He shall hide me in His pavilion;Psalm 27:5
In the secret place of His tabernacle
He shall hide me;
He shall set me high upon a rock.
“Don’t hide away!” “Get out and about more, it’s not good to be alone!”
How many times have you heard this? Should we, as people with mental health disorders, listen?
Well, I may not be saying this in the same way as many of my fellow Christians, but though I agree with them in mind and spirit, I would put it differently to some of them and say that no, we should not always listen.
Being Part of the Community
Yes! When people tell you that it is not good to be alone or that hiding yourself away is not a good idea, then by and large they are correct. For a man or a woman to be constantly secluded in their own little world is dangerous, not only for those with mental issues but for anyone.
One can head off into undesirable thoughts and watch and do undesirable, even sinful, things. A person, in this day and age, may watch a lot of TV or spend a lot of time on social media – and bear in mind that watching TV and even talking with people on social media is still being alone in some deep sense even if communication is maintained.
I myself love music. I started listening to music as a child – The Wombles of Wimbledon Song and such like! – and in my teenage years took to music greatly. I would spend hours listening to music alone (and, in the early 90s it was rather de rigueur to smoke cannabis whilst doing this) until I started hearing messages in the music. And then? My first hospital admission came when I was 20 years old. No, hiding away is not good.
Being Part of the Body
Even as I grew to know Christ I would still hide away a lot. I would still spend hours alone in my room, listening to music – though for a time much of this music was Christian or semi-Christian – and I would stay away from church for many a week, sometimes for lengthy periods.
Being alone away from the Body is not good. Even the monastic life – which I do approve of in many respects – was one of community. (Personally I prefer the Celtic Church form where, I believe, monasteries were retreats and mission centres for evangelism and ministry carried out by the monks in the world rather than the monks being taken totally out of the world.) And even the ancient way of the hermits was often done not with a total retreat from society but as a purifying experience after long years of a monastic life and often were still attached to a monastery from which monks would often come to the hermit.
Yet a monastic life and especially a hermitic life is for very few and most of us are called to be part of the church in the context of still being in the world (the community around us). Note the following from Psalm 27:
One thing I have desired of the Lord,Psalm 27:4-5.
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord,
And to inquire in His temple.
For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion;
In the secret place of His tabernacle
He shall hide me.
Here we see the words “in the house of the Lord,” “inquire in His temple,” and, “He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me.”
I am reliably counselled that the safest interpretation of this verse in these times of the Church is that these terms I have emphasised in bold refer to the Body of Christ; His Church, and specifically for us, a local church.
To be a member of a local church and to engage in regular fellowship, especially but not limited to the Lord’s Day, is a vital part of being a follower of Jesus Christ. It is, after all, His ordained means of protecting and nurturing believers and a faithful minister of a church will do those things through his preaching and shepherding and through the mature saints who are also members. (Private prayer and the reading of the Holy Scriptures are also vital means.)
When we distance ourselves from the assembling of ourselves together we become vulnerable to the wiles of the devil, as I myself can painfully testify, and this assembling cannot be replaced by phone calls, emails or social media.
When we need time alone
Sometimes, though, time needs to be spent by oneself. Sometimes this may be unavoidable – I live in a flat by myself and oftentimes I am forced to be alone. In such times we need to remember that the Lord is still with us; He watches us when we are in company and when we are alone, when we are awake and when we are asleep: his care and love for us does not waver if we have given ourselves to Jesus.
Other times it may well be beneficial for us and others for us to retreat to a quiet place. This can be especially true for some of us with a history of mental health problems.
If we are prone to anger we would do well to retreat if we feel our anger will spill out at another person unrighteously. “The wrath of man does not produce righteousness.” A few moments or even longer away from a potentially explosive situation is not wrong and is actually a very good policy.
At other times we may feel a panic attack coming on and a few moments alone in prayer and reflection may help calm us down.
At other times we may find a social situation overwhelming and at such times retreat into a room by oneself or out into the garden may help. This may even be true of a church service, though if one is able it is good to remain in a church throughout a service. Sometimes I have found that staying in church for the whole service becomes so difficult for me that it is best to step outside for a little while before returning into the service.
If you find that this has helped you in the past try to do so without causing disturbance or offence to another if possible; I try to pick a convenient moment to hold off until, rather than missing a sermon or a Scripture reading and I now tend to sit towards the back and toward the end of a pew if I am able as this enables me to go outside briefly before returning. Sometimes that would not be possible and if I am invited to sit with a brother I will tend to do so rather than unnecessarily excuse myself from sitting next to him, yet I am still able to give myself permission to go outside if needed.
Returning to Being with People
Whatever the situation, unless it is one where you are being severely tempted by the surroundings and need to leave permanently it is best not to stay alone for too long before returning; just long enough but no more (especially true of a church service.)
It is better to do this personal, temporary retreating than end up having an extremely distressing time which may cause you to be fearful of attending such events again.
And, as time goes on you may find that such times of excusing yourself get less frequent and of shorter timespans. One important thing whatever necessitates your retreating to be alone is to remember the Apostle Paul’s words to “pray without ceasing.” When retreating to be by yourself do not get lost in your own flights of fancies or worryings but rather pray quietly to the Lord, even silently if that is most convenient such as if you are in a public place such as a front porch or outside the church. That can be difficult sometimes, I know, but try to build that practice of prayer into your everyday life in every place and time.
In most things in life it is good to have balance. To be constantly or predominantly alone can be harmful and to be constantly seeking to be with people can be harmful, especially if we end up seeking out the company of ungodly people in pubs and in clubs, for example.
As people who have suffered much from mental disorders we can find it hard to be wise and discerning in these matters, but most of the time seeking a healthy balance is a good way forward.