This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. The Mental Health Foundation are focusing this year on the need for relationships to help improve mental health.
They tell us that we urgently need a greater focus on the quality of our relationships, to prevent and help alleviate mental health breakdown. We need to understand just how fundamental relationships are to our health and wellbeing. We cannot flourish as individuals and communities without them. In fact, they are as vital as better-established lifestyle factors, such as eating well, exercising more and stopping smoking.
A Christian view fully recognizes this need for relationship as being fundamental to mental health and wellbeing. God created us for relationship, evidenced from his early words about man in Genesis 2v18 ‘It is not good for man to be alone’.
We reflect his Trinity. In his book, ‘The Good God’, Michael Reeves writes: ‘The very nature of the triune God is to be effusive, ebullient and bountiful; the Father rejoices to have another beside him….As the Father, Son and Spirit have always known fellowship with each other, so we in the image of God are made for fellowship.”
No wonder poor relationships and lack of fellowship causes illness and dysfunction.
So why don’t we tend to value fellowship as highly as we value getting our own way? Why so much family and community breakdown, a real contributor towards the high current level of mental illness in our society?
To understand this we need to understand the Fall. In Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve turned in on themselves in self-love and chose to disobey God, they not only turned away from God; they turned away from each other. Not only did their relationship with the Lord break down, their relationship with each other broke down too. As Michael Greeves writes: ‘Ashamed of their nakedness, they hid behind fig leaves and began to cast blame. And before long, Cain is killing Abel, Lamech is dreaming of vengeance, and the human family is torn apart by lovelessness and malice.’
The triune God’s delight in family, fellowship and community still stands. And so the Father sends the Son, not only to reconcile us to himself, but to reconcile us to each other in order that the world might be a place of harmony, reflecting their harmony. When we relate well in loving relationship with each other, it reflects God’s character and actually brings both witness and glory to him.
The Son’s purpose, wrote Paul in Ephesians 2: 15-17 was ‘to create in himself one new man out of two (Jew and Gentile), thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.’
The Spirit reunites male and female, black and white, Jew and Gentile, doctor and nurse, rich and poor, all to the same reconciling love of God which spills over into love of each other.
God’s family functioning as it should is the hope for the world.
Hope that mental health sufferers desperately need.
It is a beautiful, attractive and healing thing to see a strong community well modeled by the church. Whether it be seen in meal rotas for new mums or the recently bereaved, garden tidying and DIY help for the elderly, weekly student meals, prayer chains for the ill, financial and practical giving to those in need, or home visits to the isolated. This is a foretaste of the wonderful cohesive community that we’ll experience in heaven.
Coincidentally it’s also Christian Aid week and their slogan is ’love your neighbour this week’. Let’s remember their mandate as a daily ongoing motivator, not just for this one week.
My husband, who is a far better ‘neighbour’ than me, has just returned from visiting a friend who is struggling in a very challenging situation. When I asked him what they talked about, he said ’We didn’t talk; I asked questions and then listened as (his friend) talked.’
Sometimes we need to make space to intentionally listen better. This week’s Mental Health awareness campaign ends with a challenge titled ‘The relationship resolution.’ Can you invest more in being present with and listening to friends, family and colleagues?
This is a needed challenge to us all living in our communities. A further final challenge to the church is not only how can we invest more in our relationships, but how can we reflect more of our loving God in reaching out in selfless and practical ways to those around us in need of some loving care?