Mental Health Liturgy
A Weary and Heavy Laden Faith in a Don’t Be Anxious About Anything World[Form slightly adapted from Common Prayer for Ordinary Radicals.]
Facilitator: Oh Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you
Community: As the day rises to meet the sun
Community: Glory to God—our Father, our Mother; to Jesus the Christ; and to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be
Community: God has created us—heart, soul,
strength, mind—and called us good
Habakkuk 3:16-19, Matthew 11:25-29
Facilitator: The Word of God for the people of God.
Community: Thanks be to God.
Community: God has created us—heart, soul,
strength, mind—and called us good
Have you seen the meme that says, “I’m sorry for what I said when I was hungry?” A couple of years ago, a friend of mine posted a version of that that said, “I’m sorry for what I said when it was January.”
Dr Cliff Arnall of Cardiff University has calculated that the 22nd January is ‘the worst day of the year’ using six factors: weather, debt, time since Christmas, time since failing new year’s resolutions, low motivational levels and the feeling of a need to take action.
On top of this very bluesy time of year, one in five people will experience depression; and January, more than any other month, can be particularly difficult for us. 1/5 of that 1/5 will get the help they need.
So I’m going to ask a couple of questions, and this is for pew participation…What can cause, trigger, or intensify depression, anxiety, and trauma? What else about this time of year makes it particularly hard?
The church has not particularly been a great resource for mental health, mental illness, neurodiversity—would you say? In fact, one might say that church has often added and/or caused depression, anxiety, and trauma in people’s lives in a variety of upsetting ways. Additionally, it has sustained a “Jesus is my bandaid” culture where we take a magic Christ pill for anything that is horrific or disturbing or laced with loss. In this world, mental un-health is demonized; and if you don’t get healed, it’s because you don’t have enough faith. Will yourself to health, is the message; pray yourself to health, the church has often incinuated.
But—I have been in the depths, where my depression and anxiety have carved such new and deep and problematic neuro pathways that there is no energy left to pray. There is no energy left to do anything but ask the earth to swallow me whole. No energy left to do anything but nurse the heat that is coming from my ears as I panic-attack my way into a paper bag because of how fragile the world is or because of how fragile I am. And the thing I have needed least at a moment like this, is the twisted suggestion that my relationship to God is directly related to my ability to self-fix and quickly.
What burdensome advice and/or responses have you received in faith culture in regards to mental health, sadness, grief, etc?
“Don’t be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with Thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace that passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” is what Philippians 4:6-7 says. Maybe you or someone you’ve known has had a bodily injury before that you’ve had to go to the emergency room for? Using this particular scripture and posture towards mental health would be comparable to responding to a broken back with “don’t be in pain about anything.” Will yourself to health, pray yourself to health.
I’ve spent some time in Philippians looking over the context of this passage. Paul is imprisoned, most likely in Rome. The letter to the church at Philippi is essentially a missionary’s thank you letter for how they have taken care of him while he is under house arrest for spreading the Gospel. He’s also writing to encourage unity as there is some disagreement and party separation happening in their community. Most of all, it is a motivational speech for people who are indeed worried for their own church and also for their faith leader. This letter expresses sort of a vigorous type of Christian living where Paul is exampling and encouraging unwavering humility, and pressing toward goals, and lacking anxiety, and the ability to do all things. But why?
As I was reading, I began to think that it was not to lay out how mental health should be approached by people of faith—essentially shaming all anxiety–but possibly to assure them of his own position so that they might focus on the unity that is so needed? Possibly to take the role of a parent, who in a storm feels they must remain calm as to steady the children? Possibly to convince himself by claiming a stability of mind and emotion, even if he wasn’t experiencing it. And he wasn’t perfectly experiencing it. Throughout the four chapters, we hear Paul say things like, “I desire to depart and be with Christ,” the person you sent “took care of my needs,” my coworker did not die which spared me “sorrow upon sorrow,” I’m sending him back that I “may have less anxiety,” and “I know what it is to be in need.”
