Church shouldn’t be a safe space for your problems
It is coming up to two years now since I was officially diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Since then I feel that my thinking has largely been caught up in figuring out the best ways to live and maintain a good level of wellbeing.
Throughout this process I’ve also come to notice strong support for the idea that men (more so than women) need to be making a habit of speaking more about their emotions. That it is something we must place much of our focus on when dealing with mental health.
This isn’t necessarily wrong as most behavioural therapy (in my experience) first begins with the laying out of problems and considering their implications before taking action against them.
Yet as a result of now recognizing the importance of this process and the damage particular gender norms have placed upon many male psyches (specifically being emotionally stunted), we now give an enormous amount of praise for simply just sharing emotional states.
As with anything in life, when we focus on one particular element we lose touch with others. We’re now misidentifying a shift towards emotional incompetence for growth, blindly praising people for just sharing their emotions.
In the process, our problems are becoming ‘worthy’ of praise and traits within our character that should not be displayed but are not dealt with.
(I’ll be clear hear to avoid any unnecessary triggering - opening up about struggles is vitally important, is extremely hard in a lot of cases and is something I would never discourage. My warning here is that of overindulgence in practice.)
David did a lot of complaining
To lament is to actively express to another a feeling of sadness, distain, frustration or helplessness experienced over a particular situation. Whether it be personal stressors, collapsing social conditions or natural disasters.
Lamenting is essentially a form of venting that we likely experience in some form every day.
David in the old testament was no stranger to lamenting, with many of the Psalms that he wrote expressing similar emotional states or responses to his and his people’s conditions at the time.
“My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God.” (Psalm chapter 42, verse 3)
David did not shy from sharing with God and the readers of the OT his circumstances and subsequent emotional state, becoming (rightfully so) in turn an example of a man being more emotionally vulnerable and available to others.
So yes, we should certainly follow David’s model of lamentation here. So long as we follow it in full.
As most Psalms written by David also demonstrate, his lamenting is always followed by a recognition of God’s sovereignty in any given situation.
Do we dare deny God his sovereignty?
We all know people who when given the chance to vent will take full advantage of an open ear to spew forth all their problems to another. Only taking a hasty breath every so often so that they might not lose the momentum their lament is generating, taking advantage of every ounce of the others patience.
Their problems are possessively watched over. They’re in essence the culmination of their problems and as a result are nothing but negative to be around. Further still, their problems have become their god’s.
While they may not deny God exists, in practice they ignore the reality of God’s sovereignty over their lives by allowing circumstance to dictate their response to hard times and sufferings.
David in the 14th Psalm lays out the criteria of a fool as someone who “says in his heart “There is no God.”” (verse 1). The fool is not someone who laments over the darker elements of our existence, but who in the process of doing so fails to acknowledge God as sovereign over it.
In relation to men specifically sharing about their emotional struggles, the Psalms encourage us to carry on. We’re told to do it even when it comes to regret over our mistakes/sin:
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Mathew chapter 5, verse 4)
But do not allow suffering to make you blind to the goodness of God. For although “weeping may tarry for the night… Joy comes with the morning” (Psalm chapter 30, verse 5), and only the fool fails to receive that joy.
We must be careful to not let a spirit of oversharing overshadow the attributes of God and enable people to lead emotionally selfish and driven lives that fail to recognize the sovereignty of God.
Church is not a safe place for our problems, because when entering church, we enter into the house of the Lord, whose sovereign hand resides over every element of our lives.
Challenge the man who wallows in pity and celebrate the one who acts in spite of his wounds.
Isaac Claasen is originally from Christchurch but grew up in Auckland on the North Shore. If not studying, spending time with friends or watching NBA he is most likely reading a book pretending to be an intellectual.