It sits on my chest. The day seems somewhat grey and there’s a fog that seems to be sitting over my part of the world.
I spent the weekend up north for a youth retreat. I hung out with some of the most amazing kids. We laughed and danced and sang songs of worship. I watched in awe as Jesus captured the hearts of so many students, some for the very first time.
I needed to see that happen again. I needed to remember what it looks like when God captures your attention for the first time. There was something that happened deep in my soul as I heard a student utter that they never knew that God loved them until now. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment.
On that same day I heard about two people from two very different parts of my world, that died. The kind of death you don’t expect, the kind that shocks you to the core. The kind that makes you want to tell everyone important in your life that you love them. The kind that makes you breathe just a little bit deeper and hug just a little bit longer.
On the same day that my heart rejoiced for those kids that experienced Jesus in a new way, my heart broke because one man took his life and another man lost it. I am reminded once again of the tension of this life.
This weekend student after student poured out their hearts to trusted leaders. Things came to the surface that have been buried down deep for so long. The things that these kids are facing these days astounds me. Yesterday morning I heard one friend say that she was speaking to a guidance counsellor at a local school, they told her that she shouldn’t be alarmed that one kid was considering suicide because it’s normal these days, most kids do it.
I’m sorry, what?
When did this become ok? When did it become “normal” for most of our kids to be contemplating suicide? When did life become so hopeless that the only way out was to end it all?
Who told you that you are worthless?
Who told you that you don’t have a choice?
Who told you that no one cares?
Have we done this to ourselves?
Well, I’m tired of it. I’m tired of not talking about it. I’m sick of the idea that in order to follow Jesus and belong to the church you have to have it all together.
Where is it getting us?
Instead of creating safe places, we’ve created a culture of guilt and shame.
Have same gender attraction?
Don’t talk about it. Pretend it’s not there. Pray about it. Don’t think about it. Blah blah blah.
We use language of shame and guilt. We create a culture of spiritual abuse.
And this is what we want to invite people into?
I don’t want to do it anymore. We need to talk about it. We need to acknowledge that in this day and age more people are struggling with mental illnesses than ever before. It doesn’t mean you’re not a Christian, it doesn’t mean God loves you less, and it doesn’t mean you’re sick or screwed up. But we can’t be quiet anymore. Because there are too many people walking around dying inside and putting on a smile so no one knows.
I have anxiety. I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life. A few years ago it got so bad that I started having panic attacks. My thoughts would make me so anxious that nothing could calm me down. I hated myself. I was frustrated with God because he wouldn’t take it away. I felt like no one could understand what was going on inside of me. I was so ashamed that I was struggling with this. I thought that going to see a counsellor meant I was crazy. I thought that only crazy people needed medication. And so I suffered in my worry, until I read this book by a young Mom who talked about how everyone should see a counsellor at some point in their life. She talked about creating space when you’re young to work out your “junk”. Somehow, those words in that chapter freed me. I decided I should talk to a counsellor. My anxiety got so bad that I started to feel like I couldn’t go on living this way. So I did some research and as I looked and read stories of people, I realized that there were others struggling just like I was. I started taking some medication to help with my anxiety about 3 years ago, and it’s actually changed my life for the better. I started seeing a counsellor, who I went to for about 2 years, which also helped me work through a lot of my feelings of guilt and shame.
As I started to feel better, I became more and more open with people about my struggle with anxiety, with coming to grips with the fact that I needed help and that I couldn’t do it on my own. As I started to share with people, they started to talk about their own struggle with similar things. It was like a domino effect, and I found that people need to talk about it. They need to know that they’re not alone, that their struggle shouldn’t make them feel ashamed, that there is hope and help and a light at the end of the tunnel. I started to find that the more freedom there was to talk about these things, the more the walls of stereotype and stigma came down.
God didn’t heal me of my anxiety. I still struggle with it daily. I still take stuff to help me. I still have days where I feel like I’m having a heart attack because I have so much anxiety. People can’t see it from the outside. Most people would never look at me and think, oh she must really struggle with anxiety, or she’s for sure had those dark moments that seemed so hopeless, where her parents didn’t even know what to do with her. God didn’t just take it away. This has been a long journey for me. A long journey of becoming comfortable with who I am, with owning the fact that I’ve got some junk and God doesn’t always just fix it. Sometimes he chooses to walk with us through it, because that’s how we learn to know him. He wants that for us so badly. So maybe in a way God did heal me, just not from what I thought I needed healing from. I’m tired of this “healing language” that tells us that we can always pray our problems away. Sometimes, God chooses to take it away but most times he chooses to jump in the mud with us and help us find our way.
And usually we find that there’s a whole lot more people in the mud than not, and they need us. They need us to share our story, they need us to come alongside them and tell them it’s not always going to be this hard. This is true community, and this is what the Church should be.
So please, can we just talk about it. Whatever it is, wherever you find yourself, find a safe person and just talk about it.
Be a safe person and listen.
Actively break down those walls.
Stand up against the language of guilt and shame.
Cast it out.
Call it out.
Declare that there’s no place for it.
My burden is heavy because I don’t want my students to grow up having to keep it all in. I don’t want them to think that the church is a place where perfect people live. I want it to be a safe space, with safe people, where they can share without shame.
We have to start somewhere.
So, where will you start?