Mental Health and Compassion: The Secret to Caring Well
In an age where mental health concerns are skyrocketing, how can the Church care for those suffering?
B.B. Warfield, a theologian, wrote a book titled The Emotional Life of Our Lord in 1912. He painted a picture of our Savior that not many have addressed: what Jesus felt while on earth. In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), they write that compassion was the emotion that Jesus felt the most frequently.
Warfield defines compassion as having two parts: “an internal movement of pity and an external act of beneficence.” In other (and simpler) words, compassion means that we 1) feel with someone and 2) act on his/her behalf.
Christians have the perfect example of how to care, Jesus Christ. Our sacrificial compassion must mark our every action as we behold the Great Shepherd who has bought us with His blood.
Feeling with Someone
God often uses our past circumstances to care for those experiencing something similar.
But most people will not have faced something similar. Whether we say it out loud or not, our thoughts can easily dismiss opportunities to care.
“Oh no, sorry. I haven’t been through that.”
By the Spirit’s grace and power, we can step into situations to help care for others despite our lack of experience.
On the other hand, if you have something in common, you do not entirely understand what your friend has been through. There are nuances, worldviews, and beliefs that make their experience different than yours.
Instead of despair, this should compel our hearts to deeper neediness on the Spirit to develop empathy in our hearts.
Acting on their Behalf
Trying to care for the struggling can be challenging. Sometimes our heart of care for them doesn’t translate as caring. Here are a few practical examples that have helped me care for those in my life:
Proverbs 18:13 says, “The one who gives an answer before he listens—this is foolishness and disgrace for him.” Asking good, thoughtful questions can demonstrate your care (even if you know the answers).
Look at how Jesus interacted with the Woman at the Well in John 4. Gently and patiently, He invited her to share her soul’s depths with Him. Of course, He already knew the answers to His questions, but He demonstrated holistic pursuit of her by asking open-ended questions.
To better understand your tendencies, consider this question: if you were to read through a transcript of your conversation with someone, would your sentences primarily end in question marks or periods?
Find out their care schedule.
If your friend goes to counseling every Tuesday at 10 am, find a way to remind yourself an hour before their appointment. As you get the reminder, send a text or call them to remind them that you are praying for them.
Later in the day, feel free to check in with them to see how it went, ask how they are responding, and remind them you care.
The whole Body is needed.
Caring for those who struggle with their mental health needs people like LPCs, pastors, and physicians. This cause also needs people who are firefighters, stay-at-home parents, or car mechanics.
Are trained professionals necessary to help? Absolutely.
But friend, please do not believe the lie that only those roles are necessary.
Graciously remind them of truth.
As the Spirit prompts, seek to speak truth to them. When mental health struggles come, a perspective rooted in truth can be difficult to see. A friend once described the truth as “slippery” when such struggles arise.
Truth can take many forms. Sometimes, it can be reminding them that you enjoy their presence. Other times, it can be reminding them how close God is to them.
When the opportunity presents itself and the Spirit prompts, sharing your faith with them can be radically encouraging. The gospel of Jesus Christ does not invalidate suffering, but rather provides reasoning for its source and hope in the middle of it.
Trusting Jesus to save us from our sin secures our future to live eternally with Him. No matter what comes today, believers can rest knowing that their future is secure.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful.”
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