Faith, Pandemic and... Mental Health

I write in the last days of autumn, the brown leaves have curled and fallen leaving the branches bare; moribund. The vibrant reds, oranges, greens and yellows have faded; the air has a bitterness to it that has risen from the morning frosts.

It is the beginning of the end of this, strangest most brutal of years. We have a lexicon in our language that was not there in the hope filled first days of 2020; lockdown, covid, PPE and moonshot have meaning to us now.

We have sea-sawed between hope and despair with every governmental briefing. We saw a glimpse (at least in the south of England where I live) of normality over the summer, only to be plunged again the reality of rising death tolls, failing systems and separation from those we love the most.

In mental health terms, this second national lockdown has had the hallmarks of a relapse. When you first become ill with any illness, but mental illness in my case, the pain of the problem is mixed with a fear of the unknown and a hope that it will not last long, that normality will resume.

When it comes to a relapse however, the shock and fear are replaced by weariness and despair. We know how it plays out, we know the horrors we will have to face but our reserves which we drew so much from during the first wave have been all but depleted.

There is a manageability to relapse that we didn’t have before; we largely know what works for us and what doesn’t, the best ways to cope and the best people to cry down the end of the phone to, but relapses and lockdown are fierce winters to live through.

And yet.
the more I’ve learned about relapses and the more I’ve learned about winter, the more I can recognise that these times, whilst unimaginably painful, are not without hope.

As author Katherine May writes; “Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.”

And herein lies the grace.

It is not the end; even when life folds into death, hope into despair, it is not the end.

The crucible of the Christian life was hung on a sinner’s cross as the sky fell dark. The Saviour of the world, crucified by the world. Hope was gone - Jesus was dead.

And yet.
in the darkness of the days that followed; when disciples were drawn together in fear and grief, God was still working.

Holy Saturday, the ultimate winter of the christian year was not the end, but the beginning of  a hope that would never, could ever be quenched.

Holy Saturday looks like the trees stripped bare of their leaves.

And yet,
on those seemingly dead branches are the buds of new life waiting to start their life again in the spring.

Hope is not lost, it will bloom, but we have to wait in the dark, grieve in the dark. We have to take our medication and get outside, attempt to nourish our bodies when our mind feels lost. Sometimes we must hunker down and rest, to wait for the darkness to lift so that we can emerge as if from hibernation into life.

And God, who crafted this life cycle which looks like death and resurrection again and again, is never not on the throne, even in the dark.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes: “Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.”

So in this darkness, I choose to trust in our God who did not, for His own unfathomable reasons banish darkness from creation - but gave it the boundaries of night and adorned it with stars.

Tips for Creating a Mental Health Friendly Church

  1. Get training on mental health; whether it be reading books, listening to podcasts or attending conferences or seminars (online or offline) try and gather as much knowledge as you can on mental health. 
  2. Connect to the emotions of the passages you’re preaching on; whether it be reflecting on how a Psalmist was feeling or engaging with Jesus’ emotions, don’t be afraid to talk about them from the pulpit and how that impacts the text and our understanding of the stories. 
  3. Include mental illness in intercessory prayers; praying publicly for those living with mental illness, those who are carers and the mental health services local to you.
  4. Encourage one another in the art of lament; bringing what hurts to God. The loneliness of lockdown, the difficulties in accessing help and the anxiety caused by the pandemic are not outside the limits of our prayers!
  5. Make sure wider needs are cared for alongside mental health needs; meal rotas for those who are struggling or raising money for a family to travel to visit a loved one in hospital can remind people that they are cared for. 

Rachael Newham

Rachael Newham (www.rachaelnewham.com) is the author of Learning to Breathe (https://uk.bookshop.org/a/3613/9780281078080) a memoir and theological reflection on mental illness, her second book And Yet will be out in 2021. She also founded the christian mental health charity ThinkTwice and lives in Hertfordshire with her husband and young son.

Posted: 24/11/2020 08:00:00 by You Belong Filed under: blogger, faith, guest, health, mental, pandemic

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