By Hannah Brzozowski
*This blog was adapted from Hannah's message, Therapy and Theology, on 5/14/23. You can listen to it on our podcast here.
I remember it clear as day. I grabbed my phone and went into a closet at my church office and closed the door. I was literally shaking when I googled the number and left a message. The contents of the message, you ask? “Hi, my name is Hannah Brzozowski. Umm...My husband and I were looking to possibly make an appointment for some um… marriage counseling. My number is….”
I hung up the phone and stepped out of the office to see if anyone had heard me. To see if my boss or co-workers had seen me strangely making a secret phone call in a closet. Thankfully - they were nowhere to be found. I couldn't believe that it had gotten to the point, that I, a "strong" Christian, needed counseling.
I did it. I took the first step in getting help.
Something was clearly off in our marriage but also in me. I didn't know it at the time but that one phone call, would be a huge step for me in getting healthy, mentally, spiritually, and physically. I had decided to take back control - even though it was shaky. Even though I wasn’t fully confident in myself. I did it.
I’m not sure where you’re at today. Maybe you're like I was - terrified of therapy because that meant that there’s something wrong with you, or you’re a huge champion for therapy and mental health but you don’t really see how God ties in with any of it.
Wherever you land today, we have a problem in our country and in our churches.
19% (estimated 48 million people) suffer from Anxiety Disorders.
21% of people experiencing homelessness in the U.S. have a serious mental health condition.
37% of adults incarcerated in the state and federal prison system have a diagnosed mental illness.
Trauma is all over the place: 1 in 3 women have been sexually abused; 1 in 6 boys.
Oh and to make matters worse, 30-40% of churches think mental illness is only a spiritual issue.
It not only affects us today, it’s always affected mankind since the very beginning. Throughout the Bible, we see people who struggled with their mental health. There was Saul, who most likely had bipolar disorder. Samson was suicidal. Legion was demon possessed - which most likely meant mentally ill. David, Jonah, and Job all had depression. Even Jesus, himself, was called insane by people.
When reading these stories, we see some who are able to push through and others who don’t and ultimately come to their own demise.
I want you to imagine with me… you were just at the center of two miracles. Two miracles that no one can say weren’t from God.
The first was fire coming down from the sky and burning up everything after being completely doused in water.
The second miracle was praying for rain to come after a three-year drought. After you prayed, the rain came.
In addition, you know that God let you be pivotal in both miracles coming to be. And both miracles demonstrated God's mighty power to everyone.
But, the people aren't repenting. They aren't worshiping. There's no great revival.
Instead, they want you dead. In fact, you have a bounty on your head for one day from today. You have done everything you can possibly think of to try to accomplish your goal: winning this country back to God. You can’t think of how this will possibly happen now. If these two major miracles didn’t do it, it’s an impossible task that you’ve been given.
Have you ever felt like this? Felt like you’ve done EVERYTHING possible to succeed. EVERYTHING that’s in your mind to spread the word about your business or tell your family member about Jesus or push your nonprofit forward or you’ve tried everything to get your kid to listen to you. There’s nothing else to do.
To make matters worse, you are the person that everyone thinks is doing great. After all, God's used you so much in your life. How can you ask for help when everyone assumes you're just fine?
So what do you do? Well if you’re Elijah, the guy we’re talking about today, you run. And when you finish running, you say: “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”
How many of us have had enough? How many of us have said - I can’t do this anymore? There’s nothing left in you to give.
In this blog, we get to see how God healed Elijah during his mental health crisis.
1. Collect the practical tools.
1 Kings 19:5-9:
“Then he lay down and slept… But as he was sleeping, an angel touched him and told him, “Get up and eat!” He looked around and there beside his head was some bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water! So he ate and drank and lay down again. Then the angel of the Lord came again and touched him and said, “Get up and eat some more, or the journey ahead will be too much for you.”So he got up and ate and drank, and the food gave him enough strength to travel forty days and forty nights to Mount Sinai, the mountain of God.”
The angel here gave Elijah some very practical tools to start to feel better. He gave him water, bread, and rest. For us today, it could be as simple as eating better or drinking some water or it could be something deeper that we need.
That’s where therapists come in. They can help us and give us practical tools to overcome the issues in our minds.
Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. Proverbs 15:22
Over the years, I've gotten a lot of practical advice from my therapists. Tools to help me in the journey of life.
Here are just a few tools and insights I've gained:
My feelings are like whispers because I’ve pushed them down for so long. So I have to listen really carefully to them or they’ll explode.
I’ve been able to do some EMDR therapy to help get past some trauma. This is something that I couldn't do on my own. I needed a trained professional.
She’s given me advice about boundaries and friendships. I shouldn't share everything with everyone. There are some things that I should just share with a few, others that I can share with about a dozen, and then the least to the crowds.
Sleep hygiene is important. Your bedtime routine matters. This means being intentional about screen time before bed and preparing your mind for sleep. If you don't face your anxieties from the day, you'll just worry about those same things at night in your dreams.
But it doesn’t just work for me… A study found that between 60% and 65% of people experienced significant symptomatic relief within one to seven psychotherapy sessions. This number increased to 70%-75% after six months, and 85% after one year.
The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out. Proverbs 20:5
If you're in the midst of a mental health crisis, get the practical tools you need from a mental health professional! If Elijah can accept help, so can you.
2. Listen for the whisper.
“But the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”
We see here that Elijah needed that experience with God. He needed that moment away from everyone and everything.
A year ago, I decided to confront someone from my past about abuse that I had suffered through for years.
After I did this, I was criticized by "Christians" and my reputation was dragged through the mud.
