance of Being Real

Unmasked_The Importance of Being RealProverbs 24:26, ESV
Whoever gives an honest answer kisses the lips.

In an attempt to encourage a very dear person in my life after a loss causing her complicated grief, I wrote the following:

A thousand times over I admire _______ for facing his demons and working to give back good, however flawed and imperfectly. I prefer this a thousand times over to people who won’t get real with each other and who want to pretend all is well when it is clearly not. Reading the obituary made me admire _______ for things I cannot admire others for in that same generation. I will take “real” any day over faking it. The latter is an exhausting way to live.

Jesus hung out with the humble like  ________ who knew they were messed up and needed Him. Those are my kinds of people.

My entire life I have been surrounded by people who feared being honest with and about themselves. Some of it may have been learned behavior, cultural norms at the time, and generational. The point of this article is not to lay blame.

Some of these people were in my church, my neighborhood, and my family. Some had significant influence over me. Some just passed through my life briefly. And like anyone else, I still meet people like this who, for whatever reason, are trapped inside themselves and hiding behind a façade.

We can argue that at any given point, all of us have a façade. Just look at social media, ha!! And sure, I’m going to be professional with a client and not let her know I just got my act together at 1 in the afternoon because I struggled to focus all day due to a concern over one of my kids. Maybe I showered for the first time in two days, my house is a wreck, and problems are dripping off every family member like a leaky faucet quicker than I can address them—if I even can. Yeah, not the time to share that, but that’s not what I’m referring to.

And, to be fair, at the other end of the spectrum are people like me who wear everything on our sleeves, consequently making more private people uncomfortable with our over-share at times. I get that. I really do. Private people are not wrong to be guarded or true to their nature.

The problem comes in when appearances Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Living Honestly, Part 2

Living Honestly-2In last week’s column about living honestly, I began writing a list of areas where God is calling me to be more truthful in my relationships. 

Part of the reason for self-assessment is that sometimes we avoid speaking clearly and honestly out of fear of rejection, hurting someone’s feelings, or a sense of responsibility toward meeting needs and helping people. Truth-speaking is obviously always a good practice, but when we are confronting any area or issue that might be uncomfortable, it is especially important to be prayerful and to have built relationship. 

My personal buzzwords in this season of my life right now are: 

Is how I am handling this communicating care

In my family life, areas of ministry, and both of my businesses (publishing and essential oils), “communicating care” is where it all breaks down for me. If I can’t do this well, I may as well pack it all up and go home. Even when my answer is “no,” “not now,” or “that is not a way I can help,” it is paramount that I convey kindness. 

Close personal relationships are the polishing ground for the edges in our personalities and ways of interacting. Because we care more on that level, we are more invested. Good boundary-setting and clarity-with-kindness go a long way toward expectations being more realistic on both sides.

As a review, the first three ways of living honestly were:

  • “I can’t help in that way right now, but I can help in this way: ________________.”
  • “I care a lot about you, and because I do, I have some thoughts on this pattern in your life that may be causing you some trouble.”
  • “__________ is an area of my life I would like you to stop speaking to me about because you do not have the experience or authority to weigh in there. However, I would continue to enjoy your thoughts on _____________ area(s) of my life. I find it so helpful to hear from you about that.”

The next three on my list are as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Living Honestly, Part 1

Living HonestlyWhenever I sit down to write a column, I ask God for guidance where to start. It’s not like He sits on my desk and audibly downloads ideas while I type. But I can tell you without a doubt if you want to know what He has me working on in my character and life, it is usually within these 1,200 words and very current.

So I sat down with a tiny piece of chocolate and my cappuccino and asked for a topic. The response in my heart and soul is usually along the lines of: 

“Well, what am I teaching you right now?”

Me: “Well, patience, self-control, taming my tongue, speaking more gently, being slow to anger…..isn’t that the usual recipe of what needs work in me, Lord?”

“What is your main goal right now: the new level of a healthy spiritual life you are wanting me to bring you to?”

Me: “If I were to reflect on recent weeks, I would say: living honestly. Not people-pleasing. Only God-pleasing. Being true to who I am, what I offer, and what You tell me to do. Not allowing negativity to derail me from Your purposes.”

Living honestly. Hmmm. What does that look like?

Well, what first comes to mind is integrity. Keeping promises. Not promising what we can’t provide. Making good on our word. 

Proverbs 10:9, ESV
Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.

1 Chronicles 29:17, ESV
I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you.

Not stealing or short-cutting to take from someone else. Any time we so much as take a box of pencils from the office closet or a pack of gauze from the medical bin at work, we are costing someone else something for our own gain. We don’t have to be shoplifting to be dishonest. We can cheat on taxes or fudge our payroll hours.

I find it also dishonest to live with priorities out of whack. Want to know what I mean by that? If we live hand-to-mouth, and that paycheck needs to pay for our transportation and food, yet we have the latest iPhone but have to regularly ask our friends to help pay bills, we may have some dishonest representation of finances going on. 

And what about misspeaking when we recount a situation that happened, stretching or altering the truth? In court, false testimony can dismiss an important case! Our words matter!

