Be Careful What You Wish For

We can speak better of the faith journey with God when we boldly share the hard bits

Only in Ireland would your church leader corner you in a pub to ask if you'll preach.

In hindsight, I should've known I was opening the door wide and essentially volunteering myself. I received a lot of positive feedback about my article on mental health, my desire to see the church address it more and my own struggle with life-long (and often debilitating) anxiety. Though it took me several years to feel open and safe enough to share my story - particularly the breakdown at age 20 which punched my ticket into the world of mental illness - I feel the privilege of listening to and praying over the stories of others.

Depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and other mental illnesses are not as uncommon we think, especially in the church, and it's this rare sort of spiritual gift God granted me that informs much of my faith journey.

So when one of our church leaders approached me in the pub - relax, it was a going away party - it was this gift he wanted to hear more about, not just in writing, but (as I wrote last month) from the pulpit and in front of the church. 

The irony wasn’t lost on me that my female peers were trained to preach, but not allowed to do it.

Now, I don't want to split hairs, but when I took a preaching class in Bible college, women weren't allowed to major in pastoral studies, let alone call it preaching. Instead, we called it "Message Prep for Women" and I'm happy to report I received an A, a half-grade higher than my future minister husband. Of course, I had no interest in being any type of minister, or ever really preaching. In fact, most of my experience with preaching since then has been waving from the back of the church when Matt's message has gone on too long and it's time to call it a day.

But the irony wasn't lost on me that my female peers were trained to preach, but not allowed to do it. And though I've spoken in many churches since then, it's only been informally as Matt's wife or for a women's brunch or - heaven forbid - in children's church. I never really expected to be asked to preach in Ireland, on mental illness or any other topic. But I was, and next month, I will.

So why is this a big deal? Because his asking and my saying yes speaks volumes about three very important things:

1. Church leaders - at least the good ones - listen. We talk about mental health in our small group all the time, and I often correspond with people about it. But rarely has a pastor or ministry leader asked my opinion on it, let alone invited me to preach on it. Our leaders are listening; it's up to us to speak up.

2. My church values mutuality. I wish I could say I grew up in an egalitarian environment where I heard women speak as much as men. And though the most influential teachers in my life were women, they rarely had the clout or the permission to preach from the pulpit. Many Irish churches are leading the way in women's full inclusion in the church. 

3. Mental health is a vital component of spiritual health, not the other way around. My earliest memories of anxiety were coupled with my fear of eternity, and the breakdown I experienced at 20 came smack in the middle of my biblical studies. I had always assumed - and been taught - that mental health was in direct proportion to spiritual health, and if I struggled with the former it was a direct result of my immaturity in the latter. 18 years on, I know now that it is not true. It is an important part, yes, but just one part.

Spiritual authenticity requires an honesty in matters of mental health. They are not unrelated, but rather they are two parts of the same body, sisters in the family of faith.

I can speak better of my journey with God when I boldly share the hard bits, the mysteries, the doubts and the fears... which is what I will do come the end of July when I preach with Matt, because even I still need an assist every once in awhile.

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Karen O Huber

Originally from Kansas City, Karen is a freelance writer and expat mom now living in Dublin, Ireland. Together with her husband and three children, they work in community development, the local church and creative arts.