It’s been too long that the idea of going to counseling has brought with it some kind of red flag for something majorly unhealthy about a person. The truth around counseling is the idea of seeking out someone who is educated in the field of mental health, in order to gain wisdom and perspective on things we can’t see on our own. The Bible talks so much about the importance of the mind and the need for wise counsel and community to keep us healthy, that counseling should be something we celebrate and champion, not be ashamed of admitting.
I’ve gone to counseling for various reasons, for various amount of time, at various seasons in my life. I’ve gone for really specific reasons or general maintenance or even when I’m feeling like I need to, even if I don’t know specifically why.
A pastor friend of mine used to compare it with regular car maintenance. He’d say: “You wouldn’t wait for your car to have at total breakdown to take it into the shop. You take it for regular maintenance to avoid any kind of potential disaster.” And counseling works the same way. Of course, it can be a great resource in a time of major trauma, but it also can be a wise and healthy practice when things are going well to prevent potentially major issues and/or discover current personal things that need to be dealt with.
I realize Proverbs is the king of proof-texting Bible books, but I think these words offer some great advice:
Pride leads to conflict; those who take advice are wise. – Proverbs 13:10
Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success. – Proverbs 15:22
…the words of the wise bring healing. – Proverbs 12:18b
Similar to counseling, prescription medication brings with it a sense of shame or the need to hide it from others. And I get it. Those who don’t need medication might tend to look at it like a quick-fix or means of avoiding dealing with personal issues in a healthier way, but the truth is that there are a lot of incredible, healthy benefits to medication for those who go through a healthy process of discovering their need for it.
In ancient times, before medication was an option, people usually just assumed that every major human mental or behavior problem was because of demonic influence. Nowadays, many people might believe the opposite that there are no demons and every major human problem can be totally explained through science and biology. I tend to believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle. While the existence and influence of the spiritual world is something the Bible seems pretty clear about (Daniel 10, Ephesians 6:12), we also live in a fallen, physical world that I believe medicine can help with. Much like the balance between believing in and praying in faith for divine healing, combined with the wisdom and blessing of educated doctors and hospitals. I don’t think God would frown on taking cold medicine on a day when you have an important meeting or want to be fully present with your kids. And while taking Emergen-C for a cold might seem like a distant concept to taking a prescription medication, I think the principle is the same.
For the past 6 months, through a variety of wise, professional and personal counsel, I’ve learned that I have a low-grade depression and have been prescribed some antidepressant medication. Not only has the medicine been a huge blessing to me (and the people around me), but it has also been wonderful to reach out and connect with some friends of mine who have experienced something similar, while also fully loving Jesus. For me, the medication was needed to help me get over what felt like an emotional “hump” to be able to engage with the people and world around me, and operate as a healthy husband, father, friend, and student pastor.
All that to say, whether it is a temporary need for medication based on life circumstances, or a permanent need based on genetic or chemical reasons, I believe there should be no shame when it comes to the potential need for prescription medication. It is something that needs to be approached with wisdom, discernment, and wise counsel (as well as regular accountability to make sure any kind of addictive behavior doesn’t begin to grow), but overall, I’d say that, if anything, people should be proud that you are taking steps to be a healthy and whole person.
A college pastor (and hilarious tweeter) who is one of my pop-culture heroes gave a personal and well-educated teaching on depression and anxiety that I found very helpful and insightful. I definitely recommend it:
I don’t mean it’s okay to run out and intentionally sin or neglect what we know is important, or purposefully jack something up, but too often, I’ve seen and experienced Christians so afraid of failure, that they don’t even try or take any risks. We get afraid when we feel prompted to go encourage a stranger, tell someone God loves them, or engage with a homeless person because we “might not do/say it right.” We don’t allow anyone else to teach our congregation, student audience, or lead worship in our ministry because they might say something we don’t like, not like we would, or they’re “not ready yet.” We don’t bring up a difficult issue or frustration with our spouse because it might result in a fight or hurting each other.
And in all of these, when I say: “we”, I really mean “me.”
But failure is a part of life. Failure is how we learn and grow. Sometimes failure is the only way to figure out what success actually is! And even though this is way easier said than done, I know I would rather fail and know something didn’t work, rather than not even try and always wonder if it would have.
The Bible (Jesus, actually) says that life won’t be easy (John 16:33) and that we should embrace, not reject difficult times (Romans 5:3). We get so afraid of making any waves, but the boat needs to rock if we want to learn how to sail. Anybody can just float, but it’s only through difficult times that we will learn anything and grow as a person. Like C.S. Lewis says: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
So, don’t try to fail, but also don’t be afraid of it.
4). Being a Recovering Addict
The first time I met a man who is now a mentor of mine, within the first five minutes of meeting him, he mentioned that he was a recovering alcoholic and drug addict that has been clean from both for 15 years. I knew right then and there that I wanted to keep him in my life as a friend and mentor. I found it so refreshing and powerful how open and confident he was about his past struggles and the healing journey that God has clearly brought him through. There was no sense of self-degradation or that he was searching for pity or attention. He didn’t talk about his past like some deep, dark, secret that nobody could know about or he was ashamed of. Obviously I’m sure there were parts of his past that he wasn’t proud of, but the way he talked about his healing made me respect him and praise God all at the same time.
As Christians, there’s sometimes this idea that past or even current issues or addictions are a huge black-eye in the story of someone’s faith. But when it comes to alcohol, drugs, porn, food, or almost anything else, we as human beings are constantly at risk to develop an addiction. And it’s my belief that because it’s such a taboo thing to use the buzz word: addiction, many Christians make the choice to simply hide a current or developing addiction (or use words like “struggle”), which can simply cause it to gain more destructive strength.
I think the freedom to admit imperfection and struggles is the key to seeking understanding, help, and healing from them. And instead of feeling shame about it, we should all champion someone taking the incredibly brave step to being open about their issues, since we all have them anyway! And once those issues are in the process of healing (since we’re always in process, even once we’ve made it past the major addiction part), we should be open and authentic about them, so God can use our story to impact others who are or might go through the same things.