The Walk: Can faith & therapy co-exist?

In the last few years, presumably with the steady increase of use of social media by people, we are hearing more and more about major lifestyle changes. Particularly in the black community in America, people are learning that to shift from survival mentality for literal generational continuation into a thriving mentality for generational success mentality requires some changes.  We are going vegan, drinking that water, coconut oiling everything, cutting sugar and salt,  doing social media fasts, hitting the gym, reading more, trying to do relationships better etc.  Most recently, again specifically in the black community, the stigma of getting mental health support is falling back as people are aggressively and openly going to therapy, doing retreats, grabbing those self-help books and posting their journey along the way.

 With the success of the movie Black Panther, we had actor Michael B. Jordan in I believe his first role as a villain, playing a layered, conflicted and compromised antagonist (Killmonger) who drove many of the tensions in the movie.  He had such a dedication to the role that he isolated himself from cast during filming to maintain his character’s energy.  Part of his method (acting) is to keep journals of his characters so he can fully step into this person and the results was a power performance that even as a villain had people asking the question:  “Was Killmonger wrong?”  The aftermath, Michael later revealed, was that when filming concluded he eventually spent about a month in therapy to return back to himself. He developed struggles from living with being that isolated, hurt angry character that now affected his real life relationships, so he sought help.  Good news is he is back to form and I am eager to see his career grow. 

Mental health knows no boundaries, it is colorblind, ignorant of financial status, dismissive of ethnicity, nationality, gender, height, weight, age or faith.  The last is my focus: faith. 

 I am a Christian on purpose, grew up in church but eventually embraced my own walk with God.  Zero regrets but it be annoying when stuff doesn’t want to go right.  Why?  Because in the church we are spoiled and inaccurately taught both directly and indirectly that “it” is all going to work out with expedience, every trial, every time.  The translation is that we are somehow exempt or quickly delivered from the trials in life which are common to the human experience.

“Faith doesn’t deny the existence of something, faith challenges its right to be there.” – Lance Wallnau

Heard that in a sermon over 12 years ago, it was poignant then as it is now because in the church we are taught things that don’t play out in real life.  I’ve been to too many funerals, seen too many divorces, tragedies, failures, experienced too many setbacks for myself and in my family in the faith to believe in the myth of universal exemption.  I can hear the pushback, but people step away from the church because the time between promises made and promises met can literally be a lifetime and God was not backing those statements.  Exemption is in a way is denying the reality of something like saying: “I am sick but I have faith so I am not sick,” rather than saying: “I am sick, I have faith therefore I believe I will not remain sick.” 

“…..let the weak say I am strong” – Joel 3:10

Not a statement of delusion, it is a statement of faith that acknowledges current personal state of affairs.  Declarations are great but they are lost in the sauce of methodology which is where in the church we are missing out on the access to the power which according to our faith is present for our use

I am a counselor (academic) but I deal with my fair share of mental health situations. Previously, I was a foster care caseworker and had the same exposure to the same challenges.  Mental health, the soundness or instability thereof, is the filter by which we see the world.  While mental health knows no boundaries, what can onset it is very easily categorized.  As a black man, my stressors are different than a white man’s, women deal with security and safety concerns that I never think about, a father has a world of weight different than a mother who has her own unique weight etc. Unmitigated stress will show up somewhere else in your life and can be resulting in conditions such as: depression, anxiety, extreme apathy, anorexia, bipolar disorder and the like.  These results have common symptoms, common causes (stress, tragedies) and common solutions found in the aforementioned mental health support which is becoming more and more popular, effective and common.

Except in church….

We have the MIND OF CHRIST which therein thus and concordantly hitherto, thee, taketh, thine and such means that we don’t need mental health support.  We need to go to church, prayer, more church, hands laid on us, more church, no interactions with people who are not of “like faith, more church, fasting and church and after that more church.  Our pastors counselor (sidebar – pastors mean well, are gifted with compassion but aren’t necessarily trained counselors, there is a difference) and that should suffice.  But then again pastors suffer some significant rates of suicide and depression as well……..who do they go to when their stressors overwhelm their ability to cope?

See, my mother had a major surgery two years ago, we prayed and she had a successful surgery.  I have heard stories of prayer and faith where the surgery was not necessary and that is a great thing, big ups to the Lord. In my family’s case we did both and both worked together, faith and works, this is Bible. But we seem to draw the line at mental health because it is less tangible than cancer, however faith in and of itself is invisible and lacking form and actual substance. More people than we realize are on meds and have unhealthy, sometimes destructive mindsets.

 Those who sabotage their own success in relationships are not of sound mental health, those who cannot function without exuding their power and dominance over someone else is not of sound mental health. Those who cannot be alone in their own company are not of sound mental health.  As wide of a range of physical health from paper cuts to heart attacks are the severity of mental health but that which remains unaddressed can progress into infection and metastasize into far worse from what it began as. 

Prayer-   “Casting all your cares upon Him for He cares for you.”  1 Peter 5:7

This is where the buck stops for most in the faith and this is where we fail.  Prayer is never failure. Prayer is the beginning, the middle, the end and the in-between, a constant invitation for God’s input into a situation.  We cannot go wrong with prayer but we cannot stop with prayer either, we have work to do.

