Growing up in an Oklahoma Christian family gave me a foundation and solid teaching which prepared me for living and working in Southeast Asia. With loving parents and good church leaders, I was confident that I would lead a happy, successful life as long as I obeyed Christ.
In my own theology, following Christ assured happiness. I also thought that those who suffer from mental illness must be disobedient to Christ. Of course, I never verbalized these beliefs as I knew others would not agree. It was these core lies that 40 years later led me into an emotional and spiritual pit from which I could find no way out.
For the past 18 years, I have lived in Southeast Asia raising my family and serving as a nurse practitioner in a busy yet successful ministry. For me, it was a dream come true. But as we were experiencing such joy, we found many others around us were not so happy with our success, our decisions, and finally with us, period. My people-pleasing self didn’t know what to do. Things started crumbling down around us and we no longer were experiencing the success and happiness that I thought were certain to come with serving God.
My Emotional and Spiritual Pit
I remember the night I experienced my first panic attack. I thought I was going to die and had no idea what was happening to me. In an Asian hotel while my family slept, I fell to my knees in the bathroom where I spent the night in constant pain, dry heaving and pulling out chunks of my hair. Crying out to God, I felt there must be something physically wrong that needed to be fixed. Little did I know that I would spend the next year in the daily pain of anxiety and depression, not finding the quick solution I was so certain I would find.
During this time, I began sharing my pain with those around me. I shared with the few Christian brothers and sisters in Christ I came into contact with, but felt their eyes look at me like I was an alien. It felt so dark and I was sure that I was the only person in the world going through this. Some of the responses were well intended, but definitely not helpful.
“You’re a Christian, you don’t need medicine to get out of this.”
“God is pruning you!”
“She is just facing consequences for decisions they made.”
Being isolated from the fellowship of a strong body of Christ, I was thirsty to find somebody out there that was going through what I was going through and who made it out. It took a year until I was surrounded by the body of Christ in Oklahoma for a season. The first Sunday my family attended church, we hugged necks, sang worship songs, and listened to excellent preaching, but I left feeling the same. Next Sunday, repeat. Next Sunday, repeat. I waited anxiously, hoping and expecting the church to heal me and praying that God would use the church to do so. But, I left each service thinking “what about my depression and anxiety, it’s still there.” I still found myself sitting on a bathroom floor experiencing panic attacks and blaming myself for not “picking myself up by the boot straps and getting over this thing!”
That’s when I felt the church reach deeply into my wounds. That’s when the tears came and the healing began. Don’t get me wrong, over the past year there were many beautiful moments with visiting believers that helped bring healing and truth. But it took the deep consistent reaching hands of the body of believers to pull out the pain and replace it with healing.
5 Ways the Church Can Bring Healing
As I sit 3 years from this experience, I reflect back with joy and revelation at how God used the church during this desperate time in my life. I want to share with you the 5 greatest ways the church healed me from my spiritual and emotional pit.
1. I found understanding people in the church when I remained there consistently.
A God-fearing couple who had previously suffered from depression heard of my struggle and invited me over for a coffee. My prayers were answered! I found a couple who had struggled as I was and made their way out. Their wisdom and advice were like gold nuggets to me.
2. Fellow church members lovingly listened and allowed me to continually repeat my story.
Many people in the church listened to my story as I repeated it over, and over, again. Each time I shared, it became less and less painful. Some responded well, some were quiet, same gave platitudes but in the long run their response didn’t matter as much as the fact that pieces of pain fell of me every time I shared.
3. The church ministered to every member of my family.
The body of Christ surrounded my family. They listened to each of us. They invited our kids into their homes, filling their lives with much needed joy and truth. They supported my husband as the same circumstances that had hurt me, hurt him too.
There is one body, but it has many parts. It is the same with the body of Christ and all of us are needed to take care of one another. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part shares in its joy. You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:12; 12:25b-27)
4. The practice of regular worship and hearing Biblical truths changed my heart and mind.
As time went on, the worship and preaching took on more significance and filled this vessel with much needed truth, a sense of God’s love, and joy in the midst of suffering.
5. The church gives me opportunities to use my pain to help others.
Finally, and don’t miss this! I chose to use my pain to heal others. This took awhile as seeing others in pain often led me to instant tears (not helpful!) but once my healing was felt God filled me with huge amounts of compassion towards others in pain and many opportunities to help others out of their spiritual and emotional pit.
“Other people are going to find healing in your wounds. Your greatest life messages and your most effective ministry will come out of your deepest hurts.” ― Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for?
“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” (2 Corinthians 1:4)
That’s when I came to realize that the “church experience” was only a small part of the church. Without vulnerability and intimacy, I would have remained the same broken shell that walked into the church building.
It makes sense in hindsight knowing who Jesus is. We can sing our songs, listen to great sermons, and all of this is good but Jesus is REAL. Jesus goes DEEP. Jesus is LOVE with the POWER to heal. He wants us to experience all of Him, and His choice instruments to accomplish this are His children. If I remained superficial with those around me, I would remain in the same pit to this day.
“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)
Why would I chose to be so vulnerable in a blog such as this? Because my heart’s desire is that all who are in a pit find healing and I am confident that God can use the church to heal your deepest wounds.
Have you experienced healing from the church? If yes, how? Do you find it difficult to be vulnerable with others? If yes, why? We would love to hear from you! To read more from Ann Hall, check out these blogs on her site:
Meet the Author!
Ann Hall and her husband, Marc, currently live and serve the poor in Southeast Asia, where they have been the past 18 years. Along with raising their four kids, Ann is a Nurse Practitioner and graduate from Oklahoma Baptist University, with a Masters degree from The University of Oklahoma. Ann has a heart to serve others in need, especially those suffering from depression.