Worship, Music, and Spirituality: To Be a Good Friend

July 24, 2023
Friends linking arms and making hand hearts silhoutted on a grassy meadow

In the past three years, as discussions on mental health and wellness have become more prevalent, pithy sayings like “It’s okay to not be okay” have flooded social media streams. But the way social media has responded to women like Simone Biles, Meghan Markle, and Naomi Osaka, who choose to prioritize their mental health over popular expectations, proves that this saying is not really true for all. There are certain places where it is definitely not okay to not be okay. Unfortunately, for many, the church is one such place.

In many churches, there is stigma and judgment around mental health, often disguised in the false lesson that our faith should be sufficient to help us overcome any obstacle or feeling. I can think of times when I have not gone to church because I knew that my emotions were too raw to “fake fine” and too fragile to deal with condemnations. Our faith does not magically overcome obstacles for us; our faith provides us with tools to journey through them.

Through scripture, our faith reminds us that we don’t need permission to not be okay; it is an inevitable part of life. In the Bible, we meet people who are living with varying degrees of ability and mental wellness and who are being accepted by God as they are. Even the great prophet Elijah, who remained faithful under relentless persecution, found himself toward the end of his ministry under a broom tree expressing the words, “It is enough.” Elijah had suicidal thoughts (1 Kings 19:4). He was most certainly not okay. We come from a tradition of people who show emotions, who cry under broom trees and flip over tables in the temple.

Scripture also reminds us that we come from a tradition where the most faithful of people seek out God and their friends when they need help to stay on good paths. Throughout scripture, we encounter people having a rough time (like Moses, Hannah, Elijah, and Jesus) and then being met where they are at, fed, and guided toward fullness and wellness. When Jesus’ soul was “deeply grieved, even to death” (Matthew 26:36), he asked his friends to stay with him. Not to counsel, fix, moralize, or judge, but to simply stay with him while he prayed. As Christians, part of our work is to be good friends by showing tangible acts of love and support to people who are journeying toward fullness of life.

This journey will always involve many acts of care, including health care from professionals, medical treatments and interventions, friendships, and spiritual care. As a church, we are not being asked to do it all; we are simply being asked to be a helpful part of the healing journey. The following, adapted from Mental Health and Wellness: Worship Resources for All, by The United Church of Canada and the United Church of Christ (p. 26; available as a PDF), is a good place to start.

  1. Be a friend: “A friend loves at all times…” (Proverbs 17:17a). Listen without judgment and offer respect and companionship.
  2. Remember that words can hurt: “Rash words are like sword thrusts…” (Proverbs 12:18a). Pay attention to the words you use and how they affect the people around you.
  3. Stop the stigma: “We, who are many, are one body in Christ” (Romans 12:5). Challenge negative attitudes, question assumptions, and correct misinformation about mental health challenges, substance use disorders, trauma, and brain differences.
  4. Educate yourself: “Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?” (Proverbs 8:1). Learn the facts about the various challenges that can affect mental health. Remember that we all have mental health, we are all affected by mental health, and mental health is physical health.
  5. Thank God for neurodiversity: “Wonderful are your works” (Psalm 139:14). Affirm that we all process the world around us differently, and celebrate the many gifts that we each bring.

Worshipping with you,


Alydia Smith, Program Coordinator, Worship, Music, and Spirituality