My Poseidon Adventure

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

My husband, Nathan, and I just returned from a cruise to the Dominican Republic. Boarding the ship, Nathan joked about sailing through the Bermuda Triangle. Within hours those jokes seemed prophetic as our ship suddenly listed (tilted) to one side nearly 20 degrees. Dishes were crashing, and people were screaming as chaos and panic spread throughout the ship. Within a few moments, the ship righted itself, but many of us spent the rest of the evening carrying our life jackets.

By the next morning, we had an explanation. The ship had a technical difficulty with one of the fin stabilizers. According to Carnival, we were never in danger, and they gave each passenger $50 onboard spending money as compensation. Nathan and I knew we had a choice to make. Would we accept the compensation, and get on with having a great vacation, or would we pitch a fit and let it ruin our trip? We chose fun. Evidently, we weren’t the only ones, because the rest of the cruise went off without a hitch, and everyone we talked to was having a blast.

Imagine my surprise when we got to dry land and saw this incident was national news. Even more surprising was the comments made to reporters by our fellow passengers as they disembarked. They were talking about how awful the experience was and trash talking the cruise line for ruining their trip. We also saw on the news the entire listing incident had only lasted 1 minute. For 1 minute of bad, these people were saying it had ruined their whole week. So goes the fickle ways of man.

I remember a client who was receiving counseling for a series of personal tragedies once told me, “You know, the horrible things in life are few and far between. Those phone calls telling you about a loss really don’t happen that often. It’s our reaction to them that lasts a lifetime.” I guess to some people a 1-minute incident can have the power to ruin an entire vacation. I don’t want to be one of those people.

It says in Romans 8:35-39 that nothing in this life can ever separate us from the love of God we find in Christ Jesus. Even in the midst of trouble, calamity, danger, or when threatened with death, we are still held in God’s love. What’s the worst that can happen if you are a believer? Even the end is not the end, because we are safe in God’s love.

I think that the cruise ship experience was a lot like my life as a Christian. All of my needs were met on board, and the Captain, Cruise Director, and crew went out of their way to ensure my pleasure and safety. Even when it felt like I wasn’t safe, I was. Yet, while the crew was able to supply all of my needs, they were not capable of dictating how I reacted to the trip. That was left up to me.

For myself and my husband, we chose to overlook the negative and focus on the positive. We were pampered, ate great food, went to amazing ports, and had on heck of an adventure, listing and all! And that is precisely how I want to view this life God gave me. An amazing adventure. And while it may be peppered by occasional peril, I am always safe in the ocean of God’s grace. And if you go looking for us this time next year, don’t be surprised if you find us “out to sea,” because we are already planning our next cruise on the same cruise line.

Hard Hearted or Hard Headed?

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

I have spent the past few weeks presenting a case for staying in your marriage. I’ve shown you how unrealistic expectations are often the root of our problem. But as a marriage counselor I know there is still a huge obstacle to overcome. The one that says “Yeah, but…I love him/her, but I’m not in love anymore.” In our Christian culture, we have a term for this condition. We call it the “hardened heart.”

Like many things in the Bible, that term has been taken and twisted. In this case, it gets used to support a waning emotional or sexual connection to a spouse. People will tell me, “I can’t live in a loveless marriage.” In other words, they’ve “lost that lovin’ feeling.” Those struggling with this problem believe their heart needs to “soften” to stay married.

Jesus said the truth will set us free, so I have a truth bomb for you. It is IMPOSSIBLE for a believer to have a hard heart. When you accepted Christ, you got a heart transplant. It’s forever soft because it’s where Jesus lives. God promised this in Ezekiel 36:26 “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

There are many other scriptures that will back my point, but in the interest of brevity, I will ask you to trust me on this one. You don’t have a hard heart. What you have is a hard head. That cold, numb feeling you have toward your spouse is seated in your emotions, not your heart. As any psychologist will tell you, your emotions are under the dictatorship of your head. That is why God tells us “we transform our lives by the renewing of our minds” (Romans) not by the changing of our heart.

God knew how we think and believe instructs how we feel and behave. If we have a negative belief, our brain will look for evidence to support the idea and ignore evidence to the contrary. Psychology calls this a “confirmation bias.” That’s a fancy way of saying you become stubborn and set against something. When that happens, our emotions follow the belief. Negative bias equals negative emotions. People follow those emotions into affairs and divorce court.

