I grew up in an evangelical Christian household in rural Indiana in the ‘90s. Needless to say, we were not at the forefront of mental health treatment. And most of the messages I received about good mental health had religious sentiment: Bible verses, prayer, turn to god for answers.
At the time, despite attempts to use these methods to help with my depression and anxiety, I didn’t find any permanent solace. Instead, I experienced much guilt wondering what I was doing wrong to not find healing of my depression. Therapy was never brought up as an option. It wasn’t that the evangelical community I belonged to didn’t believe in it, it was more a matter of ignorance.
By the ‘90s I’m sure a quarter of people in New York and Los Angeles were in therapy. But in rural Indiana it was still considered okay to joke about the mental health facility in town. The people that went there were “nuts” and “crazy,” terms that were always said with a sense of derision. There wasn’t any compassion in regards to those who were mentally ill.
I also saw those attitudes played out in our church. Are you depressed? Turn to these Bible verses. Pray about it. If those things didn’t work then obviously you were doing something wrong and not connecting with god. Perhaps you had some issue you should be working on which would connect you more with him? That way you might receive proper guidance on your depression. Besides, weren’t Christian supposed to have great joy for having found the gift of salvation?
These suggestions did nothing but make me feel more like a failure. And when already suffering from low self-esteem, that wasn’t something I needed any more of.
After hitting severe lows with my mental health in my early twenties, I became more receptive to therapy and medications. I also began to see that just as I didn’t need so-called friends or acquaintances whose lack of support brought me down, mentally, I didn’t want to belong to something like evangelical Christianity that wasn’t supportive of my recovery.
It's likely some evangelical churches have come to accept therapy and medication as positives that can supplement one’s faith in handling mental illness. Yet I wouldn’t know. Along with many other reasons (many of which are more important than the church’s take on mental wellness), I left the faith many years ago.
There are still many Christians that push platitudes that are unhelpful toward feeling mentally fit. “Just pray about it.” “God never gives you more than you can handle.” “Turn to god’s word to find answers for your illness.” And it’s unfortunate that is still the case. My struggles have shown me a detrimental side of Christianity.
I have no regrets about leaving my faith. Yet, my hope is that for those who are in the Church and have mental illness they could find themselves not hindered by clichés. Instead I hope they seek out the things they need to feel better.
Given the highlighting of loneliness over the past many months, I’m not surprised that someone would come up with a religious response to the issue. Recently a FOX News blog post ran on their website titled “God may have put you in a lonely place for an incredible reason”. The article begins with background information on the current state of loneliness in our culture. Then the author, Pastor Rick McDaniel, dives into the meat of his essay.
His argument is that it’s during our lonely times we can turn to god. McDaniel describes this as a great opportunity to be closer to this supreme being. Throughout the article McDaniel confuses the idea of being alone and being lonely. He speaks of loneliness as being a situation without having anyone around. Instead, as I’ve highlighted before, being lonely is about not having the connections you want.
McDaniel writes that loneliness can develop our character. The only example he gives is that our patience can increase while we wait in our loneliness. Speaking from experience, I can assure you there are many less painful ways of learning patience. I wouldn’t suggest someone become lonely as a means to learn that ability.
McDaniel also states that loneliness can inspire us to become creative. Yet here he once again confuses being alone and loneliness. He seems to think it is when we are alone that we find we can tap into our creative juices and birth great achievements. Solitude does allow us to work well. I’m writing this while I sit alone in my apartment, but that won’t take me out of feeling lonely. The act of writing a piece about loneliness won’t bring me the connections I desire.
Finally, McDaniel expresses the idea that loneliness can create in us a desire to serve others. It’s not clear to me why loneliness is necessary to serve others. Here, once again, he confuses loneliness with being alone. I can understand how in solitude one might reflect and realize the needs of others. Yet, one doesn’t have to be feeling disconnected from those around them to have the desire to serve others. I would hope that might come from empathy toward others and love for our fellow human beings.
In McDaniel’s article, all his responses point back to going to god for support and finding solace there when one is lonely. This, unfortunately, leaves many individuals who do not believe in god without a solution to their loneliness. I can appreciate someone offering their two cents on the issues of loneliness. *ahem* Yet people in positions of authority peddling out useless advice that offers an incorrect understanding of the concept about which they’re writing are no help to anyone. If anything, they’re a hindrance to those who might be trying to find a way clear of their loneliness.
This blog is an exploration of the subjects of belonging and loneliness. I also look at mental health issues. I seek to provide content to my readers that is informative and helpful. If you don't want to miss anything, sign up for my email list.