I enjoy preaching. I think it’s one of my gifts. When I get invited to speak on a new subject, I relish the challenge. But not last night. I am still not sure how it happened but I found myself the main speaker on the first session of a three-day conference on the church and mental wholeness. And I struggled with mixed feelings for at least two reasons. One, I do not, by any stretch of the imagination, have any specialised knowledge in the area of mental wholeness/illness, nor am I in any ongoing ministry committed to ministering to those with mental illness. Two, I suspect the main reason why I was asked to share was the fact that at some point in my life, I had gone through clinical depression. In the years following, I had tried to reflect on my experience to see what lessons I could learn from that dark period of my life.
My journey through clinical depression was a long time ago. I am in a very good place in my life now and very grateful to the Lord for taking me though the valley and leading me to where I am today. Talking about that dark period of my life means that I have to revisit very difficult memories. When I share about that depressive chapter, it takes a lot out of me and it exhausts me. Although I believe in authenticity in preaching/teaching, sharing about this period of my life means being naked and exposed. It’s tiring. I know that by doing this, it helps others to be more willing to share their own struggles and to seek help, and so I do it.
Preparing for the conference helped me to reflect on the whole matter of mental illness. I discovered that 1 in 7 Singaporeans struggle with some type of mental illness. Worldwide statistics are as high as 1 in 4. This is a very significant demographic. Yet when I look at the way most of us do church, it seems we follow a Christ that said make disciples of all nations but you don’t have to bother about those who suffer from mental illness. They are not important. They don’t count. Take a long hard look at the evangelistic and discipleship programmes of the church. What proportion of our ministry efforts is aimed at reaching out to and discipling those who grapple with mental illness? Isn’t the good news for them too? And what does good news mean for those who struggle with mental illness?
I am not at all implying that efforts to minister to those who are mentally ill will be easy. Far from it. But the first question we need to ask is not “Is it difficult to do?” but “What does Christ expect of us?” We must begin by embracing God’s heart for those who are not mentally whole; His deep love for them. I suspect that for many of us this must begin with repentance for the fact that we have ignored this group for so long. I know I need to repent. Then we must be educated. We must know the facts of what we are dealing with. If anything, this will help de-stigmatise mental illness. Then we commit ourselves to actually helping those with mental illness and their caregivers. I suspect that we will begin with baby steps but hopefully we do not remain babies forever.
By now most of us will have heard of the suicide of Jarrid Wilson. Not only was he a pastor, he had been very open about his own struggles with depression and had initiated a ministry to help people suffering with depression and suicidal thoughts. The news shocked us and left us with a sense of profound sadness. We can only speculate as to the number of suicides that don’t make it to the headlines. Just how many wake-up calls do we need? Yet I choose to be hopeful. The Lord is laying His concern on more and more hearts. Even this three-day conference run jointly by Graceworks and Yio Chu Kang Chapel is one concrete expression of the growing conviction among God’s people in Singapore.
We know that complete healing is promised only in the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation 21). As God’s people, we are journeying there. As we journey along, we make sure no one is left to struggle on their own. No one. We will make sure we will do all we can to help everyone arrive safely. Who knows, this may even encourage others to join our caravan.
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
(Matthew 25:37–40, NIV)
We are launching Bruised Reeds 2: Mental Health & The Gospel Community tonight.
It is a collection of essays that grapple with the question of how the church can reach out to help those who grapple with mental illness and those who minister to them.
You can purchase the book online HERE.