Think back to when you first met your mate and had on your “rose-colored glasses.” You saw everything about them a positive light. Remember the warm, fuzzy feelings that accompanied those glasses? That, my friend, is a confirmation bias set on a positive belief. Your spouse didn’t change, your glasses did.

The book of Proverbs has a scripture it repeats two times. When God says it twice He wants us to pay extra close attention. The scripture reads as follows, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” That’s a warning to tell us no matter how strongly we feel about something, if we aren’t thinking like God’s thinking, we are headed for disaster.

When it comes to your marriage, are you thinking like God’s thinking? If you have a negative mindset, I promise you are not. Fortunately, there is an antidote for that, it’s called repentance. Repentance, in the Bible, simply means to change your mind. Change your mind about your spouse. Start seeing them through Jesus glasses. Look for things they do right and forgive them for being human, and see if those warm fuzzy’s don’t return.

When the Fantasy Ends

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

Here is the fantasy I brought into marriage: My future husband would be my soul mate, hand-picked by God to be perfect for me. We would fall deeply in love, and on our wedding night we would read Song of Solomon together, pray, and fall into each other’s arms, inflamed in a blaze of love.

While I did add a touch of satire, that is still the crux of what I believed. As a therapist, I know all of us enter our marriage with some fantasy driven, rose-colored expectations. But if you have been paying attention through this series, unmet, unrealistic expectations are the core of most of our problems.

Guess what? Much of what we believe about marriage is not in the Bible. Ideas such as “the one,” “soul mate,” and being “in love” are not in there. We believe our spiritual, sexual, relational, and material needs are in the pot at the end of the matrimonial rainbow. Then we say “I do,” and our fantasy meets reality. The result is never pretty.

I went into my marriage with a lot of cultural and church taught error. When my fantasy met reality, I had to find out what the Bible said about love and matrimony. There is a process called cleaving (sounds unpleasant), the idea of sacrificial love (OUCH!! That never feels good), dying to self (double ouch) and having the kind of love that covers a multitude of sins and believes the best about someone. Pepper in themes about turning the other cheek, forgiving 7 times 70, and submitting and you are closer to God’s idea of love and marriage.

If that was preached from the pulpit on a regular basis, there might be more people embracing singleness. But with the Christian divorce rate nearly equal to that of the general population, something has gone horribly awry.

We, women, want a leading man from a romance novel who will read us scripture, be our protector, and the spiritual head of our household (but he’d better lead the way we want). And since kids might read this, I’m not going to say what men want. If you enter marriage to get your needs met, you are doomed before you say “I do” because you are going in selfish with unrealistic expectations. God wants us to learn how to lay down our lives and love sacrificially. If both parties are doing that, we have harmony and God’s idea of marital bliss is achieved. But most of the time, both parties are working their own agenda and ticked off at the other for not complying.

God says He is the supplier of our needs, our protector, our safe place, and our source. While He may use your spouse to meet some of your needs, they are not supposed to be your source of love and joy. He is. Accepting that and letting your spouse off the hook is going to free you to enjoy them for who they are instead of being angry at them for not giving you what you think you need.

And here is the actual pot I discovered at the end of my matrimonial rainbow. When I killed off the fantasy and embraced a more Christ-centered view of marriage, I found joy and happiness in my marriage. There is something glorious about mutually loving another for who God made us instead of trying to force each other into a fantasy driven mold. That kind of love makes room for our flaws and throws expectations out the window. Trust me, it’s way better than the fantasy you are trying to achieve.

The Season of Self-Discovery

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

Here are some things I used to believe about myself. I thought I was patient, open-minded, loving, hard to offend, and selfless. Here is what I now know about myself, I can lose it with the best of them, and under extreme duress, an f-bomb can come out of my mouth. I can be stubborn, fearful, a grudge holder, and selfish. How did I discover these ugly truths about myself? I got married, and there is nothing like marriage to flush our carnality to the surface.

While my confessions, especially about the f-bombs, may shock you, let ye who is without sin cast the first stone. I am the local Christian marriage counselor, so I know for a fact even the most spiritual of us can lose it with our spouses. Why is that?

We enter marriage with expectations of our spouses, ourselves, marriage, sex, etc. When reality hits, it’s like Pandora’s Box has been opened, and ugly things about ourselves and our mates come flying out. This leads us to believe we have married the wrong person. After all, aren’t they bringing out the worst in us?

Newsflash: our spouses can’t bring anything out of us that isn’t already in us. And if we decide to own our own stuff and quit blaming our partner, this is a way to unpack some of our baggage. For those of us in ministry, this is invaluable. We don’t want our flaws damaging those we have been called to serve. Marriage is the thing God often uses to develop our character to carry His anointing better. I need that. So do you. Even when it’s challenging and humbling.

