The Dilemma of Mental Pain and Soul Care

“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, The Problem Pain The church fails big time in the area of mental pain and mental illness. It's easy to understand why.  The brain, mental illness and depression are all subjects gaining and growing in research, knowledge and recovery.  We didn't know too much about mental anguish until more recently. While the church fights over whether or not Calvinism is the elite belief system, many of it's members could care less. I am one of them. In the last 15 years of ministry, I have NEVER had one person ask me whether or not I was a Calvinist or something else, but I have had thousands ask me, "How can I get rid of this dark depression which lurks within me?"  More people ask me about their inner sadness than they do about infant baptism vs. believer's baptism.  More are perplexed about their bi-polar brothers and spouses, than about whether the bread in communion is really the actual body of Jesus Christ.Mental anguish is on the rise as our world comes to the understanding the people cannot cope with the stress, speed and frailness of a world spiraling out of control.  Right now at Christmas, more pharmacists are filling more anti-sad drugs than ever before in the year. It is the season to be jolly, yet why are so many us living with a mental darkness that no candle, flashlight or spot light can dispel.I am the personal witness to mental anguish and mental illness.  I have family members who have suffered without volunteering to experience the grip of being diagnosed to a depression that won't leave them. I have personally seen the costs that my friends and family have paid for being mentally ill. They are misunderstood. They are afraid. They hide their real stories by only telling an outer story that is short, curt and simple. But their inner lives are complex, lonely and filled with fear. There's hardly anyone whose own lives has not been touched by some family member or friend that has been in pain in their minds and hearts.You don't see on any Sunday School roster a class for: Parents of Bi-Polar Children; Spouses married to the  clinically depressed. You never hear an announcement in Advent--this dark season of waiting, for all who are depressed and feel lonely, meet in room 101 after the service.  But why not?Facebook is filled with images of friends who have broken their arms while skiing but none of my depressed friends and family members show their forlorn faces on social media. We would not tolerate such realism on our screens. America's fascination with "Duck Dynasty" shows one side of being real. But what about a reality show about bi-polar families and the drama they experience with mood swings; the high costs of medicine and social isolation.One of my closet friends these days is a man who suffers deeply. Never in my life have I heard such a story. It is filled with the drama that only a movie could truly tell. I'll spare you his pain--his story and reality because most likely, this is bringing to your own mind, someone you know who truly suffers yet is really not allowed to suffer in an acceptable way.oThe Care of the Soul involves touching the minds of those of us who are truly disturbed--truly in anguish--truly in pain.  Soul Care is never just care of one's faith or relatoinship with God. Soul Care involves the whole person--the whole mind and the whole back holes that any of us fall into from time to time.The older I grown, the more I really do like the Apostle Paul. In his later books, he's honest, confessional and real.  II Corinthians reveals an older, much wiser man than the author of the letter called 1st Corinthians. Paul learned more and knew more. He's more transparent. He's more real and he's more my kind of man and author! Listen to what he says:8-11 We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us.OK. Here's Paul saying he was so incredibly depressed that he may have been suicidal.  Yes, read this in several of your translations. Here we have the author of most of the New Testament confess that he was so incredibly depressed, he thought he was going to die.Paul gives us permission to talk about mental anguish.  I'm so tired of Christians who ignore this--who are afraid to tell their friends--their small groups and their pastors that they are just like Paul. Good heavens! What have we done? In the Bible, we have suicide, depression and even Paul's unthinkable dilemma.  It's OK for us to talk; to explore; to help and perhaps to cure the anguish of so many beautiful souls.As we wait in the dark Advent of this time of year, may the Lord bring to your own mind and across your path someone you can simply love and perhaps be the incarnate presence of Jesus to in some very small--perhaps very insignificant way....but perhaps will be the light--the way forward for someone in pain. What resources would I recommend on this subject?The very best chapter I have read on depression and understanding what's it's like to be depressed was written by Parker Palmer in his book, "Let Your Life Speak". I use this book and chapter as much as I refer people to the Bible.The Anatomy of the Soul by my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Curt Thompson helps educate the lay person on the brain and how transformation happens and it's connection to our spiritual life. It's excellent and by all means, start with this one.Copyright 2013. Stephen W. Smith. All Rights Reserved.