Is it possible to be spirituality healthy but have mental health issues? It's a question that many are asking and that one pastor at a megachurch has chosen to address.
Brad Hambrick, who serves as pastor of counseling at The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, wrote in a blog post that the answer to the question is "yes," but it is important to explain why.
Hambrick, who is also an author and instructor of Biblical Counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, first suggested several measures of what makes a Christian spiritually healthy, such as embracing the Gospel.
He defined the above as: "An individual [who] recognizes their sinful condition and leans fully on the hope of Christ's death-resurrection to provide freedom from the overwhelming guilt this sober self-awareness would otherwise create."
Other markers for a healthy Christian include spiritual discipline, personal devotion, devout character, and having a robust theological framework, where an individual "is able to understand and articulate the biblical world-view that undergirds the previous four marks of spiritual health."
He argued that it is possible to display those characteristics while simultaneously suffering from mental health challenges.
One of those challenges, he noted, is emotional regulation — where an individual "has a difficult time preventing unpleasant emotions from intruding into times when the situation does not warrant such emotions or to a degree greater than an unpleasant situation warrants; 'taking thoughts captive' does not eliminate the physical responses of disruptive emotions for them."
Another mental health challenge he listed is when a person has "a difficult time, persistently or episodically, having a sense of self that is either self-loathing or grandiose."
Other signs of mental health problems can include having "a difficult time being at peace in social settings" (thus resulting in isolation, conflict or stigmatization); bizarre behavior or paranoia due to intrusive thoughts or having difficulty "discerning fanciful thoughts from actual events;" and having "a dispositional struggle to regulate their impulses towards actions that are known to have negative consequences."
Hambrick listed these five mental health qualities as aptitudes, though he admitted mental health cannot be reduced to a set of aptitudes.
But to make his argument, he stated, "When I say that a Christian can be spiritually strong and still experience mental health challenges, someone can be a devout Christian and have a persistent struggle with these aptitudes/skills; a struggle that is only moderately improved through the best available interventions (Christian growth or therapy) and will not be ultimately remedied until heaven."
"I am not saying all of these are only biological or physiological like diabetes or cancer. Doubtless our genetic makeup determines the baseline from which we cultivate these aptitudes," he added.
"But it should be apparent that our social settings, personal experiences, and life choices also have a profound positive or negative influence on these factors."
The pastor argued that people are not powerless against these factors, and practical theology and self-help literature could potentially teach some how to improve.
In the end, he stressed that struggles with mental health should not be a matter of shame or cause Christians to doubt their salvation.
"Our bodies and minds, like the rest of creation, are groaning to be made whole (Romans 8:22)," he noted.
Hambrick also pointed out that just as there is variance in physical health and abilities among Christians, "we should expect to find the same variance in mental health expressions."
"We believe vibrant Christians can have physical maladies and low IQ's, why would we think mental health would be different?"
Hambrick encouraged Christians to be "excellent stewards" of their mental health and hopes more believers can gain a better understanding of the intersection of mental health and spiritual maturity."
Other church leaders who have spoken extensively about mental health and the church include Rick and Kay Warren, co-founders of Saddleback Church in California. Their commitment to spreading awareness of mental health began after their son committed suicide in 2013 following mental health struggles.
In 2017, Kay Warren revealed that she had a prophetic vision of churchgoers not long after her son's death.
"In my mind's eye, I pictured the Worship Center at Saddleback full of people who are living with a mental illness — depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, an eating disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia — or any other mental illness that was making life challenging," Warren described at the time.
"Everyone in the room was reaching out to God without having to pretend that life felt okay — some people were crying, others wrapped themselves around a large wooden cross, some were praying, some were offering hugs to others — but all felt safe to bring their pain and their sorrow to God," she added.
"Then I saw laughter — the kind of laughter that comes when others walking a similar life-path talk about the shared, common ups as well as downs, the moments of absurdity and humor in living with a mental illness. In my vision, hope began to rise."