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Sam Sheppard speaks at the start of Mental Health week.

So I’ve been trying to think of a funny way to lead into this talk. As anyone who’s heard me speak a few times will realise, certainly anyone in my own church will realise I like to lead in with something funny, something interesting, something to kind of ease us in. I just like having a laugh with it really I like it more, I think you like it more I think it makes this bit where you sit and get spoken at. Basically a lecture, if we’re honest. I think it makes this whole religious lecture experience more enjoyable for everyone and I want us to feel relaxed and I want us to enjoy ourselves.

The problem is its kind of hard to find something funny to lead into mental health disorders. Because I suppose you could say illness isn’t funny, and that’s probably a reasonable opinion.

Most of you who know me will know that I suffer from anxiety.

But I thought there was one story that was pretty funny that gives a good sense of what living with anxiety is like for me.

A month or so ago I took a wedding for St Michaels and All Angels in Windmill Hill, tricky place to get a good picture of by the way. I was covering for Andrew their vicar who’s a mate of mine.

And they were a great couple. Couldn’t of bin easier, and they had a gorgeous baby girl who was brilliant through the whole service. Everybody read well, everybody did their jobs really well, even me in spite of myself. And it just couldn’t have gone better, I loved it.

So after they’ve all gone and the church is tidied up and locked up I go get in my car and I sat there for a minute and thought that was brilliant. That was the best wedding i’ve ever done, that couldn’t have gone better.

I sat there taking a moment feeling pretty please with myself.

And then it occurs to me, what if thats the best wedding I ever take? What if every wedding I take sucks compared to that one what if I never do a good wedding again? What if i’ve peaked? Was it really that good? Did I actually mess up the whole thing? Maybe they hate me now. Maybe they’ve always hated me maybe they’re talking about how bad I was what if I did the paperwork wrong. maybe they’re not even married. I’m a terrible priest.

It’s not always that extreme. I wasn’t having a good week.

That was the same week that in a meeting with other clergy in the deanery, friends who I trust, I concluded they all actually hated me on the grounds that the coffee machine was making weird noises. See what I did there, grounds, coffee.

Its not rational.

And some people say you have to laugh or you’d cry I’m not sure that’s true I think I have to laugh because its funny.

It’s not an exact science but in very broad boxes I would say that I have generalised anxiety disorder, which basically means I can become irrationally worried or frightened.

And Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Which basically mean I think I’m fat and ugly. Regardless of whether I am or not.

For the most part I’m able to manage mine. It’s not constant it comes in waves, sometimes its worse than other times, and most people don’t notice there’s anything wrong when i’m bad, unless i’m really bad but thats really pretty rare.

It can be brought on by stress or tiredness or by things in my life upsetting me but sometimes it just happens, nothings wrong nothing seems to provoke it.

And I’ve always been like this, as far as I can remember. I can’t remember a time, even back to when I was five six years old, when I wasn’t like this.

And i’m not telling you this because I want your sympathy or because I want you to treat me differently I really don’t. I’d be quite upset if this caused anyone to treat me differently.

I’m telling you this because I’m trying to break something.

I’m trying to break the silence that I’ve experienced in Church. I’m trying to break the image of good Christians being mentally healthy. I’m trying to show you a church leader with a mental health disorder.

And it surprises people when they find out, because I don’t seem anxious. I seem big and loud and charismatic and thats because I am. My anxiety doesn’t define me its not who I am. Its something I have not who I am. I don’t want you to treat me like someone with anxiety. I want you to treat me like Sam.

Love me or hate me or think I’m an idiot I don’t really care. but whatever you’re opinion of me I want it to be based on who I am not a condition I have.

One in four people suffer from some sort of mental health disorder at some point in their lives. Which means that roughly a quarter of this room have experienced it personally, and probably pretty much

everyone will have experienced it second hand, a friend or family member. Its a statistical inevitability.

So pick four people in the room. At least one.

You might not know about it, they might not talk about it. They may never admit it to anyone. They may be one of your closest and oldest friends and have never told you.

I think that’s particularly true for Christians because Christians often feel like they’re somehow failing in their faith by having a mental health disorder.

I never spoke about it because I was embarrassed, because I was ashamed. Because I was worried about how people would react, that it would call my faith into question.

I certainly never spoke about it in church. Because in Church you feel like if I admit this i’m admitting that i’m not doing christianity properly. Like i’m admitting some sort of sin, like I don’t trust in God or i’m failing somehow.

I felt like my anxiety was sinful.

And it may seem ridiculous to you, I hope it does. You may think that that’s ridiculous that no one would ever say that. And in most church’s you’d be right. They’d never say that, but by not saying anything its implied.

One in four people have a mental health disorder yet the Church doesn’t talk about it.