Bill Johnson, pastor of Bethel Church, points out, “many mistake successful ministry as a sign of God’s approval of their private life. But character is a supreme issue with God. His righteousness and character are not built into us by our own efforts. It is developed when we quit striving and learn to abandon ourselves completely to His will.”

I translate that to mean, just because I’m successful in my efforts as a Christian therapist, it doesn’t mean God’s proud of my selfishness or f-bombs. They aren’t okay. But He loves me and desires I give up on myself. I need to bend my knee to Him and quit asking Him to change my spouse. I should ask Him, instead, to change me. To build His character into me. And let His grace empower me in my weaknesses.

God is always working to make us more like Jesus. Frankly, before I was married, I thought I was getting close. But since I can’t picture Jesus losing it and throwing an f-bomb, I have been forced to admit I have a long way to go.

How about you? Is the pressure-cooker we call matrimony causing all sorts of ugly to come boiling to your surface? Divorce is not the answer, because at least half the problem is within you. Bend your knee to God and ask for help staying in, instead of looking for reasons to get out. And when all else fails, call me, your friendly neighborhood, still growing in this thing, Christian marriage counselor. After all, with a track record like mine, you know I won’t judge you!

The Rabbit Hole of Why

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

To Jesus of Nazareth, who so longed for our trust He died for love of it. ~ Brennan Manning

I am supposed to be writing a series about marriage right now, but in light of recent events, I just can’t. One of our beloved therapists, Tina Porter, just lost her 19-year-old son, Aaron Porter Jr. in a car accident. He was a track star from Marion High attending Indian Tech. As a community, we grieve with the Porters. As a friend, sister in Christ, and colleague, I just can’t wrap my mind around this.

I remember at the close of 2017 my cherished mentor and President of the Caring Counseling Ministries Board, Cheryl Smillie, looked at me and said, “2018 is going to be the greatest year we have ever had.” Less than 4 months later she was gone in a senseless tragedy.

You know folks, sometimes life just sucks. I wish I could say we Christians are immune to this stuff, or that we hold some secret answer that makes the pain go away, but we don’t, and we aren’t. This world is hard on its inhabitants. Today, I feel ground up and spit out as an onlooker of such suffering.

Truth be told, when Cheryl passed, I came close to hanging up my Christian counseling spurs. I was mad at God and didn’t want to represent Him anymore. Scandalous but true. I began questioning if He was even there. Last night, in the aftershock of the Porters loss, I started to jump down that rabbit hole again. The rabbit hole of “why, God, why.”

But here are the things that grounded me when I lost Cheryl, and they hold me fast today. I know God exists and I know Jesus is Lord. I know that because I know Him. He found me and saved me when I was a strung out drug addict suffering from withdrawal in a jail cell. He is real, and His power is real. I can’t get past that.

Here is what else I know about my very real God. I know He is good. He has to be good, He sent us Jesus. This is the scripture that anchors my faith when I want to jump down the rabbit hole: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

On days like this, I want a gospel that says “God demonstrates His love for us by not letting us suffer.” But that is not what it says. On this side, we suffer. And like it or not, bad things happen to good people. I don’t believe this is God’s will, I think it’s part of living in a broken, fallen world. For some reason beyond me, Jesus is God’s answer to our suffering. How strange it is to have a God who personally knows what it feels like to lose a son. I know He grieves with the Porters, as do the rest of us. I ask you to join with Caring Counseling Ministries as we pray for the Porters.

The Ugly Seasons of Marriage

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

I was a marriage counselor before I was married. I used the best marriage books for my guide. I taught about Love Languages (Chapman), and the need for Love and Respect (Eggrich). Then I got married. Everything I thought I knew went out the window and I had to go to the Bible for answers.

Surprisingly, the Bible has little to say about marriage. I can summarize it like this, be loving, sacrificial, and respectful. Have terrific sex, often, but only with each other. Don’t marry an unbeliever, but if you are married to one, don’t leave them. God hates divorce. Oh yeah, and in 1 Corinthians 7:28 Paul tells us if we get married, we will have troubles. I picture Paul writing that with a grin on his face.

Saying you will have troubles in marriage is like saying the Grand Canyon is big. Nobody would dispute that, but you don’t realize how big that canyon is until you see it. Previous to matrimony I would tell my clients marriage was hard. The best marriage books said so. Then I got married and discovered how hard it can be. I felt blindsided and exposed to all of my weaknesses and faults. I couldn’t help but think “this person brings out the worst in me.” I started questioning myself and God.

