A Prayer for Mental Health

The following e-mail arrived today from a priest:

Hello Deacon Greg. We do not know each other, but I stumbled upon your website today. I am asking, please, that you pray for me and give my name to others who have a ministry of prayer. I am a 51-year-old priest and have terrible terrible mental health issues. Greg, I am pretty desperate. I have sought out loads of help over the years and have honestly tried to get better but my condition is so severe, I literally need a miracle. I have profound misery in my brain, major memory and concentration issues and hissing in both ears. I know that all things are possible with God. Please pray for healing. I am grateful. God bless you.

I assured him of my prayers and then decided to post it here, to put this out there as an intention. Please pray for this priest. Ask your friends to pray for him. Carry him with you for a decade of the rosary, or for an hour before the Blessed Sacrament. And please remember, in a special way, all priests, bishops, deacons and religious who struggle with depression. (Two decades ago, Cardinal O’Connor composed a beautiful and fitting prayer for priests that we should all pray from time to time. Priests need our prayers more than we may realize, for problems we may not imagine.)

We’ve all known despair, depression, anxiety, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness at one time or another. Mental illness has also touched my family, very closely. But reading this priest’s words this morning moved me in a particular way and sent me searching on the internet for some words of consolation.  I know, in days past, I’ve asked St. Dymphna to intercede on behalf of those I love.  I wondered if there might be anything more contemporary that would speak more directly to the world we live in today.

Well, the Holy Spirit never fails. After a little hunting, I found this Prayer for Mental Health and offer it for reflection. It can be prayed privately, or in community. The woman who wrote it notes:

A friend asked me to write a prayer that Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries could circulate to churches (check out their website for some great resources and events). As someone who struggles with depression, and has witnessed family and friends also wading through the mire of mental illness, it was a task I was eager to undertake. Mental illness carries a heavy weight of stigma and misunderstanding. In reality, it is both subtle and pervasive. It is varied. All of us swing somewhere on its pendulum. This prayer is intended to reveal Christ’s presence within the pain and difficulty we all experience. Then, out of that state of sympathy, we can pray more fully for those who struggle with profoundly damaging levels of mental illness. May we pray with passion and with enduring sympathy.

Please feel free to take and use this liturgy in your church.

The bold print is to be read by the congregation. The plain print and the italic print by two different readers. The final section of the prayer may be read by either of the two readers (or both), or by a third reader. The first section of liturgy incorporates Psalm 23, and parts of Deuteronomy 31 and Joshua 1.

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The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Although sometimes we feel we lack everything. Sometimes we cannot see what you have given us through the lie of what has been taken away. Show us how to see your blessing. Show us how to see your provision when the world teaches us an economy of fear and scarcity.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.

Refresh us, Lord. Let the raging waters be quiet. Let dry pastures be watered. Let us lie down and rest without fear.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

We so often turn from your path—believing lies about ourselves, about others, about you; taking on burdens that are not ours to bear; struggling to entrust you with ourselves, our family, our friends, and our circumstances. Guide us along your path of trust and contentment.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

The valley of depression, the valley of medication, the valley of sorrow, the valley of pain and abandonment, the valley of past wrongs done to me, the valley of despair, the valley of derision, the valley of fear, the valley of waiting, the valley of misunderstanding.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of the valley in which you walk, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

Although we sometimes feel abandoned, you have not left us alone. You have not left us alone with our depression, with our sorrow, our pain, our illness, our despair, our fear, our waiting. You have not left us alone with the past wrongs that have been done to us, with the derision and misunderstanding of others. You have not left us alone. You are with us.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

With your rod, you protect us from ourselves. With your staff, you protect us from the harm of others. Your truth comforts us, as we find our identity wholly and firmly locked up in you.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

Although we are surrounded by people who do not understand the weight we bear, the struggles we face, we gather to eat at your table. Although we suffer ignorant comments, laughter, and sometimes shame—we are worthy to eat at your table. We can eat our fill—even feast—because you have not despised us. You have made us welcome.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

You have made us worthy. You have made us chosen. You accept us with all our flaws, with all our illness and frailty, with all our failings. You have anointed us, us, to serve with you—our cup overflows with joy.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,

Surely goodness and love will follow us. Surely goodness and love will chase us down—despite ourselves, despite others, despite our circumstances—goodness and love, by the power and grace of your Spirit, have found us. And will never let us go.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Forever. In health, in strength, in love, in mercy. Forever. Amen.

The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

And as we rest in that assurance, we pray for those who live without it, and who live with the pain and stigma of mental illness. We ask that you would watch over those who live on the street, without the medication they so desperately need. We pray that you would hold accountable those systems that have let these precious children of yours down, that have left them destitute. We pray for those who are in positions of power—that, as they make policies and work to improve existing structures of care, they would faithfully and carefully consider the welfare of those who struggle with mental illness. We pray that you would prevent us from putting distance between ourselves and those struggling with mental illness. That you would grow in us the love we need to take action, and to make their struggle our own.

Comfort those who live with the darkness of depression. May we be a light in the darkness for them. Teach us to avoid false cheerfulness, and instead give us wisdom to know how to help our friends and family who struggle in this way to come up for air. To see, again, your goodness. Lord, watch over those who are, even now, contemplating suicide. Stop their hands. Send someone to intervene.

Guard our tongues from unthinking and unkind words that contribute to feelings of worthlessness. Empower us to use our words, instead, to speak for those who cannot. To proclaim your worth over those our culture denigrates. To defend the powerless, and stop others from contributing to the stigma that mental illness so often carries.

Bring the comfort only you can bring to those who have lost a loved one to mental illness. And use us to bring comfort. May we, your church, be a healing presence, a safe community, a strong advocate for the mentally ill.

Thank you for the assurance that you do not let go. That you are always with us. May we in turn extend that hope to every person we encounter.

Amen.

UPDATE: A deacon candidate writes more about St. Dymphna:

I do a lot of work with addiciton and emotional disorders and the like. I have come to fimd an awesome sister in Heaven who has been entrusted by the Church for centuries with the patronage of mental and emotional disorders: St. Dymphna.

In the past, especially pre-Vatican II era, she was invoked for mental illness but it was a “quiet devotion” because people had such a negative idea about that. I am trying to spread deovtion to her in a way we need it: the more universal and enlightened understanding of mental health.  I invoke her a lot in my ministry with 12 Step recovery and I think she is truly “a saint for our times” with an openess to a more realistic understanding of depression  and with so many broken people coming out of broken homes and siutations; so many emotional issues and disorders…

Her international shrine and tomb are in Belgium but there is also a national shrine here in the USA: https://www.natlshrinestdymphna.org/  Medals blessed by her relic and deovtional items can be obtained from the shrine and people can be enrolled in their prayer association.


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