Part 1 – The Barriers
Talking with family members about mental health can be difficult. There is so much resistance at times that we can feel a bit defeated or stuck.
Still, we love our family, and we want them to see us for our authentic selves. This includes the way we express our emotions, how we struggle, create boundaries, grow in our love of Christ, discover a greater awareness of our needs, grieve over things lost, and so on. We want to grow in our communication with family so we can love each other better, in ways that begin to restore the very core of our broken humanity.
Unfortunately, there are two common strongholds of resistance that rise up when trying to talk about issues related to mental or emotional health: stigma and shame.
Stigma is a mark of disgrace, a sign of disapproval or discrimination that creates division. Generally, it’s a bias based on certain characteristics that one carries consciously or unconsciously against another.
Shame is an unpleasant emotion held against oneself. Those who struggle with shame tend to withdraw and experience increased feelings of distress, mistrust, powerlessness, and worthlessness.
Now, if bringing up mental health issues means confronting both of the above, it’s no wonder we end up feeling frustrated, misunderstood, or want to give up!
These obstacles in our conversations about mental health are reminiscent of how Jesus had to confront the Pharisees about sin.
The Pharisees, though they were human and fallen, believed themselves above sin. They cast out or punished those with obvious sinful behaviors, or even used physical deformities as proof of one’s unworthiness. They were completely blind to their own sins, and, to their own detriment, this prevented them from repenting and seeing Jesus for who he really was—God in the flesh, the true redeemer of all sin.
“And the scribes and the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’” (Mark 2.16)
“The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?’ This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.” (John 8.3-6)
“Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?’” (Matthew 22.15-18)
So, given the stigma and shame from the examples above, how did Jesus address sin with the Pharisees?
He more than once pointed out and recognized that they, too, were sinners in need of salvation. He stood his ground while showing compassion that they themselves weren’t able to do. He responded from a position of awareness – an awareness of sin and an awareness that the Pharisees were also sinners.
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2.17)
“And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.’” (John 8.7)
“And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.” (Matthew 22.20-22)
The Pharisees considered themselves completely holy and others unholy; they considered themselves healthy and others unhealthy. Jesus’s responses to their stigmatization of sin or their shaming of others did not compromise what he knew about sin, but instead highlighted the realities of it. Even the Pharisees, who denied their own sinful natures, learned still from the actions of Jesus and marveled at his careful responses. In the face of Jesus’s awareness, the Pharisees could not remain ignorant.
Continue reading: Part 2