Am I living in victory? I have often wondered this after hearing someone’s amazing testimony of healing, or restoration. I must confess, I struggle to use the word ‘victory’, as I am not entirely clear on what it’s meant to mean.
I find that many of the testimonies I hear are complete stories, tied off with a pretty bow, no loose ends and with God, the victor, having done something miraculous.
I guess this always grates on me slightly, and perhaps that’s merely because I’m jealous. You see, I don’t have that happy ending. Not yet, and maybe not ever. I have depression and anxiety. It has been 10 years since I was diagnosed, and things have only got worse in terms of the condition of my mental health.
When I hear these testimonies, I usually find myself switching off. They don’t relate to me, really. Though I know that I need to, and do, have hope and trust that change will come, it still leaves me with the question: what about today? When I have to fight with myself to get out of bed. When I do battle with my brain over whether the crowd on the tube is going to squish all the air from my lungs, or if I am, in reality, quite safe. When everyday has these kind of questions, hope becomes difficult to hold on to.
The change that will come may not come in my lifetime, and that is a reality I live with. With all these testimonies, I often feel there is little room for those God has chosen not to heal right now.
This leaves me with the question, how can we best give hope to the hopeless; rejoice in stories of extraordinary transformation; sing of the hope of God; and create space for those whose suffering doesn’t seem to cease?
I’m in no way suggesting we cut out testimonies that end happily – these are crucial to finding hope and need to be celebrated, but maybe we could put in a few that talk of God’s ongoing love and grace in the mist of deep darkness and despair.
There is more to this than testimonies, though. It’s the narrative coming to us from the front of church that impacts us the most. If the only people we hear from on stage are those whose trials and traumas are done, are we telling those for whom suffering is ongoing that they are not yet complete? That they are not quite loved enough?
The language we use in church, the narrative we offer, matters. It tells those in the congregation a story of God’s love, and we need to ensure that the story told is the one that actually is. We need to ensure that we are representing the suffering as equally as the victorious.
If we don’t, we end up painting a picture that excludes the dark from this fallen and broken world. If we forget the broken and the suffering, can we really tell the story of Christ fully?
Mental health is a part of life that operates in the dark. For those with ongoing battles with their mental health, church can be an incredibly painful experience, and we need to learn how to ensure that we are welcoming them in for who they are in that moment.
Livability and Mind and Soul have partnered to create a resource for church leaders, a Mental Health Access Pack, to help them better respond to those with mental health problems. This explores language used, common conditions, theological issues often raised around mental health, and offers both pastoral and practical support for church leaders.
We hope that this will bring an opportunity for vulnerability and openness about the ongoing nature of many peoples suffering, which will in turn build up greater trust and appropriate support between all those within a church, as well as helping to make church a place of comfort and security for those with mental health needs.