I venture to say that the “be anxious about nothing” approach that the church has often taken when dealing (or not dealing) with mental health, not only causes and sustains a stigma, but it’s coming from a letter written by a man who’s saying, “I’m going to be ok. Keep going.” Context is everything when we’re dealing with scripture.
So where then do we turn, if not Philippians when we are navigating our neurological health or loving someone who is?
Jesus, in Matthew 11, is frustrated with cities that have completely ignored him and his message. He has not been the messiah that people expected; not even John is sure if this is who is supposed to be here. But he ends the excerpt with stating again what he is offering to the world, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
When we talk about mental health and unhealth through a lens of disembodiment that the church so often upholds, where we are to be suspicious of our flesh and our minds and our emotions and wield them to obey God as “they ought,” then we are talking about behavior. But in Matthew 11, Jesus is talking about belonging. “Come to me…my yoke is easy and it is yours.” The church has addressed or ignored mental illness as a topic of behavior when it must, it has to be, a topic of belonging.
Belonging must come before behavior in the story of faith, not the other way around…and this is good news for people who don’t know how to get out of bed or who pick fights with their significant others anytime they are heading into a social situation. Like maybe even church today.
Our conversations about our brains and how they are affecting our energy and our wills to live and our relationships must belong here. Our bad days and our unproductive days and our days that we want to end as soon as they begin must belong here. Our conversations about counseling and the normalizing of therapy must belong here. Our brave attempts to speak the word “trauma” into the air for the first time in our lives must belong here. Or status as survivors and/or our hope to one day be must belong and be honored here. Our medications, as if they were as typical as blood pressure medications, must belong here. Our poverty of finances and networks that keep us from getting the care we need…our struggles with a culture that shames male emotions, often resulting in toxic masculinity…our struggles with a culture that oppresses black and brown skin, non-binary sexuality, foreigners, women, and the poor, often causing mental damage while also refusing affordable healthcare must belong here. Our fuzzy heads and inabilities to make decisions and our high highs and low lows must belong here, in this place, with the people of a God who said, “Come, weary and burdened. And I will give you rest.”
It is through the connection of belonging and the rest of a faith that is not demanding perfection and privilege, through listening ears and insightful encouragement towards professional and accessible resources, that we may find healing for the organ that is our brain and/or the hope that we need to give it just one more day. One more conversation.
Today, I…Britney Winn Lee, who took a white pill this morning and whose therapist’s name is Ann…invite you to rest. To be no one that you’re not in this space. And, if you can, when you can, to hear an invitation into a Gospel that is easy. We shame easy, don’t we? But doesn’t it sound nice? Doesn’t it sound like Good News?
Here is a list of resources to pass around as well. Affordable counselors, a list of depression symptoms, suicide hotline numbers, emails of our pastors, trauma support, mandala meditation sheets, anxiety mantras, and grief support information. You’ve got two copies, one for you and one for a friend who may be in the depths, aching to be able to recognize their true self again.
Facilitator: We lift up these and other pathways of help, Holy Spirit, lead us into Your rest
(Adapted from a poem by Susan Gregg-Shroeder)
Facilitator: So often, Divine One
the tasks before me
feel overwhelming and impossible
The expectations of others weigh heavy
upon my shoulders.
Community: The bread, representing our brokenness.
At times like these,
I think I need to do something
to invest more time and effort
to pray longer and harder
to embark on a journey
in search of the Kingdom.
Community: The wine, representing all that floods
When I am too tired to “do”
when I am content just to “be”
when I stop long enough to rest
when I am finally ready to give up
I find myself sitting on a treasure
You have hidden in a field
waiting for me to discover
Community: There is holy mystery in pain, as in communion.
When I lift the treasure
from its hiding place,
I find that You have
graced me with adequacy
for all that lies ahead.
Community: Meet us here.
Facilitator: May you come. (Song)
Offering of Resources, Needs, Joys & Prayers
Community: Be near, oh God, in the details of what we have shared.
And where possible, help us be the answers to each others’ prayers.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name;
Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven;
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us of our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us; And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.
Community: May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you: wherever God may send you;
May He guide you through the wilderness: protect you through the storm;
May She bring you home rejoicing: at the wonders She has shown you;
May God bring you home rejoicing: once again into our doors.