“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say, “My tooth is aching” than to say, “My heart is broken.” ― C.S. Lewis
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12 that he has a constant struggle with a “thorn in his flesh.” In God’s wisdom, this “thorn” that is troubling Paul is never identified in the Bible, although he does mention that the affliction is meant to keep him from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the heavenly revelations he received from the Lord (2 Cor 12:7). Nonetheless, God assures Paul His grace is sufficient for all his needs and that His power is made perfect in his weakness. In a sense, this “thorn in the flesh” also mirrors what is constantly troubling us and weighing us down, which may include mental stresses we face daily.
In Christian circles, mental illness has evolved from being something shameful and taboo in the past to an issue that is now openly discussed. On 5 Oct, the Singapore Government launched a National Mental Health and Well-Being Strategy, signalling recognition by the authorities that mental health is a significant issue in our society. The strategy’s key thrust is to tackle the issue coherently and holistically, by involving the community, general practitioners, schools, and workplaces to help identify those with common conditions like depression and anxiety who may not otherwise seek help.1
A believer and her struggle with mental illness
“Growing up, I always felt out of place; I often felt I was on the outside looking in. I also didn’t feel the most emotionally connected to some of my family members, which often made me feel unloved and unwanted. I struggled as I was bullied for most of my middle school and high school years, triggering insecurities that I still struggle with handling to this day. I also developed severe self-loathing and suicidal thoughts. I wasn’t allowed to participate in therapy, and many of my issues were thrown under the rug when I was a teenager. I didn’t realise until I was nearly 20 years old — and four years as a Christian at that point — that I struggled with mental illness. I was officially diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD). I also showed symptoms of anxiety (mainly general and social) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).” (Ms Neen in “4 Things I Learned as a Christian Battling Mental Illness”2)
Ms Neen goes on to add, “While I was finally given answers to why I had such negative thoughts, panic attacks, and moments of severe sadness and hopelessness, I felt I received more internal questions: How was I able to get better? Would I be looked down upon by others — specifically, other believers — for wanting treatment for my mental illness? Would I deal with more isolation than when I pretended to be fine? And, how does my faith fit into mental illness?”
Christ’s invitation to us
The Bible tells us that Jesus is our great High Priest who is able to sympathise with our weaknesses, including our mental health challenges. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15,16).
Whilst most of us are coping well with mental health challenges that come our way, some of us may be battling mental illness, leading to emotional exhaustion, depression and spiritual dryness. Whatever the state of our mental health, Jesus invites us to come to Him for rest and refreshing. “Come to Me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). May we heed Christ’s invitation to come to Him for inner rest and refreshing. Amen.
- Eld Elgin Chan
1 https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/s-pore-launches-national-mental-health-and-well-being-strategy (S’pore launches national mental health and well-being strategy) dated 6 Oct 2023