In my part of the world, the classic joke/metaphor about God’s role in the real of life:
The hurricane was headed straight for his community. The man prayed for God to protect him in the storm. The storm raged on, winds began to howl and the waters began to rise. The man again prayed to God to protect him. Just then the local law enforcement came by and told the man to leave and informed him as to the safest route. No, I’m staying. God will protect me. The storm grew worse. Later as the roads became impassible the National Guard came by to take the man to safety. No, I’m staying. God will protect me. Soon the waters became too deep, forcing the man to the rooftop. Rescue helicopters flew over, dropping down a lifeline. The man refused certain that his prayer would be answered. The storm grew worse, the man perished.
Upon arriving at heaven’s gate, the man, now angry demanded to know why God didn’t answer his prayer.
God’s answer: Who do you think sent law enforcement and the National Guard and the rescue helicopter?
In light of recent suicide of entertainer Robin Williams, the storm of mental health and everyone’s place in it are once again front and center. Many are questioning God and church in the process.
I have experienced a personal family member’s loss to suicide. I have pastored congregations where suicide has touched our membership. I currently serve a church in a community where local youth have taken their lives at an alarming rate, higher than the national average. I am acquainted with this pain at many levels.
Two years ago, the editor of the local paper wrote that “we” were not doing enough. He specifically called out churches as not doing enough. Perhaps he was using the editorial pen as his bully pulpit. Curious, considering the subject matter.
I called him. I asked him how he knew what churches were doing, I asked if he had visited any or polled the ministries there to know. He quickly confessed he had not, but was only speaking from the collective “we”.
Failure to accept accountability takes many forms. Our congregation decided we wouldn’t live under the collective “we”. We did not take the position of the praying man in the storm; rather we considered the possibility that we might be God’s answer to someone’s prayer of rescue.
- We spoke openly from the pulpit and church publications about mental health issues. We initiated a network of resources where folks could get help, ask questions, find assistance and maintain confidentiality.
- We invited mental healthcare providers to have booths at the church-led community events. While families gathered by the hundreds for an open to the public Easter egg event, the presence of the providers gave them permission to seek out and make appointments. Some did.
- We now keep a current list of mental health providers. We do not hesitate to refer or recommend. We are a congregation that readily acknowledges both the spiritual and the clinical components of successful treatment and care.
- One young man on the heels of a failed suicide attempt landed, literally, on our church doorstep. We immediately called the mental health unit of the county sheriff’s department.
Thankfully, the local teen suicide rate has eased somewhat, but I am hypersensitive to this crisis. Williams’ actions and the volume in response via social media renewed confirmation the storm is still here.
Faith communities should continue to pray, yes, but to also be willing to see themselves as at least partial answers to the prayers from the storms.
Accepting should lead connecting persons to the qualified places that can assess and take proper action.
That may be what answered prayer looks like for the church in this storm.Photo by Shameek.