I had run into what the Apostle Paul so eloquently understated as “trouble” in my marriage. We all do. It’s normal. One of my favorite quotes about marriage comes from a former client. She said, “I wish I would have known it would be this hard, and I wish I would have known that it’s okay that it’s this hard.”

It’s okay that it’s hard. The level of difficulty does not indicate you need to divorce, it demonstrates that you have hit an ugly season of marriage. Or maybe you started off that way and can’t seem to find your footing. That’s also normal.

Our problem is we live in an instant gratification culture. We want pleasant and easy, and we want it fast. When things don’t happen that way, we are quickly disenchanted. We justify the disenchantment that leads to divorce by telling ourselves, “I love him, but I’m not in love with him.” Folks, I hate to inform you, love is not a feeling.

Love is a commitment. It involves sacrifice and determination. It is often gritty and painful. It doesn’t look like something you see in a Hallmark movie or Hustler magazine. It looks like a lonely Man dying on a cross. It says “I choose you.” Through the good, the bad, and the ugly seasons.

This is the first in a series on the ugly seasons of marriage. As a marriage counselor and wife, I’m qualified as both a war correspondent and combat veteran. If you are contemplating a divorce, I ask you not to lawyer up until after this series is over. And always, always try marriage counseling before you go for a divorce. Some of the richest marriages I see come after an ugly season that leads to marriage counseling. My own included.

The Enemy in the Mirror

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

When it comes to being offended, people generally fall into three categories. The easy-going folks, the prickly “everyone is an idiot or out to get me” crew, and the “I suck and I’m to blame for everything” people. It’s the last group I’m addressing today.

If this is you, you are offended at yourself. This problem often starts in childhood. Maybe an overly critical parent or school-yard bullying. Something caused you to develop a shame-based identity. Symptoms include copious, unnecessary apologizing, an over-use of “should” statements (I should have, I shouldn’t have), guilt, low self-esteem, and an inability to forgive yourself for mistakes.

I see this daily. Beautiful people, genuinely kind and talented individuals I think are great, but they hate themselves. I think, “What’s not to like?,” but when I point out their attributes, I am shot down by their inner-critic. Their strong-hold of self-loathing is impenetrable.

News Flash: If you are a self-loather who can give grace and mercy to others but can’t forgive yourself, you are a perfectionist. It’s turned inward instead of outward, but it’s perfectionism just the same. Perfectionism and self-loathing are peas in a pod. Trust me, if you fix one thing you hate about yourself, you will raise the bar in another area. This needs an intervention!

Since we have identified the problem, we can go to the Bible for the solution. We don’t have to look past the letters in red to discover that Jesus does, indeed, tell us to be perfect. In Matthew 5:48 he tells us to “Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Uh oh! Does that mean your quests for the unattainable and self-loathing are justified?

Let’s look at the scripture in context. Matthew 5:43-48 falls under the heading of “Teaching about love for enemies.” Right before Jesus said to be perfect, He was talking about loving your enemies. “I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” Then he says to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. Restated, the way to be considered perfect by God, and to act like God’s child, is to love your enemy.

For you, Self-Loather, your biggest enemy is you! You wouldn’t dream of saying the things you say to yourself to anyone else. You wouldn’t even think it about them. The harsh, abrasive comments and beliefs are reserved for you alone. You are literally your own worst enemy. The devil wound you up years ago, and now you are doing all of his work for him. It’s time to let yourself off the hook and love your enemy.

I can’t emphasize this enough; You Are Not What You Feel!! If you feel like you are Napoleon it doesn’t mean you’re him, it means you have a problem. Just because you feel like you suck, does not make it true. Jesus lives inside you, and He’s incredible. Therefore, you can’t be anything but awesome, because He’s bigger than you. So get in the mirror, look at yourself, and tell you that you forgive you for being human. Learn to love that enemy in the mirror, and you will become perfect in God’s eyes. Go on, it will make your Father proud!

Our Cosmic Stalker

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

An analogy by Bill Johnson has stuck in my head. He loves watching his kids play sports. He gets their team jersey, puts their name on the back, and sits in the stands to cheer them on. Whenever they make a play, he stands up, waves his arms above his head, and yells “Who’s kid is that?!” He compared this to the way God watches us. Enraptured by our antics, wildly cheering on our victories. Proudly yelling, “Who’s kid is that?!” when we get it right. Telling us to get up and try again when we fall.