I was left questioning why God let things happen. Why did he allow me to be criticized by people I loved? Why did people I cared about betray me? Why were so-called “Christians” calling me a liar and spreading nasty rumors about me? Why was the person responsible for the abuse still in a position of power?
I’ve never been in a position where I questioned God so much. I was so confident that I did the right thing in speaking out. So, why didn’t God keep his end of the bargain? Why didn’t he come through for me?
I stopped speaking to God for a few weeks. I couldn’t handle reading my Bible because passages like Matthew 18 were being used against me. I couldn’t handle praying because I was left so desperate for answers that weren’t there. It was a very dark time in my life.
Then one day, I was alone and I decided to spend time with God again. I worshiped - even though the words didn’t come as easily. I asked God "why", even though I didn’t expect an answer. I cried, I prayed. I cried again. Then, in the midst of asking God again - "why didn’t you do anything?"
In the midst of the chaos going all around me in that season, he whispered clearly to me - “Hannah, I did do something years ago. I got you out of there. I got you out of that toxic environment. I got you out of the city, even. I took you hours away to Champaign. I got you a new home - the one you’re in right now. I got you friends that care about you. I got you a healthy marriage."
In the midst of our mental mess, God’s there. But, we have to slow down and actually listen to the whisper.
And in the midst of Elijah’s mess, God was still there in the whisper. He wasn't in the storm, the wind, or the earthquake. He was in the stillness of the whisper.
If you're in the midst of a mental health crisis, take time to listen to the whisper of God in your life.
3. Face the truth.
And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”He replied again, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” Then the Lord told him, “Go back the same way you came, and travel to the wilderness of Damascus… and anoint Elisha…to replace you as my prophet…. And I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!”
Elijah thought that he was on his own. He thought he was the only one in the entire country that was God’s prophet.
But we see in the chapter right before this, that there were actually 100 prophets that Obadiah hid and kept safe. In the passage above, we see that there are 7000 other people who are devoted to God in Israel. Elijah wasn’t the only one. But he definitely felt like he was.
How often do we lean way more on our feelings than we do the truth? We can think everyone is against us. When in reality, there are a few. We can think that everything is failing. But actually, you did really well last week.
From personal experience, I know that we shouldn’t ignore our emotions. But if we are guided by them entirely, they can get us into trouble.
Think about a time recently when you thought destructively like Elijah. Maybe you thought you never do anything - you don’t have a life. But you went on vacation last month. Or you think you don’t have any friends, but a friend just snap-chatted you. What is the 100 prophet truth that you need to remember?
For me, last summer, I had to remember that some Christians did believe me and some did stand up for me. Even though in my mind, all I could think of was the ones who didn’t.
I needed people in my life reminding me of that - by sometimes just their actions of showing me love during this season or my therapist, reminding me.
She didn’t just remind me of this truth, there’s been multiple times that she’s spoken the truth to me in difficult moments. Times when my feelings were telling me other things that just simply weren’t true.
Get up and get the nail clippers.
Maybe you've thought throughout this blog, why should I pay for a friend?
You're not alone. I used to think this too.
But, think about nail clippers.
The scene goes like this: I'm on the couch, all cozy with my blanket, my dog, and my snacks. I look down and see that I have one of the pesky little hang nails again...I know the right thing to do is to get up and grab the nail clippers. But it's so far away. It's going to mess up my evening. I don't want to get up. Instead, I decide, "I can handle this myself! I don't need those stupid nail clippers." Then about a minute later, blood is everywhere. Why? Because I didn't go out of my way to get the tool I needed to take care of the issue.
Just like nail clippers, therapists have the right tools to help us with our trauma and mental health. They can come along and give us a less painful, better way of handling it than we do by ourselves.
Maybe you can just talk to your friends. But, your friends might just rip it off. They might pick apart your trauma and believe that they are helping you. But they don’t know what they’re doing. Sometimes, we need a professional to help us.
Do a mental health check-up now.
I want you to take an honest moment and evaluate how you’re doing mentally.
Are you sleeping well? Or are you barely getting any rest?
Are you hanging out with friends or avoiding social situations?
Are you talking to friends and family about your problems but they are still not getting better?
Is there a past trauma that you need to deal with that you keep thinking it’s going to get better if you ignore it but it doesn’t?
Have your family or friends told you that it might be time? Have you been brave enough to ask them their honest opinion?
I hope and pray that none of us reading this blog are at the point that Elijah was at in wanting his life to be taken. But if you’re at that point or close to it, I want to encourage you to get help as soon as possible.
So you think you need therapy, now what?
Maybe after those questions, you’re thinking you’d like to find someone to talk to: some tips I found helpful.
Figure out what your goals are
Ask your friends and family if they know of any good therapists.
Find a therapist that specializes in what you’re wanting. For instance, I knew that I wanted a Christian therapist to help me.
Know that everything won’t be fixed right away. Things take time.
Be ok with switching if you need to. But don’t give up.
I shared at the beginning how terrified I was to make an appointment with a therapist. To admit that I needed help. I believe the reason I felt that way was because of the environment I was in. No one around me was going to therapy. Everyone thought that friends or pastors were enough. Honestly, the culture was that only people who are really messed up have to go. So I believed that I was messed up. I believed that there was something really wrong with me.
So, I’d like to make it clear here at Anchor that we’re not a church like that. That we as a church are able to be humble enough to ask for help when we need it. We’re brave enough to prioritize our mental health so we can be there for our loved ones and we can hear God in the whisper. More than that, we know that Jesus didn’t care that people thought he was crazy so we shouldn’t either. So, I believe that it helps to know when other people have done something first.
So if you've gotten therapy or are in therapy right now, please comment below how it helped you. Let that person reading this right now know that they aren’t alone in needing some extra help!