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Editorial: It’s OK to not be OK, but don’t suffer alone

Editor’s note: Watch a panel discussion about this editorial.

When 23-year-old tennis superstar Naomi Osaka decided to forgo a postgame press conference mandated by the French Open, controversy quickly followed. Osaka cited depression and anxiety as the reason for her absence. French Open officials responded with a $15,000 fine. Osaka withdrew from the tournament, forfeiting her chance at a championship.

In just a short period of time, we all have been forced to deal with drastic and unexpected changes in our way of life.

The furor surrounding Osaka’s decision highlights an issue with which many faithful Christians have long wrestled: mental health. The global pandemic of 2020 and its resulting fallout have pushed mental health to become a major topic of discussion within churches.

In just a short period of time, we all have been forced to deal with drastic and unexpected changes in our way of life. The inability to worship in person, isolation from friends, family and co-workers and immense grief experienced from the loss of loved ones have only added to the already difficult struggle.

Children have not been spared. Kids and young teens have endured isolation from friends and activities, all while adapting to virtual school and wearing masks.

Is it even possible that our mental state has not been impacted?

Unfortunately, far too many Christians needlessly feel guilt, shame and embarrassment for experiencing mental stress, anxiety and depression. The moment they need their brothers and sisters most, Christians often face criticism and judgment instead. Their illness is dismissed by others — perhaps even themselves — as a “lack of faith.” As a result, Christians needing loving support choose to refrain from seeking help and are left suffering in silence.

Scripture is filled with people of great faith who found themselves suffering stress, anxiety and depression. Moses felt helpless and rejected. Naomi felt despair. David wished for death in place of his son. Elijah felt alone and afraid. Job regretted his own birth.

The same apostle who taught others to “be anxious about nothing” and to “make your requests known to God” (Philippians 4:6) described a time when he and his missionary companions felt “so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8).

Even Jesus experienced deep emotional turmoil and anguish. Three times he pleaded for God to remove the cup of suffering he was destined to drink. But Jesus was not alone as he struggled.

As he talked to the Father, his inner circle of Peter, James and John sat nearby (Matthew 26:36-46). Though they slept, Jesus kept his closest friends within reach at this most critical moment. If Jesus wanted them close, how much more do we need a support system in our anguish?

In our own moments of despair, we must take our cares and worries to God (1 Peter 5:7). The book of Psalms is filled with hymns and prayers spoken to God, in faith, out of deep despair.

Asking for help or seeking professional counseling is a sign of strength, not weakness.

“Why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22), and “Why do you hide your face?” (Psalm 44:24) are just two examples reflecting the despair and anxiety felt by people of faith. They also echo the sense of confusion felt by many Christians today. These words were not an abandonment of faith but a tenacious attempt by believers at holding on to faith. In his own moment of despair, Jesus repeated these words as he cast his cares on God.

We must not allow anyone to suffer alone. God expects his body to “love one another” (John 13:34-35) and “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). This takes time and patience with each other. It also requires us to pray for, support and encourage each other.

Asking for help or seeking professional counseling is a sign of strength, not weakness. It is the faithful thing to do.

Instead of questioning our fellow brother or sister’s commitment to faith, let us be mindful that each of us has been stretched and challenged during this exceedingly difficult year and beyond.

Extend grace to someone. Be compassionate toward their hurt. Look for ways to help. When all else fails, ask, “How may I help?”

Remember, we are all in this together. You are not alone in your pain. — Trindi Mitchell and John Edmerson, for the Editorial Board

Filed under: anxiety Christians Church of Christ depression Editorial Mental Health Opinion

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