In November 2010, my organization hosted the first Overcoming Emotional Baggage for Women conference aimed at supporting women with troubled souls and discouraged hearts. My talk titled, "When Life Hurts…What Next?", encouraged women to start their journey to restoration rather than continue to live with their unresolved issues, which brings about the inner unrest.
Both myself and our other speaker, Sharon Platt-McDonald (Director of health and disability ministries for the Seventh-day Adventist church) explored how our 'unfinished businesses' affects every aspect of our lives including our relationship with God and others. We also shared practical steps and scripture to get our attendees started on their personal journeys to wholeness and ended with prayer.
And now the dust has settled after the conference, I can't help but to wonder whether there is a case for the church to 'up its game' and do more in the area of emotional restoration. Based on the extensive feedback we have had from attendees, the conversations, testimonies and the ever increasing daily requests for more events, resources, etc, I am fully persuaded that we have an unmet need in the body of Christ. Whilst we, as the church, have advanced in many areas, I truly believe we have a fair way to go when it comes to mind and soul matters. As a result, many of us, especially as women, struggle to find solace within the church walls.
The Silencing of the Lambs
For a number of years now, I had felt that the church had remained silent and even inert on matters that pertained to the mind and soul, much less dealing with the specific needs that women present. It seems we may have lost the momentum created several years back which could falsely indicate there is no longer a need.
As a result, we now have women trapped with baggage of their past or present, yet keeping silent and remaining stuck. This was the place many of our attendees found themselves and I could personally relate to their experiences. Though we keep attending church, our inner challenges persist. And for some of us, we bury ourselves so deep in church and life, we loose touch with our true selves.
And even if we decided to talk, who do we dare tell? For we secretly fear the stigma attached to someone with emotional/mental challenges (an indication of how we treat those amongst us with such needs). We keep silent because of insensitive responses from well meaning saints or rebuttals by people around us plagued with the 'Jobs friends' syndrome. And if you hold any role or responsibility, this is more likely frowned upon, just like in some work environments, where it is considered to be a sign of weakness. And so we are muffled to silence.
During the conference, Sharon Platt-McDonald (author, Healing Hearts, Restoring Minds) shared a heart-rending story that typifies this. The daughter of a church leader (who we will call Dinah) was raped by one of the church members who was in a study group she was part of. Sadly, it was decided the best way forward was to brush the matter under the carpet and cover it up instead of dealing with it. As a result of not getting the necessary support she needed, Dinah experienced a mental breakdown and was institutionalised. It was at this institution Sharon met Dinah. Over time, Sharon was able to nurse her back to complete health through the Word of God, prayer and her nursing training. Today, Dinah is back on fire for God and fully restored.
A Call for Change – Let's Work Together
Today, there are many 'Dinah's' in the church who are breaking down on the inside – with no one to hear their stories much less do anything about it. Over the years, I have spoken to many 'Dinah's who feel there is a lack of specific support within their local church. I agree that whilst some churches have developed great programmes and/or forged links with external organisations to tackle the needs of the 'Dinah's' (or our wounded soldiers in general), these tend to be few and far between and are not necessarily accessible to all. So couple this with the fear of opening up, and you get women who remain traumatised and hurting for years.
So why should it surprise us when we hear of a saint committing suicide, experiencing a break down or leaving the church to find solace elsewhere? Is the devil really to blame here or is it a case of us not being our sisters keeper? I believe all of us, from the pulpit to the pews, can do much more in this regards.
Personally, I strive for the day when all women (within the church and beyond) will have access to the needed support to overcome the hurdles life presents. I long for the day when churches will be the place people (religious or not) will come to seek healing on every level – a place where God can demonstrate the extent of His healing power.
That said, I perceive Father is already on the move here in the UK. An indication of this are the springing up of parachurch initiatives like Mind and Soul (Premier), the Mental Health Strategy for churches (Sharon Platt-McDonald/Seventh-day Adventist church) along with our very own Overcoming Emotional Baggage for Women initiative and eWoman Groups. I know there are many other great organisations out there, however, I pray for a more joined up approach between such initiatives and the local church. Ultimately, our goal is to get the support to those who need it so Gods people no longer need to perish because of lack of knowledge.