Last weekend, a pastor took his life.  What Can We Do About It and Learn From It?

Last weekend, a pastor took his life.  To be honest, I’ve been thinking about it all week.  Why have I been thinking about it?  Because I’ve been in ministry.  Because I’ve had my own mental health struggles.  Because I’m a health coach and I care about the whole person ~ more than fitness and nutrition, but emotional, mental and spiritual health as well.  All the thoughts of “how did this happen?”  “Who knew he was struggling, really?”  “What resources are there for pastors who feel this way?”  “Who supports those going through deep hurts and pains?”

As I think about my own journey and story with depression, anxiety and PTSD, hearing his story resonated with me for many reasons.  The purpose of this post is to share some of my story with mental health issues and what has helped me the most.  It is not to point fingers or call anyone out at all, yet I will say it seems this is an area the church could really be a forerunner in and step up to the plate and help others find healing.  After all, isn’t that what the Gospel is? GOOD NEWS?  Hope?

Last time I checked that is what the church was based on.  Not doing all the things and being so busy serving and in ministry that you neglect the needs/hurts/concerns of those around you hurting.  Not trying to tell so many people about Jesus while neglecting your family.  Not being so busy trying to share your faith with everyone that you neglect yourself, your health, your family and your fellow brothers and sisters in the midst.

Are we so caught up on how they perform that we forget the person underneath?  Is there so much pressure to be a certain way and perform that it feels exhausting trying to keep up?  That’s how I felt for a long time.  Trying to be all the things to all the people, while who I really was was suffocating underneath the facade and fake smile.

As I look at the church today, my heart seriously hurts.  It breaks for so many reasons.  The busyness being one of them.  What’s beyond the busyness.  Is it not feeling like enough?  And doing more will help?  Is it wanting to fit in?  What is really beyond that?  Is the church asking the hard questions to help people get well?

Yes, some of my hurt is based on personal experiences I have had, as well as others’ experiences.  God has made me a “big picture thinker,” meaning it’s easy for me to see the whole picture and see what is in place, what is missing, etc.  As I look at the whole picture of the church, there are some big gaps and my concern is if the gaps are not filled properly, it is not going to change or get better.

So what are some of these gaps?  The first one is there seems to be a lack of healing resources for those in leadership.  Who do pastors talk with if they are having personal struggles like anxiety?  Not their congregation, likely.  Their spouse, maybe.  But, are there specific people in place who minister to pastors, who understand the pressures, the challenges, the burdens they carry in their role?  Is there anyone who does that?  Who offers these leaders healing when they need it?  Time and time again, we can think of church situations that have gone poorly/badly, yet what were the warning signs?  What happened when these things occurred?  Is there anyone to go to?  We have help for alcoholics, we have help for crisis pregnancy, we have help for physical needs, yet what about the emotional/mental needs?  This is an area that is clearly lacking in the church.  Not just for those in leadership, but for the church as a whole, I think.

We are putting people with unhealed hurts in front of a congregation and expecting them to lead.  Is that fair?  What if their hurts are triggered by the needs of another in their congregation?  What does that situation look like?  We wonder why there are issues like this in the church…are we setting them up for failure by not helping them get well?  I personally think so.

The second one I see is judgement.  Oh, we Christians can be a judgey bunch, can’t we?  We offer gossip in the form of a prayer request to seem holy.  Anyone?  Or, if we don’t verbalize it, we think it ~ “who is she to think she is being so confident in herself?  Doesn’t she know that is prideful?”  Or, “that’s not what the Bible says, so if you aren’t doing it the way I think the Bible says……”  I’m sure we have all felt judgement of some sort from the church, have we not?  Should I mention I have a tattoo?  Sometimes in conversations, you can feel the tension when that is even brought up or asked about.  So much so that recently someone asked if it hurt to get mine on my wrist that I felt the need to tell her WHY I got it.  Like it needed to be justified.

The third one I see is physical health.  Yup, the Bible says our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit {1 Corinthians 6:19-20}, and how many times do you see the church preaching this?  Maybe once a year for a fast?  For me personally, changing my nutrition {the gut controls the brain.  Heal the gut, heal the brain.  I could get all scientific on you and talk about brain chemicals, but I won’t 😉 }, was a HUGE game changer for me!  The church LOVES to give it’s bodies {at least from my own personal experience} donuts, all you can eat buffets, candy, and other foods that are TERRIBLE for health.  This baffles me!  If your body belongs to the Holy Spirit, why fill it with poison?  For me, exercise has also been a game changer with my mental health, but food has had the biggest impact.  A healthy gut does wonders for your mental health.

Fourth, people need community.  We were made for connection.  Not just to show up on Sunday morning, shake hands, talk for 5 minutes kind of connection.  But, a deep connection with people who know you, who know your story, who get where you’ve been and can spur you on towards your future.  What type of connection opportunities is the church creating for people like this?  For those in leadership?  Are they to be in a group as well?

Finally, I think there is a stigma or mindset that if we ask for help, we think we are weak, or we aren’t trusting God enough.  To that, I call B.S.  If we need help, ask. Why do we think it’s not ok to ask for help?  Isn’t that pride right there?  For a long time, I thought if I got help {counseling, meds ~ which didn’t work for me, btw, prayer ministry, whatever that may be} that I was weak and not trusting God to heal me.  Do you know what a line of pahoey that is from the devil?  Isn’t the Gospel about serving a God who HELPS His people?  And, yet when you look at the healings in the Scripture, what happened?  The person who received healing ASKED for it.  They asked.  So, why do we think it is not ok to ask?  If you need help, please don’t believe the lie that it is not ok to ask for help.  You are not weak for asking for help.  You are strong for having the courage to ask.

See, this whole thing is complex and we can’t point to one thing and say this is what could have made it better.  I think it’s bigger than that.  It’s the whole picture.  You may be a believer reading this now and you don’t agree with me.  That’s cool, you don’t have to.  I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything someone says, even in the church.  So, now that I have shared my thoughts on this, I would love to hear what you think…..share away friends.

If there is anything I can do to help with your health or you have questions about my journey, please reach out.  I would love to hear from you.

With love, belief and healthy blessings,
Melissa

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