I love that, and I believe it’s true. So did King David. In Psalm 139:3 he claimed God was “intimately acquainted” with all his ways. And in Psalm 139:17-18 he said God’s thoughts of him were immeasurable and compared the frequency of those thoughts to the grains of sand on a seashore. I think we can all agree that’s some intense focus on God’s part.

But in case you are thinking God only thought of David that often, let’s look at what Jesus said. In Luke 12:7 Jesus tells us God has the hairs on our head counted and numbered. I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of hair. And I shed (my husband gripes every time he has to clean it out of the drain). Yet, according to Jesus, God is so intently focused on me He knows each time I lose a strand.

The fifteenth-century theologian, Angelus Silesius, made this profound statement, “If God stopped thinking of me He would cease to exist.” Before you go yelling “Blasphemy,” let me qualify that. Included in the attributes of God are the facts that He is omniscient (a fancy way of saying all-knowing) and omnipresent (everywhere at all times). Guess what? That means God, by His very definition, is thinking of you. All day. Every day.

That used to freak me out. I pictured God as some Bi-Polar Cosmic Stalker. Some days I thought He liked me, but mostly I imagined Him frowning at me and shaking His head. In my mind, He was always itching to smite me. In fact, I thought Jesus was the only thing that stood between me and a good smiting. I kid you not. That’s how little I understood God’s love, Jesus sacrifice, and the gift of grace.

Check this out, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in His grace, freely makes us right in His sight. He did this through Christ Jesus…He makes sinners right in His sight when they believe in Jesus (Romans 3:23-24&26).”

Do you understand what that is saying? God’s a Cosmic Stalker alright, He can’t help Himself, because He is mad about you. Not mad at you. Your faith in Jesus has made you right in His sight. You are never alone, and He is always on your side. And if there are jerseys in heaven, guess who’s name would be on the back of it? Now you’re getting the picture. So next time you forgive someone or pray for your enemy, listen real close, and I bet you hear Him yelling, “Who’s kid is that?!”

No Plan B

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

Can you mess up God’s plan for your life? Most believers would probably answer yes to that question. But before you rush to answer, let’s dig a little deeper.

I understand where this idea comes from. When I first became a believer, I would hear others sit and talk about God’s “perfect” will versus His “permissive” will, and if you didn’t follow His “perfect” will He had to re-calculate His plan. I pictured God as some Cosmic GPS, always having to adjust our route. That left me with more questions than answers.

How do you surprise or disappoint an all-knowing God? If He knows you are going to do the same stupid thing 17 times before you never do it again, do you think He’s upset or excited you’re on the way to freedom? And if you aren’t factored into the plan for your life, screw-ups and all, is it a good plan or a lousy plan?

Religion has taught us to be scared of wandering off God’s perfect path, and this fear makes people neurotic. How do I know that? I’m a Christian therapist. I know what fears make people unstable. I know those who teach it aren’t trying to hurt people. But it’s harmful. I have clients who fear they messed up Jeremiah 29:11 (I know the plans I have for you, not to harm you, but to give you a future and a hope). If you believe you have messed up God’s good plan for your life, trust me on this, you are not that powerful!

Don’t believe me? Let’s see if you believe the Bible. King David said, “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book (Psalm 139:16).” That means God knew about David’s “Bathsheba Incident” beforehand and still had a good plan for David’s life. His son Solomon said, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps (Proverbs 16:9).” There is no asterisk directing you to a footnote that says *void where prohibited.

Here is my favorite: Ephesians 3:10-11: “God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display His wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. THIS WAS HIS ETERNAL PLAN, which He carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

God knew in advance Adam would mess things up. Adam was never the answer. He knew you would mess things up because you were never the answer. The eternal plan has always been for Jesus to be the answer. It shows off God’s power to the enemy when He takes your screw-ups and uses them to transform you more into the image of His Son (see Romans 8:28-29). Trust me, the Gospel really is good news!

So get up and get over yourself. You have not out-sinned God’s grace and made Him regret ever calling you in the first place. He already knew you would be a mess, and He has plans to give you a divine makeover through it, and that is a really great plan.

Dear Church, Please Quit Stigmatizing Mental Illness!

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey, LCSW

I am on a mission to talk about things the Church considers taboo. Today’s topic is mental illness. The term conjures up visions of straight jackets and asylums. Many Christians think it is caused by anything from a lack of faith or hidden sin to demonic possession. These beliefs are killing people because where there is a stigma, there is a reluctance to get help.

