“I am enjoying my relationship with the Lord better than ever”
That was a statement on my recent survey into mental health in the pandemic. I was so excited to find that 32% of people who responded agreed with that statement! Better than ever. That is so encouraging. Our God is so great, that in spite of – perhaps even because of – all the stress and change, he has shaken us up and caused us to grow and change.
Huge thanks to all who completed the survey, I got 50 responses which gave a nice pool of data to dig into!
The key findings
Many are experiencing symptoms of depression
38% of people are experiencing symptoms of a depressive episode. This is a big increase on the score for depression in non-covid times of 10%, but is in line with national statistics for mental health in Jan-April 2021. If you’re interested in the statistics about how mental health has plummeted in the pandemic, this report on the Office for National Statistics makes interesting reading. If you are one of those 38% be encouraged. You are not alone.
What was striking in the survey results, was that overall 44% described their enjoyment of their relationship with the Lord as worse than usual. This statistic rose slightly in those reporting depressive symptoms. Why? We must remember that depression is a health condition, not that dissimilar to a physical illness, like back pain. When you are in chronic pain it is harder to get out to see people, and harder to concentrate. So it is with mental health. Only because mental health struggles are invisible, we often heap a load of guilt on top of our struggles – ‘I’m such a rubbish Christian’ – whereas we would be more patient with ourselves if there was something physically wrong with our bodies.
Christians are not immune to mental health struggles
One obvious conclusion, given that everyone who responded to the survey described themselves as a Christian is that being a Christian does not make you immune to mental health struggles. Christians feel down, struggle with feeling worthless, aimless, lacking motivation and lethargy. If you are in any doubt about this check out the psalms – 34, 42, 43, 77, 88, 102. For help in this area, check out Courtney Reissig’s book, Teach me to Feel.
Many, especially men, are struggling to enjoy their relationship with the Lord
It is worth noting that although men’s mental health was slightly better than women’s, 56% described their relationship as worse than usual, whereas 41% of women described their relationship as worse. Family and living situation did not make an impact on this statistic. Men need extra support right now to help them grow in their relationship with the Lord.
Depression can help us appreciate our relationship with the Lord
What was fascinating in the survey I conducted, was that struggling with depression made no statistical difference to whether your relationship with the Lord felt better than usual. Overall, 32% of the sample data said their relationship with they were enjoying their relationship with the Lord better than usual. Of those struggling with depression, this stat held firm, with exactly 32% describing their relationship with the Lord as better than usual. Though we may feel overwhelmed by low mood, God is not overwhelmed and he can help us to grow in our enjoyment of him, through any and all circumstances.
It’s important to remember that though our relationship with the Lord might feel better or worse, actually it is unchanged by our feelings and circumstances. Our security lies entirely in the fact that our Lord gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2v14). His sacrifice means our relationship is never better or worse, it is always the best it can be. He secured for himself a people his very own. He did it by his sacrifice. We contribute nothing but our wickedness. We can enjoy it better or worse but our status as his very own people is completely secure.
Why is mental health so much worse after the pandemic? From a scientific perspective we need to consider what has changed, before we can hypothesise as to the cause.
- Isolation – we have been physically separated.
- Socialising – has been seriously limited. It has almost seemed like there are laws against having fun! Theatres, holidays, gyms, pubs, museums, restaurants, cinemas. It is harder to rest, relax and be refreshed when so many things we enjoy have been absent.
- Stess/pressure – job loss or insecurity, loss of income, key worker jobs being busier than usual, fear for health and safety of loved ones and ourselves, the list is endless as to ways in which we have been under more pressure.
What about the health of our relationship with the Lord? Why this change, so that 44% of people surveyed, and 55% of men are struggling more than usual? Again we need to remember what has changed.
- Physical church – lets be honest even if we are back to church, its not back to normal. We can’t sing, we are wearing face masks, sat at a distance and unable to talk indoors without feeling guilty.
- Singing – there is something significantly defiant about worshipping out loud. We are instructing our souls, we are getting truth stuck in our heads that we come back to later, we are encouraging one another. There is a loss here, which we should grieve. Though I also think that the persecuted church rarely have the freedom to belt out worship for fear of being heard so whilst this is a trial, it is not a new one for God’s people.
- Hospitality – the early church met together in homes and ate together. They also must have shared their needs with one another as we read in Acts 2v44 that they gave as anyone had need. You cannot meet a need less you know it exists. It has become all too easy to hide in the pandemic, to hide our sin, our needs and even our own selves. When someone comes into your home (or your space if you’re flat sharing!), they are seeing you, really as you are. In your native habitat. This is lost when we meet on neutral ground such as a park. We need to get back into the habit of letting one another into our homes and by extension our lives. Sharing the gritty stuff, wanting to fight sin and see victory over temptation. Check out Carolyn Lacey’s brilliant new book ‘Extraordinary Hospitality (for ordinary people)‘ for help in this area.
How can we grow?
Overall the survey data encouraged me. I think I guessed that many people were struggling, both mentally and in their walk with the Lord. But I’m encouraged that these two don’t have to correlate, that 32% of people through the changes in the pandemic have grown in their relationship with the Lord. I don’t know exactly why. What I do know is that attendance at midweek Bible study groups has risen by 1/3 in our church, I suspect a combination of easy access being online, lack of competing social engagements and a need for connection with others as many of us are wfh.
We cannot underestimate the importance of forming and maintaining supportive, warm, and trusting relationships with others. This is an area that I personally have been praying into, and working hard on recently. I hit a real crisis point (see this blog) over Easter and realised how introverted and lonely I had become as a result of the pandemic. God really challenged me through the story of David and Jonathan that I needed to cultivate honest supportive friendships in which I was willing to be vulnerable. I have been so encouraged by what a difference it has made to my whole life, connecting and investing in just 2-3 key friendships. This has looked like diarying in time and forcing myself to reach out when I’m struggling. It’s looked like meeting to pray on zoom each month, and forcing myself to meet people ftf even when I can’t face it (pardon the pun). God created us to need one another. That takes time, it takes organisation and it takes a willingness to dive onto WhatsApp rather than under the duvet when the mood dips.
I think for me, being more connected, relationally is the key way I could grow. I really want to be part of that 32% enjoying their relationship with the Lord better than ever. In fact more than that, I want to pray that figure would grow. That over the next few months we would all be able to say I am enjoying my relationship with the Lord better than ever!
How about you? In what ways are you, or could you, be growing personally through this time? I’d encourage you to take some time to ask ‘what’s changed?’ in your life. To see whether that has impacted your mental health and your walk with the Lord. And to consider what would help you to be able to say ‘I am enjoying my relationship with the Lord better than ever.’