The Altar and the Couch
Hi, my name is Kristin and I believe in Jesus. I believe that He is my Savior and Lord, and the lover of my soul. He is my redeemer, my rock, my sustainer, and my friend. At this point in my life HE IS my absolute everything. I believe in prayer and the power of it. I talk to the Lord every day, multiple times I day. I take my joys, my hurts, my problems, and my triumphs to him in brief conversations and long journal entries. Over the years I have cultivated a true relationship with God and it is a constant force of peace and grace in my sometimes chaotic life. And with all of that I STILL believe in the power and the necessity of therapy.
I think all of us know on some level that living life gets hard sometimes. As we age and experience hard truths, scary transitions, deep pain, suffering and loss, both personally and in the lives of those around us that we care about, we get to a point where life can be overwhelming. And it is in those moments where I believe that many Christians extend their suffering far past where it needs to be because they take advantage of prayer and prayer alone, when God has given us so many additional resources to help us move through this life and the challenges that it presents.
It’s interesting to me. Many of us won’t hesitate to go to the doctor when we are experiencing physical pain. No one begrudges anyone their annual checkups with their primary care provider or any specialist that may have become a part of their normal health routine. We believe that bi-annual dental visits are a necessity, so much so, that many insurance providers cover the full cost of them. We know that long term physical health is improved by ongoing wellness checks and immediately dealing with any health issues that may crop up in our lives. We say that preventative care is the best care, but for some strange reason, that doesn’t seem to transfer over when we talk about our mental and emotional health.
Seriously, I have never come across anyone that has seen my regular doctor’s visits as a contradiction to my faith or a sign that my prayer life was lacking in some way. However, I have experienced push back when I’ve talked about scheduling regular sessions with a licensed clinical therapist. People have assumed and said all kinds of things about my faith life because I have taken advantage of the fact that I have access to quality mental health professionals. People have questioned the soundness of my judgement because I have recommended and highly championed the value of therapy to both the families of children that I’ve served over the years as well as my friends, and it has always perplexed me.
No one questioned my faith when I went to the doctor for my mind numbing back pain, but people questioned the soundness of my theology when I wanted to go to the therapist to bringing healing to the mental and emotional trauma that living life and experiencing loss had caused. A doctor’s appointment was necessary and wise, but a counseling session was a waste of time and money because Jesus was always available.
After several of these conversations, I began questioning my own faith. Maybe I wasn’t praying hard enough. Maybe I didn’t believe the way that I should and that was the answer to why I was suffering internally even though I looked perfectly fine on the outside. Jesus was there and He IS a healer, so why wasn’t I experiencing the healing that I so deeply desired and desperately needed? I mean, living life does get hard sometimes, but it’s nothing that Jesus can’t handle, right? All of these thoughts and many more floated through my brain for months on end and unfortunately I dealt with the pain of mental and emotional trauma for far longer than I should have because I was trying to prove my faith to people that didn’t have to live with my pain. So I sat there, trying to cope and failing miserably, and the pain grew deeper and stronger with each passing day. Finally, as suicidal ideations danced through my head, I gave up on trying to prove anything to anyone and set about being made well. For me that included professional counseling and that was okay. Over several months of hard conversations, many tears, and still with lots of prayers, my heart began to mend. My soul became whole and I was indeed made well. This season of suffering and sadness let me know that just as God gave us quality medical professionals, he also gave us qualified psychiatrists, psychologists, and mental health counselors to help us find wholeness when living life leaves us broken.
Over the years of sharing my story with those that are close to me and kids that I work with I have learned that many of us in the Christian world, in particular those of us that have found ourselves with ministry as a vocation, suffer silently and needlessly trying to prove something to people that will never know or understand the depths of the pain that we deal with, in particular as we carry the burdens of others right alongside ours. God has given us mental health professionals and in cases where it is necessary, medicine, to help us find our way back to the light through our darkness, and we should take full advantage of that gift.
Everyone that Jesus healed in the Gospels was not made well by prayer alone. There was an action step that followed their prayers and beliefs that brought wholeness to their life. The leper had to stretch out his hand. The woman with the issue of blood had to fight to touch the hem of his cloak. The blind man had to wash his eyes out. EVERYONE HAD TO DO SOMETHING and the same is true for us. It was the faith of their prayers combined with the work of their actions that brought them to the place of being made well. Jesus not only loved their souls, he loved their bodies AND their minds enough to make them whole again.
It is why we need the altar and the couch. Our faith that wellness is possible combined with the work of going to and through counseling revives our souls and grants us the strength to live, love, and serve another day. Taking care of our mental and emotional health is just as much of a priority as taking care of our physical bodies and our spiritual being. We cannot do the heavy spiritual lifting that is sometimes required of us if we are not well enough in spirit to even lift ourselves, let alone anyone else. We have to learn to be comfortable on our face at the altar and on our behinds on the couch if we want to still be able to not only survive, but thrive, because the reality is, and always will be, that living life gets hard sometimes.
Kristin D. Hemingway is a Detroit native currently residing in Atlanta, GA. With over 12 years of youth ministry experience, she currently serves under-resourced middle and high school students in the metro area. She loves traveling and helping people to live a life that they absolutely love!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.