Addressing the Notion of “Praying Away” Mental Health Conditions

In many Christian circles, regardless of theology, there is the belief that you can often pray your troubles away. There is a belief that you can pray away financial troubles, family issues, physical illness, and yes, mental health issues as well.

While I am very supportive of praying for people who go through these different types of issues,[1] I think that it is extraordinarily important for me to use my past experiences with mental health issues to address the notion that it’s not always as simple as praying your mental health issues away, or that you are subject to condemnation if prayer doesn’t take away your mental health issues.[2]

You see, I was once one of those people who believed that if I prayed long enough and hard enough, any stress or anxiety I felt about my life would just go away. And honestly, in many of those cases, that was the case.

However, around the time of my grandpa’s death last fall, I discovered that suddenly, it wasn’t quite that easy. Far from it. To the contrary, no matter how much I prayed, I felt like I was sinking more deeply into an abyss of mental health issues. In response, I prayed all the harder, and yet I continued to struggle with unwelcome, unpleasant, and upsetting thoughts and ideas, best known as intrusive thoughts.

For a time, I suffered in silence—without a doubt the absolute worst thing I could’ve done at the time. I was worried about condemnation from others if I told anyone—condemnation for being a freak, for being weird, for the fact that I didn’t pray hard enough for all of this to go away, for the fact that I somehow didn’t rely on God enough. The last two of these fears, of course, relate to this notion that you can just “pray it away” and that there’s something wrong with you if you are not able to do that.

Thankfully, I was lucky to have a circle of loving family members and friends (most of whom are Christians, by the way; these people probably know who they are and these people mean the world to me) who didn’t condemn, who didn’t subscribe to the aforementioned beliefs about mental health and prayer. As a result, while my mental health is not always perfect (intrusive thoughts do make a comeback from time to time, seemingly around times of great change in my life), it has never reached quite the lows that it did around the time of my grandpa’s death.

If I want people to learn anything from my story, it would be that, regardless of whether you believe in the power of prayer (I certainly do!), sometimes mental health is more complicated than praying the sickness away, and we are being unjust to ourselves and others if we think it is always as simple as praying something away. Sometimes, it’s significantly more complicated than praying and requires support from family and friends, counseling, and/or therapy. And you know what? That’s okay.

So for anyone out there who is trying to pray the mental health condition away but you feel like you’re failing at it, as I was, just know that you’re not a freak, you’re not condemned, you’re not having issues with “failing to pray hard enough,” and you’re not alone.


[1] I’m a believer in Christ and proud of it. So yes, I am supportive of praying for people who are going through different varieties of struggles, because I pray for people going through different struggles all the time!

[2] If anyone is wondering what the “blind injustice” is, it’s that there’s a widespread belief that there is somehow something wrong with you if prayer does not cure you of your mental health issues.

Men and Mental Health

As some of my readers know, I’ve had some experiences with intrusive thoughts, which is when one struggles with unwelcome, unpleasant, and upsetting thoughts and ideas. These experiences led me to write about mental health from a faith (Christian faith, more specifically) point-of-view a couple of months ago.

Writing about mental health from a faith perspective is important. However, given the sobering statistic that 77% of those who die by suicide in the United States are men, as well as the fact that we are in the midst of Mental Health Awareness Month, I think it’s important to have a discussion about men and mental health.

The thing about men, at least in the United States, is that we have expectations connected to our gender identity that make it problematic to be open about our mental health. We’re taught to be tough, strong, not show weakness, not be vulnerable, and confident, to name a few. Characteristics required of us in order to improve our mental health when we’re struggling mentally—vulnerability, weakness, seeking help—are not “manly.” Attempts to live up to those ideals of being a man can, if we’re not careful, keep men from opening up to their families, friends, counselors, and therapists (that is, if one gets to the point of getting counseling or seeking therapy—as getting counseling or therapy is seeking help, doing so may not be considered “manly”).

Now, in my case, I thankfully had men AND women in my life who helped me confront those stereotypes about men before I had my bouts of intrusive thoughts. However, I have known other men in my life who’ve struggled with those stereotypes and struggle with mental health at the same time, and I can say this—it’s not easy.

I don’t have all the answers to male suicide rates, but I do think that we need to start by making it okay for men to be vulnerable, and for men to seek help. I think that Olympic Swimmer Michael Phelps’ openness about his own past struggles is admirable and breaks many stigmas about men and mental health, but we need more Michael Phelpses in the world. We need to make it clear that it is okay for everyone, including me, to not always be okay. We need to make it clear that it’s okay for a man to struggle mentally and emotionally, and that it is okay to ask for help with our mental health.

National Suicide Hotline (United States): 1-800-273-8255

International suicide hotlines from the International Bipolar Foundation can be found here.

Want to Keep Your Catholic (or Non-Catholic Christian) Faith and Have Been Abused by the Church? There Are Places You Can Turn to.

A couple of weeks ago, a grand jury report stated that over 300 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania sexually abused more than 1,000 children.

For me, this report was a punch to the gut emotionally. As a practicing Catholic who, for four years, had deep ties to one of the dioceses mentioned in the report (Diocese of Harrisburg, during my time at college), it would be an understatement if I said that the report was difficult to take.

