When Your Friend Isn’t Fine
by Cynthia Ruchti
The woman at church doesn’t respond right away to your question, “How are you doing?”
She hesitates just long enough for you to begin planning a conversation exit strategy. Get more coffee? No, she can see the cup is full. Head for the restroom? Could work. But she speaks up.
“I’m going through a hard season. I feel like a dark cloud is hovering over me. I know God loves me and is taking care of me. But that doesn’t make the cloud go away.”
- “Well…have a nice day!”
- “Take two aspirin and call the pastor in the morning.”
- “I’ll be praying for you. ’Bye now.”
- “Tell me more about it. I’m listening.”
When did it become a joke to respond to someone’s symptoms complaint with “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning”? In the past, that often was the doctor’s recommendation.
We’ve moved from the era when we could call the small-town doc the next day to report on the progress of our sore throat or twisted ankle. We don’t always have to take an ill infant to the clinic or Urgent Care. Sometimes a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant can examine that strange rash or diagnose and prescribe medication for an ear infection via video call. Our updated version of health care could now include online visits with specialists around the world.
Mental health disfunctions, compulsions, and disorders remain complex issues though, for which a couple of aspirin and a morning check-in will have little effect. Prayer always has an effect, according to God’s Word (James 5:16), but not always in the way we expect or on our timetable.
We’re so quick to either slap a prayer band-aid on a mental health issue or distance ourselves from the hurting person, even those of us in the church, those called by God to care for one another. God didn’t specify that we are to reach out with His love and compassion only if we understand the issue or only if we’re professionally qualified or only if the complexity of the issue doesn’t scare us.
What does that mean if a brother or sister in Christ deals with bipolar issues, or is diagnosed with schizophrenia, or struggles with a hoarding compulsion, or loves someone who does?
One thing notable about Jesus—He never ignored pain, whether seen or unseen, physical, mental, or emotional (Luke 4:40). So even if we have nothing else to offer, or so we think, we can’t successfully follow Jesus and yet ignore the cry of a hurting soul, no matter the source of their distress.
What Jesus did ignore and plow through, consistently, was society’s stigmas. Among the miracles spotlighted in the Bible are stories of His healing a young man who self-harmed (Mark 5:5; Matthew 8), people confined to their beds (Luke 5:17-39), and those deemed “untouchable” (Luke 17:11-19). Imagine walking up to lepers whose pain was indescribable and who’d been ostracized from the culture of their day because no one knew what to do with them. Jesus did the unthinkable. He touched them, comforted them, listened to them, healed them.
Because we haven’t always known “what to do” with those in our circles of family, friends, and church family whose pain is related to mental illness or mental health disorders, we’ve often tossed a prayer bone to them and walked away.
What if we stayed? What if we listened? What if we dared to embrace? And what if that was the start of our healing?
Cynthia Ruchti tells stories hemmed-in-hope through award winning novels, nonfiction, devotionals, and through speaking events for women and writers. She and her husband live in the heart of Wisconsin, not far from their three children and six grandchildren, where she’s celebrating the release of her latest novel, Afraid of the Light, which takes a tender look at compulsive hoarders and their families.
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