By Lydia Perling
Sometimes pastors and congregations have the tendency to treat mental illnesses as sin or personal failing, instead of treating them as illnesses. There can be a stigma created, both in the church and in the world, against mental illness that makes it into a personal failing. As soon as you tell someone you’re depressed or have anxiety they start telling you to just be happy. I’ve heard things like “You just need to have a better outlook.” and “Just smile more and it’ll all be okay.” And while those are nice sentiments, they’re not helpful.
We come to you looking for comfort and safety, looking for the forgiveness of sins and the comfort of Christ to get us through life. And we desperately need you to give us that. As pastors, you are called to pray for healing and to guide us through life. And when you tell us that the anxiety we have is sinful, the church becomes an unsafe place for us. We are going to question whether the church’s teaching and Christ’s forgiveness are for us after all, and we might even leave the church. When you tell people that their illnesses are their fault and that they just need to stop being ill, you aren’t telling them about the Great Physician: Jesus.
God can and will heal us the same way He heals those with physical illness. Your help is giving us the tools to keep going, along with the reminders that Jesus is taking care of us and that even when we doubt Him, He has still saved us.
Yes, mental illnesses happen because we live in a sinful world, but they aren’t sin in the same way that physical illnesses aren’t sin. Pastors can help break the stigma and comfort us in the same way they help physically ill people.
Please hear our illness and help us.
Lydia Perling is a member at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church in St. Robert, MO.
This article was originally published on the Higher Things website in November 2015.