Yet, in spite of the difficulty of even thinking about (let alone writing about) those in my own denomination perpetrating such horrible wrongdoings, I think that it is important to talk about this matter. Namely, it is important to dedicate my first “blindly just” post to organizations that are working in Catholic circles, or in non-Catholic Christian religious circles, to help victims of sexual abuse.

The purpose of this post is not to go into one of the “oh…look at the fact that not all Catholics/non-Catholic Christians are abusive” types of messages. No, the purpose of this post is to: a) attempt to be a resource for people who love their Catholic (or non-Catholic Christian) faith but have been hurt by sexual abuse within Catholic/non-Catholic Christian institutions and b) show to advocates on this issue, regardless of faith, some faith-based allies in the battle to confront sexual abuse in the Catholic Church (and other spaces) that many of us might want to consider working with.

Organizations doing this good work include, but are not limited, to:

  1. Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP)-SNAP was started in 1988 by Barbara Blaine, a victim of sex abuse by a priest. Since then, SNAP has worked to help survivors and those vulnerable to abuse, while at the same time advocating for various reforms to help curtail abuse in the Catholic Church and beyond. They have everything from their own hotline to support groups to advice on choosing a therapist. http://www.snapnetwork.org/
  2. Road to Recovery-Road to Recovery was founded in 2003 by Robert Hoatson. New Jerseyans may be most familiar with him as a candidate for governor last year, but he was actually once a priest who was suspended from performing priestly ministry because of his tireless advocacy for victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church (and is now no longer a priest). He and Monsignor Kenneth Lasch (who is still a priest, albeit a retired one) have an organization dedicated to, among other things, providing services to victims of abuse, offering referrals, advocating for victims of abuse, and providing direct and indirect services to victims of abuse. www.road-to-recovery.org
  3. Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF)-They provide Christian counseling to people in need at three different locations across the United States. This is more on the counseling side of things than the advocacy side of things, but counseling is still an important resource in confronting sexual abuse. https://www.ccef.org/
  4. AdvocateWeb-From what I can tell, AdvocateWeb is, above all else, a site dedicated to providing a wide range of resources to victims of sexual abuse (and even some resources for family and friends of those who were abused). Think of AdvocateWeb as a database of resources for those who have been abused, instead of simply being a resource all by itself. Speaking of being a database of resources, they have a whole page dedicated to Christian organizations and groups dedicated to helping to address sexual abuse. So, if you’re not satisfied with any of the previous three resources I gave, maybe a referral from this fourth resource might help. Several clergy people (albeit I’m not sure of denomination) are on their Advisory Council. http://www.advocateweb.org/

These organizations, all of which have deep ties to Christian faith (and with the top two, more specifically Catholic Christianity), do not negate the damage that’s already been done by Catholic clergy. However, these organizations are hopefully of help and hope to advocates, as well as people who want to keep their faith but struggle because they were abused by someone within their own churches.

“Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”? When (and If) to Say Which One

I am a Christian. Therefore, with all due respect to whomever I date or marry someday (if God calls me to do that), Jesus will remain my most important love in my life.

And yet, I believe that that saying “Merry Christmas” to someone is not always the right thing to say during this season of the year.

My previous sentence is controversial to many Christians, some of whom are good friends of mine. From my understanding, much of the controversy involves the desire to “keep Christ in Christmas.” There is a fear that, by replacing “Christmas Greetings” with “Holiday Greetings,” our society will forget the reason for the season: Jesus Christ.

And you know what? If you’re talking with someone else who you know is Christian, or someone else who you know celebrates the holiday (whether the person is Christian or not), “Merry Christmas” is the appropriate thing to say. So for me, a Christian, I am perfectly content with the “Merry Christmas” greeting, though I wouldn’t get upset if someone said “Happy Holidays.”

Speaking of “Happy Holidays,” that type of greeting is most appropriate to say when you literally have no clue what holiday or holidays someone is celebrating. Through the “Happy Holidays” greeting, you are saying something which covers whatever holiday someone else is celebrating, whether it be Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Day, some combination of the four, or none of the four.[1] Furthermore, by saying “Happy Holidays,” you avoid giving a holiday greeting that offends someone’s religious sensibilities (for example, saying “Merry Christmas” to an observant Jew who does not believe that Jesus was the Messiah is unwise). In the end, as controversial as the “Happy Holidays” greeting may be among some Christians, that greeting is actually meant to be sensitive to the fact that not everyone shares my beliefs.

In some instances, neither “Merry Christmas” nor “Happy Holidays” is an appropriate greeting to say to someone. This may come as a shock to people who are passionate about the debate between the two greetings. If you’re talking with someone who you know is Jewish, “Happy Hanukkah” is the most appropriate greeting. While I know some Jews who celebrate Christmas as a cultural holiday, I also know other others whose religious sensibilities would be offended by someone saying “Merry Christmas.” Therefore, “Happy Hanukkah” is the proper greeting for a Jewish friend or family member.

In all instances, when we give holiday greetings to people, we should give the type of greeting which corresponds to the religious sensibilities of said person, even if you don’t share all of the person’s values. And, if you don’t know the religious sensibilities of the person you’re talking to, “Happy Holidays” is probably the best catch-all greeting to give at this time of year.

[1] In instances when someone doesn’t celebrate any of the holidays, you can still give a “Happy Holidays” greeting. From my family’s experiences, people who don’t celebrate any of the major holidays still respond respectfully to “Happy Holidays.”