You can have Jesus and a therapist, too.

I once preached a sermon that involved a shirt with what looked to be a very bloody wound on the side and the words “I’m fine …” printed across the chest. I paired it with Psalm 88, the only psalm that doesn’t end with a nice bow around it. My goal? I wanted to let people know that you can have Jesus and a therapist, too. I admitted my own struggles with mental health and that I also have Jesus and a therapist, too. This broke down a wall that is often between pastors and those we lead.

Pastors are humans. We laugh. We cry. We love. We make mistakes. We feel.
This is obvious but I get the feeling that people in the pews sometimes forget this. The pastor should be strong, smart, and godly in a way they couldn’t possibly reach. And pastors may respond by putting up a facade that matches these expectations. I’ve done it. I have found, however, that breaking down the facade helps me and the people I lead to grow deeper in their spirituality.
 
Sermons have the power to break stigmas.
Some Christians think mental health issues can be evidence of a lack of faith. They may hide their struggles for fear of what others might think. Christians are supposed to be happy and have their life together all the time, right? We all may know this is untrue but we walk around with this bleeding wound in our side and say to one another, “I’m fine.” Sermons can give permission to the congregation to speak about what may be considered taboo. And pastors know something about mental health.
 
Pastors diagnosed with clinical depression doubled the national average, according to Duke University. Nearly one in four pastors struggle with mental illness, LifeWay Research found. We can’t pretend we are fine all the time. To do so would keep us feeling alone in our struggle. To not speak about our mental health may also keep others in their own isolation.

I have found preaching on mental health and relating my own struggles to the congregation has enabled vulnerability from others. My sermons aren’t therapy sessions or opportunities to pour out my guts for all to see but I tell people I see a therapist and that I am on medication. I tell them I have bad days without getting into all the gory details. Here’s a part of the sermon I preached with the “I’m fine …” t-shirt:

“I have no problem admitting I am working through depression. I say, ‘I’m fine’ to people all the time when I am not. I feel disingenuous about it, but it’s part of the social contract. Most people who ask me how I am doing really don’t want to hear the whole answer. They are just being polite. But those close to me help me carry my burdens. They help me to think through problems, listen when I need to vent, comfort when I need comfort, correct when I need correcting, and love above all else. 
I talk to a therapist a couple of times a month. I sometimes need help processing my emotions. I sometimes need help seeing through the fog of thoughts in my head. I have found it helpful to drop the, ‘I’m fine,’ act around therapists and just get real. They are trained in walking people through all kinds of things. They can see through, ‘I’m fine.’ I also take an antidepressant to help me feel better. I know that simply saying, ‘I’m fine,’ isn’t going to make it so.
I also turn to God in prayer. And sometimes my prayer sounds like Psalm 88.”


I point back to people in scriptures who struggled with depression. I say it’s okay to come to God in prayer without having to make it nice and polished. God knows us. God made us. God loves us completely - even if we feel we have some unlovable things about us. This is a reality that draws us closer to God. And then I get that conversation after worship, that phone call, or that email. Sometimes it’s as simple as, “Thanks for saying that today,” or “I needed to hear that.” Other times it may be someone scheduling a time to talk more deeply with me. Some have asked me for referrals for mental health professionals. These conversations didn’t happen before I started preaching on mental health. The sermons allowed people to break out of isolation and be vulnerable with someone about their mental health. This is where healing can begin.

I ended my t-shirt sermon this way: 
“If you are struggling with depression right now, I’m telling you it is okay for you to not be okay. You can say, ‘I’m fine.’ But find someone to help you address the wound. Confide in God. Shout, scream, wrestle. God is there walking with you. Find a loved one you trust to carry your burden. Have at least one person with whom you can be real. And find a therapist if you don’t have one. If your back was hurting you’d see a chiropractor. If your tooth was hurting you’d see a dentist. If you had heart trouble you’d see a cardiologist. If you have trouble with your mind see a therapist. It doesn’t mean you have less faith. It means you are availing yourself to the help you need.
You can have Jesus and a therapist, too. I do and so do many others I know.” 


I put emergency contact numbers on the screen for local, state, and national mental health resources as well as my number. I’m a pastor who struggles with mental health. Sharing my story has helped others to seek help with their own struggles. They see that God loves them completely and is walking with them in their struggles.

Pastors, I encourage you to be vulnerable. Be bold. Be brave. Be you. You will set an example for the congregation that it is okay to have Jesus and a therapist, too.
Rev. Brian Lothridge is a United Methodist deacon, writer, advocate, and musician. He blogs as brianlothridge.wordpress.com
Tagged with