We call it “the most wonderful time of the year,” but for many, it simply is not.
Those who suffer from depression or anxiety often struggle more during the holiday season than at any other time of the year. The loss of loved ones seems magnified when we are faced with the rituals of the season without them. The consumerist American version of Christmas generates financial stress. The relentless promotion of a saccharin, Hallmark-movie ideal leaves even those with relatively good lives feeling as though they aren’t experiencing the “magic” as intended.
These realities are the reasons I flinched when I saw a tweet last week from a prominent (50k+ followers) Christian. It simply read, “You don’t need a therapist. You need Jesus.”
What a reckless thing to say to people in pain.
I understand what the writer’s intent was: to point people toward addressing the spiritual poverty that often lies beneath emotional brokenness. But the terse tweet was a swing and a miss for several reasons.
First, it shames people who do have faith in Christ yet are still in deep psychological or emotional pain. It suggests that those who suffer from seasons of despair are themselves to blame for these valleys because they haven’t “found Jesus.” I’ve got news: you can be walking closely with the Lord and still need help.
Additionally, this attitude essentially spits on the calling and ministry of legions of Christian counselors and mental health workers. People who have been called and gifted to be the hands and feet of Christ to those who are hurting. People who have dedicated their lives to the selfless carrying of others’ burdens, and the patient nurturing of the wounded.
God uses us to represent Jesus to one another. To hand-deliver his love and healing to those around us.
He uses pastors to illuminate the truth of his word and help us understand how to apply it to our lives.
But no one ever says: You don’t need a pastor. You need Jesus. I mean, you have a Bible. Isn’t Jesus sufficient to make it clear to you? What are you, stupid?
He uses doctors to help bring physical healing to those who are sick or in pain.
Yet no one ever says: You don’t need a cardiologist. You need Jesus. All healing ultimately comes from him so you might as well just cut out the middle man.
He uses teachers to help us understand information and apply that learning to our lives.
But I’ve never heard anyone say: You don’t need a teacher. You need Jesus. After all, Christ is where all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are kept. Why are you looking elsewhere?
Scripture is clear about the wisdom of multiple counselors and explains how we each use our gifting in the Body of Christ for the good of the whole. So who in their right mind could flippantly discount the valuable contributions of godly mental health professionals?
Who could be cruel enough to deny a brother or sister in Christ the healing that God often uses therapists to bring?
It’s a blind spot in the reasoning of some in the faith community that is rooted in a dual ignorance: ignorance of what a mental health crisis is made up of, and ignorance of what therapists, psychiatrists, and others do to address it. They view it as a cultural band-aid slapped on cancer, when it is more like chemotherapy designed to eradicate lies that have been believed, and to repair neurological pathways. Sometimes it even involves a dual solution: a medical intervention to address a naturally-occurring chemical imbalance plus cognitive therapy to complement the healing. (Much like the dual process of healing an orthopedic injury: surgery to correct the structural problem, and physical therapy to restore strength and flexibility for more complete recovery. No one ever accuses you of being a bad Christian when you go to PT.)
But this is ignorance that—if left unchallenged—can do real harm. So challenge it we must.
If you have diabetes, pray for healing and go see your endocrinologist.
If your marriage is falling apart, pray for God’s help and seek the advice of a godly marriage counselor.
If you have a legal problem, pray about it and seek the advice of a principled attorney.
These are not either/or situations. They are often both/and situations. Don’t let someone else’s flawed doctrine strip you of all that God—in his mercy and wisdom—has provided for your care.
We all need Jesus. And sometimes we need therapy, too.