Don’t be a “Job’s friend”- Christians and mental health

Written by Bre Millerbible-job-reading-christianity-159679.jpeg

“Your type 1 diabetes is spiritual. Pray about it.”

“You have a broken leg? Did you break it because you were sinning?”

“You were diagnosed with Celiac Disease? You don’t need that label. Just pray and keep eating that gluten!”

Did the above sentences sound ridiculous to you? Did they make you angry? Good. I doubt any of us would ever say any of those statements to our friends suffering with those diseases or ailments, so my question is, why do a lot of us say them to our friends who suffer with mental illnesses and disorders? Lets take those same statements and replace them with a mental health issue, shall we? Do any of them sound familiar to you? Are you guilty of saying them to someone?Maybe you have heard them, or they have been said to you? Lets test it out.

“Your major depression is spiritual. Pray about it.”

“You’re anxious? Is that because you’re feeling guilty about an underlying sin?’

“You were diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder? You don’t need that label. Just trust in God and don’t worry about taking mood stabilizers that can help you not to have thoughts of suicide or drain your bank account.”

Do you see the problem here? The difference between going through a hard time, reacting negatively to disappointment and worrying about your circumstances, and mental illness, is that the first one happens for a reason. The latter happens for no reason at all and it doesn’t go away.

Lets say you’re in a dating relationship and you think things are going really well. You’ve thought about marriage and maybe even children. Then, out of nowhere, your boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with you. Chances are, you’re going to feel depressed. You’re not going to want to leave the house and you might have trouble with sleeping or feeling motivated. That is normal. That is a reaction to your circumstances. What isn’t normal is continuing your behavior and feelings for months. What isn’t normal is feeling and behaving that way when life is going completely fine. That is when mental illness comes in to play. That is when it’s time for you to seek help from a professional. It is not the time to just pray it away, or tell yourself  to have more faith and it will go away. Let me tell you now, it probably won’t. Now, God does heal, all the time. Most of the time however, when we are physically sick, we have to ride it out and seek treatment. Why should it not be the same for our mental health?

The reason I ask these questions is because I think its important, as believers, that we challenge our thinking when it comes to how we understand and help each other. Now, you may be thinking that we have come a long way in this area as a society, and you would definitely be right. But some of the above examples of less-than-helpful statements, have been directed at myself and people I know.

*Disclaimer: The story below is about someone who I can guarantee will never read this and who I love and have the utmost respect for!*

One afternoon, I was having trouble focusing on a story I was being told and I said very calmly, while laughing, “Oh, sorry. I have ADD. I’m trying!” and the conversation immediately turned to spiritual warfare and how ADD was not simply a chemical imbalance, but a mere spiritual issue. I was shocked. It had taken me a long time to come to terms with and accept my diagnosis that simply meant I had a harder time focusing than other people. I felt it was an insult at the time, granted, I was a teenager, so this was understandable. Now I had someone telling me I didn’t even have this disorder at all and, in his own way, that it was because of something I was doing wrong. So yes, we have come a long way, but this still happens and happened to me about two years ago, with this example and many more. (I have other mental health issues other than ADD and I manage it very well, without even taking medication.)

Lets talk a little bit about Job. What kind of man was he? The Bible says he was a man of great character, who loved God. Job 1:1 says,” There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” Most of us know what happened to Job. He had many devastating, horrible trials occur in his life. He suffered greatly. Why? What was the reason? Was it because of an underlying sin in his life?(We will discuss this subject again later on.)  The answer is no. What was the reason? Job 1:6-12 says, “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.” So The Bible says that the very reason Job suffers so greatly, is because God  knows he will not curse him. The very reason he experiences these trials is because of the good character he has shown God. 

Now lets talk about Job’s “friends”. I say “friends” with quotation marks, because friends are supposed to be those who love you, stand by you and give you good comfort in your life. Right? That is what they are suppose to be, but that is not always how friendship plays out. What happens when Job talks to his friends about his circumstances? Do they  give him a hug, or a holy kiss and say the cultural equivalent to “Wow! This really sucks. How can I help you?” It seems that they did do that at first, but they changed their tune after a while. Not only did his friends do this, but his wife was even worse, and from the very beginning!

Job 2:7-13,”So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes.

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. 12 And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. 13 And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” 

When we look at what his wife said, we think “Yikes!” But his friends seem they’re doing a wonderful job. Well, here is what happens later on:

Job 4:7-11 (Job’s friend Eliphaz is speaking)

“Remember: who that was innocent ever perished?
    Or where were the upright cut off?
As I have seen, those who plow iniquity
    and sow trouble reap the same.
By the breath of God they perish,
    and by the blast of his anger they are consumed.
10 The roar of the lion, the voice of the fierce lion,
    the teeth of the young lions are broken.
11 The strong lion perishes for lack of prey,
    and the cubs of the lioness are scattered.”

In other words, “You are clearly doing something wrong and that is why you’re suffering.” Other friends of his go on to say that he must be sinning and need to repent.

Job says in Job 16:1,”“I have heard many such things;
 miserable comforters are you all.” I couldn’t agree more. 

So, what does the story of Job have to do with mental health? Stay with me. It doesn’t necessarily directly correlate with the subject, but when we are talking about how to be a good friend to someone who has a mental illness or disorder, or a friend who is going through any trial, it is vital that we make sure we do not have the reaction and advice of Job’s wife and friends. God literally bragged about how good this man was and he still had people telling him he not only deserved it and that he caused it. We may think that is not what we’re saying when we tell someone with anxiety to pray and trust God. When we quote Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” When we tell them to exercise.

These are all great things, but more often than not, these people have already tried. It is valid to quote scripture to someone going through a trial, who isn’t praying about it, but to tell someone who simply has a disorder that causes them to feel anxious, prayer simply isn’t enough. If we solely rely on spiritual healing and prayer, we can be met with disappointment when we aren’t healed in the way we think.  If someone is suffering so greatly with their mental illness and the only help they’re seeking is spiritual, that can cause huge issues such as worsening effects of their illness or even suicide. Telling someone not to take medication or see a psychiatrist is just as harmful as encouraging a diabetic not to take their insulin. Medication is a type of healing.

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