Lent is but hours away, and for many of us Christians, the days that lead up to this season give us a time to reflect on what we need to hold on to in our spiritual lives and what we need to let go of. Lent is a time of repentance, of meditating on Jesus' ministry, and of ashes and fasting. It is a profound season in our liturgical rhythm of life in which renewal, growth, and holiness is found.
For many, mental health symptoms and illness can get in the way of a fruitful Lent. The mind (and it’s automatic stream of cognitions) has a way of attacking the things we find most important like our relationship with God.
For the depressed, Lent can be a time of deeper sorrow or of a time of sitting in the wasteland of emotional emptiness and numbness. Lent can be described as entering the desert with Jesus, but with depression left unchecked, we can enter in and find even more intractable depression.
To the anxious and perfectionistic, Lent can become a measuring stick. What will I give up? Is it enough? All questions alluding to the deeper and often avoided question - amI enough? And how can I become worthy of the grace and love of the Father? Sacrifice, instead of sanctifying and edifying, feels like a test - and the Lord has more for us than to test us in this manner.
Regardless of where you are in your own personal Lenten growth, spend a moment reflecting on your emotional health. Is my perfectionism affecting my relationship with Jesus? Will Lent be as fruitful if I avoid my depression and, instead, spiritualize it? And am I offering up in sacrifice a suffering and pain which he has not designed us to enter into?
The difficulty is that Christians often over spiritualize mental health. Yes, depression can be restored through faith, grace, His miraculous presence in the Sacrament - BUT - more times than not we find healing through psychological treatment. He wants us to actively find healing too. What does that mean? Being an active agent in your own recovery and growth. Seeking counseling, support groups, or medications to get some relief from mental health conditions. Or even starting to look at painful memories of the past that we have conveniently hidden away.
Sure! Let’s fast from negative thoughts or self pity, but if you’re struggling with mental illness, this specific fast could be what prevents you from getting mental healthcare and what keeps you stuck feeling upset and angry with yourself that Lent isn’t “working.”
There’s no Lent holy enough to double as mental health care. And you deserve both: a holy and sanctifying Lent that gives your soul the quenching waters of spiritual growth, and the mental healthcare that gives your mind healing and peace.
There’s no Lent holy enough to double as mental health care.
Sisters - here’s the truth. Whatever you’re struggling with - stifling perfectionism, toxic relationships, trauma from years ago, or a depressed mood, Jesus has lived your struggles intimately because He became man:
"He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf,
so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
2 Corinthians 5:21
God knows your struggles because He wrote each of your days before one came to pass:
"Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them."
Psalm 139: 16
And the Holy Spirit is present during your struggles because He lives and moves in your innermost being:
"You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit,
if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you."
We are in good company this Lent. And if you suffer from mental illness you’ll be in even better company if you seek the tangible solace of professional treatment. In the meantime, let the following passage from Holy Scripture marinate. He is for us, he intercedes for us, and he desires your joy, delight, and freedom:
"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words."
Our Recent Posts
You can’t give up your depression for Lent
March 5, 2019
Today's hook-up culture: healing from the "addiction"