This leads to Christians not talking about their mental health, feeling embarrassed, ashamed, like they’ve failed God.

Our silence implies sinfulness, our silence on the topic implies that something is wrong. The fact that nobody says anything made me feel like everybody thought it was sinful, weak.

I can’t remember a single time i’ve heard a sermon on mental health. A single time I’ve heard it from the front.

I can only think of one church leader who I’ve ever seen publicly admit to a mental health disorder and he did it nervously and quietly, timidly really. And I don’t mean that as an insult because I’m talking about a man I love but he felt ashamed of his depression, he was frightened of talking about it. Why?

We don’t think its sinful. We don’t think that people with depression, or anxiety, or anorexia or anything have failed God.

We don’t think that do we?

But the fact that nobody spoke about it, the fact that it was a secret something I felt I couldn’t talk about made me feel I was doing something wrong.

We don’t think that.

If you do you’re wrong.

And frankly its bad theology.

If someone breaks their leg we don’t think that they’ve failed God. If someone gets cancer we don’t say that they’ve failed God.

If someone has to take statins to lower their cholesterol we don’t think they’ve failed God.

So why would we think someone has failed God because they have to take serotonin to manage their depression? Why would we think

someone has failed God if they’re brain is lying to them about their body? Its the same. Its illness, and the theology is the same as any other illness.

So I want to say to people here who don’t suffer a mental health condition, treat a mental health disorder in the same way you’d treat any other illness. Be sensitive, be kind, pray for them. Love them.

One of the best things about being a part of a Christian community is that we support each other through the difficult times. That we hold each other up when we can’t hold ourselves up. You get me through when I can’t get myself through and that’s what we’re supposed to do.

1 Peter says above all love one another. The Apostle Peter telling us that above all other priorities and activities, more important than everything else we should love one another. Thats what this community is for and when people are going through mental illness they need your love not your awkward silence.

The Christian community should support people through mental illness not make them feel like they’ve got to hide it.

So talk about it, ask how someone is. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be awkward. Just be kind.

And to those who do or have suffered with mental illness I want to say something to you directly.

You are not broken, you are not worthless, you have never been forgotten. You have not failed God. You are not unreachable.

Sometimes it doesn’t feel very good, sometimes its difficult, but Gods always gunna be there no matter what. In our reading today, even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Sometimes it’s going to hurt, but thats okay, its okay to hurt. Its okay to not be okay. It’s okay to struggle. Some days its hard to get up and go to church, believe me I know, and on those days, you got here. On days like that you got here and that’s enough. You made it, well done.

And if you don’t make it, that’s okay we’ll try again.

If you’re able to manage without medication well done, you’re brave you’re strong God be with you, I don’t take the pills I have reasons for that ask me later if you’re interested. But if one day you decide you need the pills, well done, you’re brave and you’re strong, God be with you. May he bless your pills, because its by his grace that we have them. It takes a lot of strength and bravery to admit that you need help.

You don’t have to hide. You don’t have to be ashamed. We love you. God loves you.

I don’t know why it hurts, I don’t know why i’m like this. I don’t know why you’re like this. Maybe its because of trauma or experience, maybe its not. I don’t know.

But I know God can make good out of pain. God is a God of resurrection and restoration. God is a God who meets us in our weakness and in our lows.

And God can use your wounds. God can use you, not in spite of your pain but because of it. He can use the scars.

Henry Nuowen said “Nobody escapes being wounded. We are all wounded people. Whether physically, emotionally mentally or spiritually. The main question is not how can we hide our wounds? So we don’t have to be embarrassed, but how can we put our woundedness in the service of others. When our wounds cease to be a source of shame and become a source of healing we have become wounded healers.”

Your wounds don’t make you less valuable. You’re wounds don’t change how God see’s you or make him stop wanting to use you.

God takes weakness and makes it strength. He’s the God of weakness.

And he showed that through his ultimate victory, God’s victory was in his greatest moment of weakness on the cross. His greatest victory the world saw as defeat. And after his resurrection he had to prove to one of his disciples his legitimacy. He had to prove he was really the messiah. Do you know how he did that?

He showed Thomas his scars.

He showed him his scars from his crucifixion.

Jesus wasn’t embarrassed by his weakness. He wasn’t embarrassed by his scars. Because his weakness was used to redeem the world.

Our God’s a God of weakness.

God can use your weakness to help others. He can use your weakness.

I don’t know why it hurts. But I know God still wants us, I know God’s still there when it hurts.

I know God loves us, even the bits that hurt.

I know that the Church is meant to hold us up and love us in the hard times. I know that your illness doesn’t make you a bad Christian. But it has to be okay to talk about these things/

Don’t hide, don’t be embarrassed. And don’t be ashamed of your scars, because Jesus isn’t ashamed of his.

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