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Over recent times there have been a lot of different stresses on all of us and it affects each of us in different ways. Each of our circumstances are different and each of us is dealing with change and stresses in our own way. For some this leads to desperate times and the mental health of many is suffering. It is something that is real, it is happening and it is probably affecting a lot more people than we realise. Yet there still seems to be that idea that any sort of stress, anxiety or mental suffering is a sign of human weakness.
As time has gone on, the need to adopt a ‘stiff upper lip’, ‘grin and bear it’ or ‘just get on with life’ has begun to soften. We are not expected just to crumble at the slightest hurdle, but there is now a widening recognition that there are some things that individuals have a problem coping with. Mental health awareness campaigns are making the subject no longer a taboo topic of conversation. Poor mental health is a recognised and real medical condition. It may be hard for us to recognise something that we can’t see – I can readily identify with someone who has broken their leg, and I can easily empathise with the lack of function that it means they have, I’m also perhaps more ready to do things for them. But, how do I look out for, and look after, those who find themselves in need of our support when their mental health is suffering?
I probably don’t know as much about mental health awareness as I should, but I think a good place to begin, is to adopt an understanding of the strap line for one of the mental health awareness campaigns of, “It’s okay not to be okay”
Struggling alone can be a very lonely experience and this is where we as a church community can be a part of the help to others in need. Friendship and company are fairly basic needs, but we are hearing all too often, in the current pandemic situation, that many people don’t see or hear from others from one day to the next. It isn’t so easy these days because of the various restrictions to just ‘pop in for a cup of tea’, but there are other ways of maintaining social contact.
All of us at various times will feel a bit down, may feel alone or even deserted, and for most people that will pass relatively quickly. We have to look no further than Jesus himself to see that this is a very human reaction. In the garden before He was arrested and lead away to His passion (Luke 22:42-45), and on the cross (Mark 15:34), gives us an idea of this.
At those ‘down times’ we are not alone if we believe in the power and presence of God in our lives and prayer. Jesus, having shown that He too experiences what pain, stress and anxiety is, walks alongside us in those moments of loneliness. We can’t deal with everything on our own and it may be that we need to reach out and find Christ in unexpected places and other people.
We should also not underestimate, or dismiss the fact, that I should be open to allowing Christ to use me to help others find Him. I have experienced occasions in my life, not just specifically in my ministry as a deacon, where in hindsight I felt that God has used me, so that His love could touch another. One such time was when I spent about half an hour just listening to someone telling me all about his family. I didn’t know these people that he was talking about, but through just talking about them to someone who could listen, he was able to experience the love that he had for his family.
We don’t need any special skills to be able to unlock the love of Christ, sometimes all we need to do is to allow Him to use us. As we strive to ‘love our neighbour’ we allow Christ into our lives. Actively living as a follower of Christ, doesn’t mean that we, or others around us, won’t at times be in need ourselves. We may have times when we don’t feel okay, and we may also have to seek professional advice, help or treatment. That doesn’t make us in any way less of a person, an individual loved by God, and someone who also is loved by everybody else who follows Christ.
Knowing that it’s okay not to be okay puts me on par with everybody else. Knowing that either I might be able to be that friend to others, or they might be able to be that friend to me, is where we meet Christ.
Let us pray then, that Christ will give me the grace and strength to respond appropriately when the time is okay not to be okay.
Deacon Ian Black