Just Released: 2023 Annual Report // Read Now

Just Released: 2023 Annual Report // Read Now

Life is Hard – Get Out of Bed Anyway

An Interview with Alan Noble

In the introduction to his new book, “On Getting Out of Bed: The Burden and Gift of Living,” Alan Noble draws an important distinction – the difference between mental illness and mental affliction. Think of mental affliction as a broader circle around diagnosable mental illnesses, a circle that encompasses the mental suffering we will all experience at some point in life. Noble makes the case that, as believers, our choice to carry on in the midst of great or even average suffering is a powerful one that reflects God’s goodness in a world in need of hope.

We sat down with Noble to discuss this book and why his topic is such a timely one for the local church.

Tell us a little about yourself personally and professionally, including your connection to the PCA.

I am a husband and father to three beautiful children. I have taught at Oklahoma Baptist University for the last ten years as an Associate Professor of English. On the side, I write books and articles and run a Substack newsletter. My family has been a part of the PCA for 16 years. We joined after I listened to a course on Francis Schaeffer taught by Jerram Barrs at Covenant Seminary. We currently attend Shawnee Presbyterian Church.

What led you to write this book?

There were three main sources for this book. The first and most immediate was my struggle with mental health. I don’t go into detail in the book about that struggle because it’s not a book about me. It’s about the human experience, but I draw from my own experiences. The second was my work with college students. Across the country, college students are suffering from a mental health crisis, so I was acutely aware that people needed to think through how to live through mental suffering. The third source was a high-profile suicide that got me reflecting on what suicide communicates to the survivors–not a topic we like to think about, but it does communicate something, and it’s important to know what that is.

What concerns do you have when it comes to acknowledging the reality of mental suffering among those who work in vocational ministry?

One concern is that people in ministry are sometimes asked to take the role of a licensed therapist in addition to their other duties. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it’s important for those in ministry to advocate for professional mental health services, on the other hand, a lot of people just need a wise counselor to be with them through suffering. But my biggest concern is that people in vocational ministry feel as though they cannot experience or at least admit to suffering from a mental illness or affliction. There is a false expectation that if you are in ministry, you are completely composed and mentally well. While those in ministry need to be careful not to overshare and make their suffering the center of their ministry, they do need to feel comfortable reaching out to close friends and others in ministry about their suffering.

What do you see as a particularly Christian approach or outlook on these issues? Any advice or encouragement specific to those working in the context of the local church?

A Christian approach to mental health accounts for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual realities. Too often, we either deny the benefit of professional mental health services because they aren’t explicitly Christian, or we deny the reality of the spiritual realm and frame every suffering in medical terms. The reality is that we need to attend to both the spiritual and the mental. If we are dealing with irrational guilt or shame, it could be that we need counseling to deal with past trauma, but it also could be that we have a distorted view of God. Both things can be true. My advice to those in the local church would be to know your limits but be active in giving wise counsel. You can do a lot of good ministering, sitting with, and praying for those with mental illnesses.

At Geneva Benefits Group, we are focused on helping church workers become more resilient in their wellbeing. We’ve provided access to Christian counseling and wellbeing services for pastors, pastors’ wives, and ministry workers.  You have been open about your struggles, but pastors often feel they can’t be as open. Is there anything you would like to say to church members about giving room for their pastors to seek help?

Church members need to know that mental illness is not sin. It’s an illness. Sin might be caught up in the illness, but it is fundamentally an illness. And similarly, depression and anxiety are not in themselves sins. They are sufferings common to humanity. When your pastor is going through a difficult time, your task is to be patient and encouraging. There should be no negative judgment. At the same time, I think it is prudent for pastors–like the rest of us–to be discerning about who they share their sufferings with. Not everyone needs to know what you are going through. Find a group of trusted friends and share with them.

Anything else you would like to add?

We are at a strange time in the church when it comes to mental health. On the one hand, there is a growing acceptance that mental health is a legitimate concern and one that should be treated by professionals. On the other hand, there is still a lot of stigma, shame, and condemnation surrounding professional mental health services. While we need to be discerning about the kind of treatment we pursue, the church needs to do a better job of normalizing the experience of mental affliction so that people feel comfortable getting treatment.

At Geneva, we know that the challenges of pastoring in this cultural moment are significant and, like Noble posits, getting out of bed can be a struggle regardless of whether or not you’re suffering from a diagnosable mental illness. We are dedicated to helping ministry leaders and their families thrive in every season of ministry.  Click here to learn more about our full suite of wellbeing resources.

Dr. O. Alan Noble is associate professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University, cofounder and editor in chief of Christ and Pop Culture and an adviser for the AND Campaign. He is also the author of numerous books and articles, including Disruptive Witness and You Are Not Your Own. He lives in Shawnee, Oklahoma, with his wife and three children.

Geneva Benefits Group serves those who serve others, providing practical support for the financial, physical, and mental wellbeing of people who work in full-time ministry.

Geneva offers preparedness and peace of mind with solutions tailored to the needs of ministry leaders and staff.