First, I want to demystify the term “mental illness.” The brain is an organ. Like other organs, it needs optimum conditions to thrive. Just as too much sugar can lead to diabetes, too much stress and other adverse conditions can cause the brain to suffer. While psychotic disorders get the press, they are the rarity. The most frequent forms of mental illness are depression and anxiety.

Let’s take your average believer, Joe Smith, and expose Joe to prolonged, extreme stress. If Joe’s blood pressure went up his church family would insist he see a doctor. If medication were needed, there would be relief that his condition was under control. No one would tell Joe he has a problem with his faith, question hidden sin, or suggest deliverance prayer. If Joe had a stroke, he would have the full support of his church body. His family would have casseroles brought by and prayer support.

Let’s take the same scenario; only instead of it affecting Joe’s blood pressure, it triggered a major depression. Initially, he would get support and scriptures to stand on. “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” However, depression causes problems with concentration and motivation, so his usual faith go to’s don’t work. Joe feels condemned by that and begins to question his faith. As his condition continues, the questions start. “Joe, is there anything you need to confess?” That results in more shame. If Joe goes to the doctor and gets medication for his depression, it is perceived as a crutch.

That leaves Joe depressed, ashamed, and without understanding support. His view of life has changed, because he has depression goggles on, which causes hopelessness and an inability to see a better future. His family is frustrated with him, and don’t understand why he can’t just ‘snap out of it,’ which furthers his desperation. Under these conditions, suicide starts feeling like an option. There aren’t many casseroles and prayers coming to Depression Joe. Now, make Joe a church leader. That makes the problem exponentially worse because he’s supposed to have the answers. He can’t let people know he’s suffering. He begins to wear a perma-smile, while inside he feels like dying.

Joe begins hiding behind his faux smile, aka “the mask,” and trying to fake it till he makes it. The charade is draining, which increases his stress. More stress fuels the depression. He now has a self-feeding cycle of shame, hopelessness, and stress from hiding his illness.

Well-meaning people try to cheer him up. But you cannot cheer someone out of mental illness. It’s like giving Joe a band-aid when he’s got an internal bleed. Their results fail, and his friends get frustrated. Joe knows people are tired of his condition and want him to “pull himself up by his bootstraps.” That causes him to isolate. Joe is in serious trouble.

This is not hyperbole. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports “Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience mental illness in a year. Approximately 1 in 25 experiences a serious mental illness that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.”.

That means in your average small group of 10 people, 2 of your friends are battling mental illness. In a congregation of 100, 4 of the members have a severe mental illness. They are possibly considering suicide. If only you could see past their mask…”Everybody say Praise the Lord and shake someone’s hand.” Joe, who just shook your hand, is pondering how he would take his life if he had the nerve.

I see this every day. I am blessed and privileged to see Joe without his mask. He comes and tells me about his shame and hopelessness. I listen and pray for him. He knows he’s not judged and leaves feeling a little lighter. As I earn his trust, we begin talking about the hard stuff. Joe may even talk about his faltering faith, hidden sin, and spiritual oppression.

See Church, it’s not that your views are always wrong. They are uneducated and incomplete. The triggers of mental illness can be stress, genetics, trauma, unresolved grief, chronic pain, or hormonal changes, just to name a few. Sometimes it is spiritual; sometimes it’s physical or situational. Medication may be needed to lift the symptoms enough to administer spiritual truth. People who use medication are not weak; they are determined to survive what is trying to kill them.

While the causes may be legion, the commonality is that it is always a soul-sucking, life-robbing illness that can be fatal if left untreated. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., and people won’t get help if they feel ashamed. There is a mandate laid out in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” What’s the law of Christ? That we love one another. Not judge, not fix, love.

Church, its time to eradicate fear and ignorance and be authentic and relevant. Just like sexual assault survivors found solidarity in the Me Too movement, people need a safe way to come forward. Everyone can stand together and say, “I’m Joe,” and feel amazed at how many are standing with them. If the Church were to make people feel safe, it could probably put me out of business. That’s okay. I’m sure Jesus would find something for me to do.

Okay, Joe, I’ve laid the groundwork by opening the dialogue, the next step is up to you. Drop your mask and be honest about your condition. Call me, call a friend, call someone. If you are feeling suicidal, the people at the Suicide Hotline, 1-800-273-8255, are always there to listen. Pick up the phone Joe. It is time to stop suffering in silence!