Summer time for me always means having to schedule and block out time for retreats, retreats, and even more retreats.
Most recently, I came back from my campus Christian organizations’ leaders retreat where they went over how to lead our committee and how to essentially be a leader and role model figure. It was my first time ever being in a leadership role, as well as going to a retreat that was designed specifically for leaders.
During our retreat, each committee had what was titled “committee time” where all of the respective leaders of that specific ministry from all campuses came together to talk and bounce ideas off of each other. But for small groups, we had a different experience that was filled with mini seminars all covering the topic of mental health.
For me personally, I always thought that mental health and the Christian faith was always a hush hush topic specifically for my community, but the more and more I talk about this topic with other people, the more I am coming to realize that maybe this topic is just not so prevalent within everyone’s’ conversations regarding faith and the Christian life which saddens me.
I realized that by listening to these seminars that were led by 3 different women who were either professionals in the field for mental health, had experience and still are battling specific mental health issues, or are studying mental health topics at school - mental health is not talked about period! There aren’t many conversations that I necessarily overhear at church where two people are intentionally speaking and conversing about what mental health is and means in the Christian life and I think there is something missing from that part of the puzzle.
I think as believers we are sometimes wired to think that because we do have an everlasting hope and rest in God there’s this disconnect between actually seeking therapy and counseling versus surrendering all your burdens to God. And I think I fall into the category of having this closed off mindset towards mental health coming into the retreat, but I now know that this perspective isn’t necessarily right or the only way I should be thinking of mental health in regards to this topic. So here are 4 things that I learned from my retreat.
1. Be a safe person.
Most of this seminar was pulled from Safe People by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, but I realized that we as believers should strive to be safe people and supporters of people in our lives going through and handling mental illnesses. Three basic characteristics that were outlined in what constitutes a safe person were consistency, reliability, and availability. The one that stuck out the most to me was consistency, especially because I think as a society we lack so much in this aspect. I’ve come to realize how self centered a person I am, therefore even though my intentions of really wanting to care and love a person is there, I realized that my love isn’t as deep as it should be through my lack of consistency in the after care portion of my actions, and I’ve realized that this is something that I need to work and build upon. Being a safe person also includes having empathy as well as actively listening to the other person sharing and being vulnerable with you.
2. Listening is powerful.
Through hearing the women share about their own personal testimonies with mental health, and even having personal conversations with a peer about our own experiences with mental health, I’ve realized that at the end of the day, we just want to be heard and genuinely heard which means 1. Not making it about yourself and 2. Not speaking or replying with “christianese” i.e. “God has a plan for you” “There’s a purpose for this”. I think with listening also comes this opportunity to not necessarily look at their problems or struggles, but to really look at the person for who they are, and listening to their story from their perspective and where they are coming from. I really believe that listening is one of the highest ways one can really love another person and show that they genuinely care.
3. It’s okay to not know what to say at times!
Tying in with point number 3, but sometimes, it’s okay to say nothing and be still and stay silent! After all, sometimes sharing silence may be the peace and rest a person might need after sharing and pouring out their stresses, and instead of trying to think of the perfect “preachy” encouragement you might have, being still and sharing that precious air of silence may be even more powerful than what you had to say.
4. God is in control.
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” Psalm 34:18