I have all sorts of issues.
I have problems that I need help working through. Life gets confusing for me, anxiety and depression dog my days, and I have some self-worth issues that I can’t overcome on my own. I need help navigating towards healing and wholeness, towards an integrated, healthy life.
I’m a mess, and I know it, but I don’t want to stay a mess.
So where do I turn to for help? Who do I talk to? Growing up, I indirectly learned that it was the pastor that I should talk to about this stuff. No one ever told me this directly, but it was always inferred that for any issue, the pastor was the person to turn to. Family problems? Talk to the pastor. Depression and anxiety? Talk to the pastor. Marriage woes? Talk to the pastor. Life seems out of control? Talk to the pastor. The pastor would have all the answers because all of the answers to life and wholeness were to be found in scripture.
Yes, it was the bible that had all the answers to any issue in life that could come up, and the pastor was the bible expert so I should go talk to them about any problem that arises in my life. The world might tell you to go to a counselor or therapist, but they would only lead you away from the faith because they were looking for answers outside of scripture. So, keep your faith strong and look to the bible for all the answers. The pastor can help you find them.
But what if the Bible doesn’t have all the answers?
Here’s the truth of my situation: I have been diagnosed with a mood disorder, bipolar to be exact. On top of that, I have been diagnosed with an “unknown anxiety disorder.” This means that I have some medical conditions that affect the way I think and feel in drastic ways. Add all that to just the general lostness I feel, the self-worth issues I have, and there is a kind of wreck going on in my brain.
As much as I search the Bible for the answers to my conditions, they simply are not there. There is nothing in scripture to tell me how to handle living with bipolar. The Bible has words to say about normal worry, but nothing about panic attacks and an inability to go to work because of depression and anxiety.
There is a ton of wisdom found in scripture, but ultimately it’s not an answer book. It’s a collection of books and writings that in meant to point us to Jesus as the Son of God and our savior.
Maybe I shouldn’t go talk to my pastor about my issues. They may be equipped to help me understand and apply scripture to my life, but I don’t think they have the toolbox to deal with bipolar, anxiety, cutting, suicidal ideations, and abandonment issues. Most of my pastor friends admit two things to me: they only had one or two classes on counseling in seminary, and they feel unequipped to really deal with some of the stuff people come to them with.
So, on Mondays, I go to a therapist.
I have learned not to go to pastors with my issues, not because I don’t trust them or they are bad people, but rather because they are the wrong people to help.
It took me a long time to be ok with seeing a therapist. Growing up, I was always told that unless it was explicitly a “Christian counselor,” psychologists would lead me away from my faith and into some new age mumbo-jumbo. And Psychiatrists? You could just forget them, they were worse. With this in mind, I steered clear of therapy for 28 years until finally, I had to admit that I needed more help than I could find in the Bible or my local church.
So I went to therapy, and was diagnosed, and started a treatment of medicine and talk-therapy to help me lean into a healthy life. I haven’t been led away from my faith or anything I used to fear about therapy. Instead, I am finding stability from my mood swings, healing from my broken heart, and a new way of thinking about myself, a healthier way of embracing myself. Ya, I’m on a few medications these days, but the medicine is helping me, not turning me into either an emotionless zombie or a happy-clappy freak. I am finding out what it means to be healthy.
I couldn’t find this with a pastor. I couldn’t see this in the Bible. It took going to the right doctors, finding the right medications, and sticking with the treatment over time. These are things that trained professional psychologists and psychiatrists can do. But pastors aren’t qualified for this, and the Bible wasn’t written to give answers to my mental illness.
Maybe it’s time we go to the right people for our problems. Maybe it’s time we stop expecting pastors and the Bible to do more than they can. Maybe it’s time we take away the shame and stigma that can come with therapy. Maybe it’s time we embrace it as one path toward healing. It’s not some sort of betrayal of faith to reach out for the right help. In fact, it is in faith that we reach out, trusting that God will direct the therapy and bring us healing. Just like a medical doctor brings healing, so do the counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists. I mean, if you had cancer you would see the right doctors. The same thing goes for mental health. Let’s get people to the right counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists who are more equipped than a pastor to bring God’s healing in this area. We need to stop assuming that all our emotional issues can be dealt with at church, by the pastor, or in the Bible. That’s just not the reality of mental health.
I take my depression, anxiety, mania, and all my issues to the right people and surprisingly God shows up with his healing hand. I begin to move from a broken mess to a healthy, whole person. God wants us to find healing in the right places, through the right people. Let’s stop assuming the pastor is the right person for all our stuff. Let’s stop pretending that all our answers are in the Bible. Let’s start using the resources in our community, the professionals who are trained to help.