“Praise to be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
What does the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles” look like as we journey through mental health challenges? While I don’t claim to know the fullness of comfort, here are a couple of ideas of what comfort can mean for us and how to comfort others.
1. Comfort is always VALIDATING pain.
Validation means to recognize, to confirm, to establish, to legitimize the worthiness of an experience, emotion or concern. So, one of the best ways to begin having comfort in any mental health distress is to first acknowledge the pain as a legitimate and worthy response. Even if our pain is coming from irrational, negative thoughts or depression, acknowledging the pain recognizes how our experience is affecting us, not that it defines who we are.
Validation is a form of compassion to feel with and say, “It is okay to feel this way. It’s not wrong or sinful to feel this way.” Validation helps to defuse the negative tension that causes the brain and body to stay in constant threat mode … fight, flight, or freeze. Actually, the more we fight against the depression, anxiety, or other stressor, the stronger it gets!
Jesus validates our pain…what bothers us, bothers Jesus! “When Jesus saw the crowds He was moved with compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless (distressed and dispirited), like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). So, Jesus wanted to be with them!
THE COMFORT FROM WITHIN: Our comfort in Christ is from within, because He said “I will be in You” (John 14:20). We can rest knowing He is within, “moved with compassion” through everything that leaves us “distressed and dispirited,” even when life doesn’t turn out like we hoped. Why?
In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul talked about a lot of pain (which can make anyone discouraged, distressed, and dispirited), but he talked about it from the context of having a treasure within (2 Cor. 4:7). Paul knew that he would still experience the human condition and its pains, however now with a new source of strength (grace). A treasure within that would be of a surpassing greatness of power providing comfort and resilience for every pressures he faced. He wasn’t left to his own will power to say, “I’m fine” (2 Cor. 4:8). So, with the powerful treasure of comfort, compassion, and a resilient love, Paul continues to VALIDATE the pains he (we) feel: “We are afflicted, but not crushed, perplexed, but not despairing …” (2 Cor. 4:8).
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have felt both afflicted and crushed, perplexed and despairing. Yet, what Paul was saying is that as humans we will have afflictions, but this treasure within won’t leave us crushed. We will be perplexed with confusion or even doubt, but this new source of treasure within won’t leave us in despair. This treasure within is Christ within us for every life harassment and feeling of helplessness! God validates our human condition, our pain, and gives us new source, a treasure within, with surpassing greatness of power for comfort, resilience and hope.
2. Comfort is always AFFIRMATION that we belong.
Affirmation is both stating a fact and offering support and encouragement! Mental health stressors, like depression and anxiety, naturally lead us to doubt our identity, worth, God’s nearness or even our security with Him (e.g., “I’m not good enough”). You know what the best comfort for this is? The supportive presence of others with very few words … even silence! Why? Because presence reaffirms belonging, it reaffirms we’re loved no matter what, not based on what we have to do to earn it. So, sometimes God may seem silent, because maybe He is just reaffirming He is present without trying to explain away our pain (Psalm 34:18). Comfort is knowing ultimately we belong to Him!
Jesus came to affirm who we are! Jesus didn’t come to show us how lost and broken we were, He came to affirm us how loved we were! Being lost was not about being orphaned in darkness, it was that we belonged all along!
THE WORTH OF BELONGING: In Luke 15, we find three stories about a lost sheep and the shepherd who leaves the 99 for that one lost sheep! The second story is of the woman who has ten silver coins, but loses one. She turns on a lamp and goes throughout the whole house until she finds it. Then, we read about the prodigal son who squandered his inheritance but came home to a father running out to embrace him and continually kissing him (regardless of all the pig muck all over him!). Why is this important? Because …
A. The sheep, coin, and son always belonged! They were part of an original flock, a full collection of wealth, and a loving family. They belonged and getting them back was all that mattered! The shepherd, the woman, and the father did not feel complete without them!
B. The sheep, coin, and son never lost their worth! At no point in the story did they lose their original value. They belonged and seeing them returned to embrace their worth was the priority. Even when the son thought he had lost his worth, the father was ready to welcome him back into the worth he had all along!
C. The sheep, coin, and son parables were for the religious, not the lost! Jesus told these stories in response to the religious leaders (Pharisees and scribes) who were grumbling about Jesus, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). Jesus was conveying that he saw a people harassed and distressed, helpless and dispirited and He wanted to be with them. God was not complete without them! He was conveying His love for us and that we are worth everything to Him, even His own life! That we have always belonged to Him!
AND each story ends with a celebration … because His joy is now complete. What was once lost, never lost its worth or belonging and has returned to rest in satisfied love! That’s what the joy of salvation is about … BELONGING! “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid, for the Lord God is my song and strength, and He has become my salvation. Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of your salvation” (Isaiah 12:3-4).
Do these concepts eliminate the distress? No! What they do is provide comfort throughout the process or journey. We learn for ourselves and then naturally know how to comfort others!
How have you seen and experienced comfort in these ways or other ways through your mental health journey?