If you’ve struggled with mental illness, I truly hope you will read this. There are some very important things that I need for you to know. They’re important to me, because I’ve been there. In fact, I am there.
Brother or sister in Christ, I’ve struggled too. I’ve had to get up hours earlier than is really necessary just in an attempt to psyche myself up to get out of bed, dressed, and into the car. I’ve sat there, staring at the steering wheel trying to decide if I really want to do this. Thoughts have flooded by mind about all of the potential scenarios. Will I be able to make it through without looking or sounding stupid? I’ve had the days where I’ve gotten that far, and then walked back into the house in the midst of a panic attack.
I’ve had the other days too, the ones where I’ve put the car into gear and pulled onto the church parking lot only to stare at the wall of the building being overwhelmed with fear once again. Questions like, will my kids cause a commotion? Will my three year old go to class willingly today or will there be fits of tears? Will I be expected to sing a special? If I do, will I sound horrible?
I’ve had the days where I’ve wiped away the tears, plastered on a fake smile and a cheerful voice and walked into the church with dread. I’ve sat in the pew, part of me hoping someone tries to strike up a conversation, while another part hopes no one even sees me.
I’ve made it through the church service, driven home, and collapsed into the fetal position from sheer mental exhaustion. Physical pain has taken over my entire body because of the amount of stress a single church service has caused. And I’ve cried tears of anger, embarrassment, pain, and fear. But I am working on doing better and you can too!
Christian, if you’re like me, the reason church is so hard for you is because you’ve been focusing on the desires and expectations of people, rather than those of God. Yes, absolutely fellowshipping with believers is a great thing to do. But is the church house the only way to do that? I don’t think so. Does the Bible say we have to attend three times a week and have to have our hair and make-up done just perfect? Nope. Does the Bible say we can never say no if we are asked to serve in a certain capacity? No, it doesn’t.
Jesus Christ died on the cross to give us freedom. He was the supreme sacrifice so we are no longer bound by the law. But, like the Galatians, many of us have been bewitched by the “whos.” We have allowed ourselves to become so focused on pleasing other people that we have forgotten to please our Lord and Savior.
Will you join me in changing how you view church? I have started taking some steps to attend church without making myself physically ill from the emotional stress. Some of these things might be of help to you as well. This is what I’ve been doing.
Okay, so I realize this one might seem a bit too simple, but trust me, it isn’t. I start praying the night before a church service and continue until I sit down in my pew. I ask God to give me His peace and to help me to focus on Him, and not others. I ask Him to speak to my heart if He wants me to sing, or testify, or even just reach out to someone in the church. I ask Him to give me peace while I drive and while I walk into the church house. I ask Him to help my kids to mind well and to have good spirits.
2. Be Gentle On Yourself
Don’t try to do too much. If you struggle just to make it to church, maybe you shouldn’t teach that Sunday School class or work in the nursery. You may need some more time hearing the preaching and reveling in His rest before you start working. If attending both services on Sunday is making it so you can’t care for your family, choose one or the other, or even alternate. Yes, your pastor wants you at church. But your pastor is not God. God did not specify how often we should attend church. And I do not believe it is God’s will for you to neglect the family He has entrusted you with in order to meet man-made obligations.
3. Ask For and Accept Help
This one is a hard one for me. As a mom taking four kids to church by myself, for a very long time I struggled to do it all. I would unbuckle all of the carseats, struggle to take the older children to their respective classes, and then spend the service wrestling the babies trying to keep them still. But guess what? There are people who are thrilled to help me get the kids in and out of the car, take them to class, and hold the baby. They didn’t want to offend me by asking if I wanted help. But they are very thankful for the opportunity to be a blessing. If you are struggling, reach out and ask someone to help you. You might just be surprised at how glad they are that you asked.
4. Focus On Him
I know, I kind of said this already but I want to reiterate it. Our goal as Christians is not to please other Christians. If you are constantly comparing yourself to others, you are going to fall. After all, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Take your eyes off of people, and just strive to serve the Lord. Ask Him how you can serve Him in church this week and do what He shows you. Don’t be afraid to say, “No,” if He hasn’t told you to say, “Yes.” Stop letting the religious crowd, those who practice vain religion, cause you to be bewitched. Rather, follow the advice of Galatians 5:1 “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”