Sometimes, in our desire to be honest about the Church’s shortcomings, we can forget one key and important message: the gospel is good news.
Not just for eternity, but for now on earth.
A recent report by Christian polling group Barna demonstrates this fact in very tangible terms. It shows that young people who engage with local churches show higher levels of optimism and lower levels of anxiety.
The report found that 51 per cent of practising Christians said they felt “optimistic about the future” compared with 34 per cent (no faith) and only 16 per cent of practising Christians said they felt “lonely and isolated from others”, far lower than those with no faith (31 per cent).
The study also found that respondents who attend a place of worship weekly were less likely to say they experience anxiety (22 per cent), than those who do not attend church regularly (33 per cent), and 28 per cent of young people often feel sad or depressed compared with 18 per cent among practising Christians.
That faith can bring hope to young people in a world which sometimes appears bleak is wonderful news. These findings are testament to the hard work and commitment of youth workers serving the needs of young people in a time of pessimism and loneliness.
Thanks to churches and youth groups across the country young people are able to access time with friends in safe places and have the chance to explore life’s big questions.
As positive as this news is, however, we can’t use studies like this to deny the mental health crisis in the UK, or to suggest that Christians are immune to psychological struggles
Mental health exists on a continuum, and while young people who attend churches may express more happiness and less anxiety, that’s not to say that they don’t or won’t experience mental illness at some point in their lives. The beauty of the Christian faith is not found in perfect lives, but in finding God in the middle of life’s joys and sorrows.
Human life is complicated and messy; the life of Jesus shows us that humanity has a full and colourful range of emotions, from anger to sadness, jubilation to dejection and everything in between. Anxiety, for example, is vital for survival - even if it’s not very pleasant to experience.
The gospel isn’t safe, it’s not a shield against mental health difficulties - but it is good because it encourages community and points to the hope we have in Jesus; that even in the darkest of times, we are not alone and not abandoned.
Jesus lived through every emotion on the spectrum, from the happiness of a wedding to the despair he felt in the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion.
Studies like this show us that the gospel is good - and they are an encouragement for us to reach out to our communities to share the hope we have. A hope that knows that whatever we face, we can find community and love in the here and now, as well as the hope that heaven will bring.
Rachael Newham (@RachaelNewham90) is the author of Learning to Breathe, a memoir and theological reflection on mental illness and the Founder of Christian mental health charity ThinkTwice.
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