by Julie Anne Fidler, BB Weekly Contributor
I have a confession to make: I used to avoid church. It wasn’t because the overhead lighting gave me migraines (even though it did.) It wasn’t because my lazy cat had more pep than the worship team, or because I always managed to find a pew filled with screaming children throwing Goldfish crackers. In reality, I have been a member of two churches over the past ten years and both of them were great, Bible-believing churches.
It’s just that everyone in church is so darn perfect, you know? Look around you. Everyone has it all together. Sure, those kids may be throwing crackers, but they’re destined to become evangelists. The women have great hair and impeccable fashion taste and are obviously dream wives. The men never struggle with lust and have never been guilty of spending too many hours at the office.
But this has been my impression of church for as long as I can remember. The older I get, the more I realize how crazy that is, but I do battle with the concept even now. Church is supposed to be the one place where we get really honest with God, others, and ourselves. It’s the place where you are supposed to show up with your dirt and your bruises. We are supposed to reach out and say, “Life is hard; help me.” Too often, however, we wear our best, not just on the outside, but on the inside. We want to blend in, look content, and seem overjoyed with the life we are leading.
Even if I never had a mental illness, I would struggle. The fact that I do have one makes it that much harder because I know that a couple of pills mean the difference between being OK and all my engines completely shutting down. I know that being obedient to Christ becomes a million times harder when I’m sick. I also know that if I shared this part of my life with everyone in that sanctuary, I’d be met with suspicion and disappointment – not by everyone, but by some.
1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” Oh, but I definitely struggle with fear. I know I shouldn’t. I know there’s no good reason to, but I do. I fear the reaction of others. I fear I cannot measure up to the standards of others. I fear looking like a fool.
I deal with these fears by facing them. Don’t get the wrong idea – I’m not trying to frame myself as a martyr. Some people willingly jump out of airplanes. Some people get as high as the clouds, freak out, and have to be coaxed out the door. I have to be coaxed, but the more I do it, the easier it gets. I want to be the real me when I walk through those church doors, when I go to a small group, when I sit down with a Christian friend for coffee. Jesus went to the dark places. He knelt down in the gutters. He got dirty. I don’t want to spend my life wearing a lily white uniform.
I want the Church to understand mental illness. As it stands, I think the Church is afraid of it. Of course you are going to be afraid of something you don’t understand. If I want the Church to understand mental illness and effectively reach out to “the least of these” who are suffering with it, I have to introduce them to it. I have to get dirty. I have to be honest about my own time in the gutter, my own days of wandering, if I want them to understand and respond in love.
I may run into resistance and fear, but even if I educate one person in the process, that’s one more voice speaking the truth and cracking the façade. I take a point away from the enemy, who is the creator of fear. Don’t be silent about who you are and what you battle. Trade in your spotless uniform for some dirty rags. Let’s get the Church a little dirty. Let’s love them into loving those who are lost and alone.
Julie Anne Fidler is a contributing writer for Brokenbelievers.com. She comes with a humble and understanding heart for those with a mental illness. Her writing gift is valued greatly. Look for her post weekly, on this blog. She keeps a personal ministry blog at www.mymentalhealthday.blogspot.com. Read more there.