May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and throughout the month many organizations are raising awareness and providing resources to “break the silence and the stigma” around mental illness. I would suggest, oftentimes, the faith community is the most silent about these matters of mental illness, and yet the most culpable. I simply write from my own experience when a friend asked me directly, “ARE YOU GOOD?” I answered in the perfunctory means of “God is Good” and “All is Well”. However, at the conclusion of our conversation, I did a deep-dive within to ask myself…”are you good?” The reality is that I have had to take more mental breaks, and emotional timeouts over the last year because it has been a lot; in the church and in society. When I hear the stories of clergy colleagues who are tired, hitting mental walls, and dealing with decision fatigue, which is causing many of them to contemplate giving up ministry, it is a lot. Or when hearing about unnecessary congregational battles due to personal agendas and political posturing, it is a lot. And yet, we are not talking about how best to model mental health and providing the grace and permission-granting environments that lend for honest conversations regarding the need for extended time off, or self-care sabbaths, or simply saying “no” to the constant hamster-wheel of life and especially the life in ministry.
The scripture that reiterates this message for me is found in John 5 verse 6, “When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” Jesus sees this man, who has been in his condition for many years, relying on others who could not help and even providing excuses for what has hindered his healing. Jesus in his compassion, simply asks the question…”do you want to be made well?” It is a simple question, but one I believe Jesus is asking of us during this Mental Health Awareness Month. We must understand this means of wellness, may not come “just” by prayer, but it may require a mental health professional, an accountability group, extended rest, vacation time, or even medications…but the agency of wellness resides with all of us; and the first step is acknowledging that we need help…even the encouragers need encouragement!
Again, I raise this matter because I am concerned about the well-being of many of Christ’s faithful followers. It is not that they have lost faith in God, it is just with all that is going on, our human limitations are becoming quite evident and very real. I also raise this as a clarion call for clergy to time their time off each week (uninterrupted), and request for extended vacation times (because are still navigating a global pandemic). I am asking S/PPR Committees to check in with their clergypersons, asking the question, “Are You Good?” or even the age-old John Wesley question, “How is it with your soul?” and be ready to resource in their honest response. I am asking laity to join clergy in modeling and leading the cause for what it means to be mentally healthy AND a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.
Friends, if we are truly caring for self and neighbor during these ever-evolving times, we need to get real and begin asking the question of ourselves and those on this journey of faith…”Are You Good?” If we are unwilling to ask or unafraid of the responses, I believe complicit in another person’s suffering, and that is not what Christ has a commission of us or what God requires from us.