Tag Archives: the church and mental illness

Griselda Escobar: Everyday Theology and the Ordinary Task

She says she does not know when it began. She cannot pinpoint what caused it. She could not recall the first time she realized it. All she knows for sure is where she is now.

Life has become overwhelming.

The work that once filled her heart with passion became difficult to fulfill. Preparing lunches, making schedules, and following those schedules somehow transformed into too much. Times of enjoying the moment and the family she loves felt scarce. Her child’s laughter –which makes her smile as she thinks of it–could not change the feeling. The continual support of a loving husband were not lifting the weight.

What happened? she asked. How did I get here?

As time went by she has tried different approaches and sought for answers to help her deal with her feelings. She has kept praying. But at times she continues to doubt herself, her feelings, her faith.

Her God has not changed though. And she has become amazed at how God continues to mold her faith . . . in the everyday ways.

In 2nd Kings 5 we find the story of Naaman,  a powerful military leader in a vulnerable place. He was not accustomed to being out of control. In fact, he was always in control.

Here Naaman finds himself in an uncommon situation, a situation completely out of his control: he has contracted leprosy. He is in desperate need of healing. His wife’s servant girl refers him to the God of Israel.

Out of resources, out of control, he goes. He starts at the palace with the king, but leaves empty handed. He’s then referred to the prophet Elisha, who doesn’t even go out to speak to him in person, but sends a servant to relay the message.

Elisha tells Naaman to do an ordinary task in an ordinary place. He is not sent to a special location renowned for its healing miracles. No one promises him an extraordinary experience.

Instead God simply told him, through Elisha, to go and bathe himself seven times in the Jordan.

Naaman goes away angry. He is thoroughly unimpressed with the prophet of Israel. “’I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?’ So he turned and went off in a rage.”

What kind of healing involves just ordinary basic hygiene?! Where was the drama? Where was the flair? Had his servants not intervened and convinced him to try these simple instructions, Naaman may never have been healed.

But God picked an ordinary way to heal him. Here in this ordinary place, doing an ordinary task, in the presence of only his companions, God brought a miracle. Naaman’s healing reflects the sacredness of the ordinary in the hands of an extraordinary God.

Mental illness can be a hard thing to talk about. It is often not discussed, especially by those dealing with it, because it carries a different stigma than being diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease, or hypertension. So it stays hidden in the shadows far too often, with sufferers cut off from resources and people who might help them. In the church especially, our silence and judgment has damaged those who most need us.

The stigma around mental illness might be similar to the stigma that accompanied leprosy in biblical times. Leprosy was viewed as a punishment for personal sin. Today, in many faith communities, depression or other mental illnesses are viewed as a result of a lack of prayer or faith or even because of a “bad spirit.”We turn away from what we don’t understand.

The embedded theology in this stigma around mental illness says that those who struggle with mental illness or love someone who does are being punished by God–or at least forgotten, cast aside, like damaged goods. It says that we are to blame for the illness we are experiencing and our ongoing struggle only testifies to our lack of being “right with God.” If we really loved God (or God really loved us), we wouldn’t be wrestling with this illness.

Unraveling the embedded theology around the stigma associated with mental illness unmasks it as completely false. We do not worship the One who hands out illness, whether  heart disease or depression, cancer or bipolar disorder, as punishment. We worship the One who is near to the broken hearted, who reached out to those everyone else had shunned, who brought healing to people who suffered from all kinds of illnesses. The more we expose the lie of the stigma, the more we shed light on the truth of God’s love and grace.

Today the woman at the beginning of this story is receiving the help that she needs and joy has begun to seep back into her life, especially in the gratitude of ordinary tasks. She has begun to enjoy family game night and movie night. Her laundry room has become holy ground; the act of washing dishes has become a sacred act.

Her home is the holy of holies and she has grown grateful for this process and the family who will experience her healing as witnesses of God’s power. The ordinary tasks of daily life have become a reflection of a loving God. There is no ordinary work, task, or place with an extraordinary God.


Griselda Escobar is an ordained minister living in Corpus Christi with her husband and son. An experienced chaplain, she enjoys serving God in different church opportunities through preaching and working with women and children.