Proverbs 14:5, ESV
A faithful witness does not lie, but a false witness breathes out lies.

But living honestly can also mean Read the rest of this entry »

 

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The Right Kind of Walled-In

Right Kind of Walled-InA few years ago, Boston endured one blizzard after another until the snowblowers and shovels had nowhere else to deposit the snow. (Yes, believe it or not, I am not talking about this year’s March-a-geddon.) It was almost impossible to street-park in the city, and driveways in the burbs looked like Arctic dunes. Backing out of one’s driveway almost required a traffic cop, and seeing the neighbor’s yard from your car? Forget it if you are shorter than 5 foot 5 inches. We accumulated more than five feet of snow!

The one good part about it, amidst sore backs and snowdrifts that continually crossed pathways out all our doors, was the trail we were able to create in the backyard for our Shih Tzus. Only one foot off the ground, at best, they could not break free and take off across our yet-unfenced yard. For about three weeks, they had a fence of snow that they did not even attempt to climb. It may as well have been Shih Tzu Everest.

During that time, I remember posting a photo of myself next to our driveway’s towering guardrail of white. With shovel in hand, it was even more clear to our Midwest relatives how hard Boston was hit by Jack Frost. And while my husband was understandably overworked preventing ice dams by scraping, salt-bombing, and warming the roof, I was secretly enjoying the pent-up feeling.

The human-sized height of the snow made me feel so safe, so protected, so walled-in. I love when school and other activities are cancelled and nobody can get to our house. As awful as that sounds, for an introvert, it is a little bit of paradise to have a few days off from the world at large. Even the governor of Massachusetts had my back that year with that whole State of Emergency thing.

But even for an introvert,  Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Why I Left My Church One Easter

Why I Left My Church One Easter-3It took me more than five and a half years to write this story, the one where my heart left my church one Easter. And even now, I am fully aware of the following:

  • I left a building and a shepherd, not the people and not my true Shepherd. I still run a prayer group (going strong many years now) with wonderful women I met there. The Church, ultimately, is the Body of Christ, and I will never abandon her.

1 Corinthians 12:12-14, ESV
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.

  • I still love the people who remain, and I am keenly aware that they have their reasons for finding something of value there. For a few years, I did as well.
  • None of this is to disrespect that particular church or shepherd. We are all God’s children.

But I believe this story has value. I hope you can have an open heart while reading it.

As Easter 2011 approached, I felt that sick feeling in my gut I had been feeling for years, really. Easter is a time to invite friends to church, to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, to spread love to a world that needs it (yes, we should be doing that all the time, but people tend to seek a church out for Christian holidays).

But I had a major problem:

I couldn’t picture wanting to invite anyone to my church.

In my mind at the time, right or wrong: If they were already broken, they could break more. If they needed Christ, they would only find Him being beaten on a cross.

They wouldn’t necessarily get the message that His resurrection brought grace.

I agree that it is very important we understand He took on our sin. Our sin and what should have been our judgment placed upon His body are realities we must never forget.

The judgment-only focus did not mix well with depression, anxiety, and abandonment already part of my history. Nor did it help a young mother longing to connect with a real, loving, compassionate God.

So, I knew it wasn’t a good sign when I begged my husband to go away that weekend with the kids. We could still attend church—just not our own. How sad is that? I’m not proud of that moment, but I needed the other half of the story. I needed grace. So to Burlington, VT, we went and worshipped and celebrated Easter with a lovely evangelical church there who took us in.

And that’s the day I knew I had to leave. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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10 Ways to Recognize Safe Counsel

10 Ways to Recognize Safe CounselThere are people in my life who have earned the right to be blunt, honest, offering constructive criticism and feedback, and I receive it because of history, trust, love, and mutual understanding.

On the other hand, there are other folks who regularly cross that line and yet have not earned that place in my life or space in my head. I may love them deeply, but they speak from insecurity, negativity, and/or a lack of self-control. They are not voices God wants me to let in.

Along those lines, I frequently tell my children:

“People who put you down do not deserve space in your head and heart. Be kind but don’t engage. You are worth more than the voices of insecure speakers in your life—and I am too.” 

It’s a hard call at times, isn’t it? We should be open to feedback, but some folks are not healthy enough to offer it safely.

Know what I mean?

As I “grow up” in Christ, I am learning more and more that there are some voices I need to shut out and others that should be let in. I am growing in the discipline of asking God first: “Lord, she is saying this. Is this true? Is it from You? Should I take heed or put through Your filter and discard?”

God loves us so incredibly as a parent that He wants us to hear correction safely, gently, and with grace. And voices that don’t reflect His tender care need to be checked in with Him. For that matter, all voices do. Sometimes I have been caught in the web of someone’s honey offering when really they were simply waiting to build trust so they could crush it with unkindness.

Because we lack the ability to see other people’s motives, we must consult God and trust in His protection.

One of my favorite Proverbs on this topic is the entirety of Proverbs 4, a beautiful message written from King Solomon (son of King David) to his sons. Consider the wisdom here. There are at least 10 amazing guiding principles in the way the father counsels his children. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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