Prayer doesn’t cause you to lift weights and do cardio and eat clean to lose weight so as to avoid heart attack and stroke, you do those things.  Prayer can be the place of confession, empowerment, reflection and infusion of grace so that you have the strength and willingness to do the exercise. I believe prayer, or rather the result of prayer can be acceleration of results, exponential increase in yield of what you do, quick adaptation and magnification but not an enablement to not do the work. 

If it was simply about prayer, simply that we speak to God and instantly the stressors and the factors in life which onset our mental health issues then the suicide rate in the church and amongst church leaders would be 0.00%.  No one would feel that crushing weight as it would evaporate like steam.  If prayer was the only answer, it would also be true that we would not need each other, God did not design for us to be insolation, not even Jesus during His time on earth walked alone and Adam got himself an wife because God said it wasn’t good for man to be alone.  My case is made in this verse:

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  – Galatians 6:2

The law of Christ is fulfilled when we help each other carry the load/burdens/weight of our lives. I am a one trip bag guy, I will grab all shopping bags and make that one trip from car to house. I will not be defeated by rain nor deadbolt lock nor Armageddon.

Don’t you ever quit……

Clearly not the burdens being referenced.  In fact once you help someone move, lift that bag, take out that garbage, clear that yard you don’t even think about it. The burdens being referenced are that which cause mental health issues.  Judas influenced by evil, betrays Jesus and later the next day hangs himself – suicide due to shame, anxiety and massive onset depression from remorse, it was still a choice.  Interesting it was prophesied of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus but not his suicide. 

We all participate in bearing the burdens of another, we have interventions and deep conversations with loved ones, friends and family. We care so we carry but there are deeper levels of this. Counseling and therapy can and absolutely should be in line with the law of Christ in bearing burden but done so skillfully in a way that establishes accountability sans judgement. Speaking to a stranger who is trained in the counseling profession allows them to help them help you in discovering the root of issues that plague you.  It takes time and dedication, training and skills that may not be present in a pastoral counseling session.  We don’t want people we are close to really know “that” thing about us, but we need people to help us hold burdens of life and to do so in a non-judgmental way.  Going to counseling, seeing a therapist helps you to lay plain what you are dealing with.  The fact that you go is an acknowledgement that you have an area in life in which you desire support.  That is the beginning of victory. 

No one overweight gets laughed at in the gym from my experience.  They are at the place to make life changes and often feel uncomfortable but in reality are more quietly celebrated than mocked.  What keeps people from going is their mindset of fearing being exposed and understandably a lack of knowledge on what to do to achieve their goals.  Worst feeling is to be empowered to want to make a change and to be lacking in the tools to actually do it.  So what do you do?  Get a personal trainer.  You prayed about it and decided that the grace existed in finances and time and went for it and said “I need help.”  And this trainer kicks your butt without mercy for weeks and months until you get “there”, your goal. First, you discover that you never get there and if you do, you have to work to stay there. After which you also learn how to maintain this lifestyle on your own or discover that you enjoy someone pushing you and continue with a trainer because it is worth it. The relationship drives you to maintain.  And no one, absolutely no one in their right mind would mock the change you want to make for your body.

The same should be true for the mental health side of things.  I need help, I need someone who knows what they are doing to help me get there. The grace is there: my job has a program for mental health support,  I have the time or money and person gives me a discount etc., I prayed for mental health healing and this person’s office is 5 mins from my job who can help me with just that.  Weeks and months later I realize that I am slowly getting there, the weight of depression isn’t that heavy any more, I can shuck off these feelings of inadequacy. I can pray more honestly and openly, my outlook on life is different and I now have the tools I need to maintain this on my own or I discover I enjoy the support in maintaining this lifestyle and continue to attack other areas in my life that need the light and fresh air. 

Counseling is absolutely NOT about answers, we are not answering questions, google that, we are helping you on your journey.  That is where people get off the bus.  Again a 450 lbs. individual knows the answers, diet and exercise.  Plain and simple but not easy.  Counseling is about supporting someone in their journey to the answers and conclusions that they want and need and quite honestly already know. New truths aren’t the major discoveries in counseling, rather the ability to accept existing truths is developed.  The counselor might push you to go deeper but the one person may want to stop at step 3 and the next keeps it progressing to step 6.  Personal prerogative is critical as well. Not all needed change can happen in a moment, goals need to be spaced out and lined up to be addressed in order. We cannot bear all the truth of a thing in one sitting and sometimes you need time to recover from counseling, things get stirred up. Now prayer can provide the grace and courage to go deeper and heal, both in conjunction will yield powerful, lasting results. 

“….My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness……”

2 Corinthians 12:9

Too often we look to the celestial for this intangible grace to sprinkle down on us and “miracle-gro” our situation for the better.  All the while ignoring the grace that God has placed for us as part of His expression within our neighbor.  This grace found in the person has form, title, substance and most of all power.  There is a reason why hugs from one you love keep your world spinning.  God designed it that way so we need Him and need each other. 

Conclusion, get the help you need, let God guide you to where and with whom that sufficient grace lies and get the bag… we’ve all spent too much time spent not healing so go get it.