It is a humbling thing when the most fruitful part of your story comes from the most broken bit.
I had been a Christian for many years and was living a very full life as a primary school teacher, a mum of three and a wife, as well as serving in an active local church, when my cup that had been full to overflowing emptied out overnight.
I had always been an upbeat person, relentlessly positive and quite driven, someone who wanted to live life in all its fullness. But maybe I had substituted that for life in all its busyness! Whatever the reason, we all know that you can’t burn a candle at both ends forever without burn out happening and, when it happened, boy was I surprised!
My voice packed in first but I carried on with everything, priding myself on never having taken a day off work. Unfortunately my body was trying to tell me something and that something left unheeded turned into a long year of utter exhaustion and break down, a year of mental and emotional ill health that I thought only happened to other people.
I was signed off work and felt like an utter failure as life went on without me. I was pretty sure Christians shouldn’t feel like this – the joy of the Lord is our strength, after all. So I got depressed and isolated. I found church too hard to engage with; all those well-meaning questions and prayers. And I couldn’t read the Bible of pray. It all felt too much.
It wasn’t until I was lying in bed watching reruns of rubbish American soap operas, not even crying out to God any more, that I realised I needed to get help and admit I was not well. It was during this very dark and empty time that I really understood the gospel. One lonely afternoon, I sensed God put His arms around me and come into the middle of my brokenness, and whisper, ‘Ruth, I could not love you any more and will never love you any less.’ And this when I was doing nothing for Him! Nothing for anyone! But this is the gospel! We are loved not for what we do, how we perform, how joyful or holy we are – we are just loved.
My slow recovery involved learning more contemplative habits and taking time to slow down and enjoy hobbies. It involved going to the doctor and getting help. I began using rhythms of prayer I had learned at retreat centres and began the practice of meditation on the Psalms whilst holding my cup of tea. Seeing my life like that cup held in God’s hands really helped me to picture what wellbeing is for me. It is not something we make happen – rather it is simply engaging with the full truth of God’s bigger story that holds and fills us. He holds the cups of our lives even when they are empty and broken.
So I dreamed of a place where anyone could happen upon a community of wellbeing, a space where it was OK not to be OK, where we could do hobbies together, enter prayerful rhythms together, and get advice off the record in a non-clinical setting. The first of these places was set up in Nottingham with the lovely local church I was leading at the time: New Life Baptist Church. Open four days a week on the high street, this lovely shared front room is still going strong six years later. Anyone can bring and share a hobby, practice wellbeing and, if they wish to, join in with prayer. Mental health professionals can bring folk along too, as well as give us advice and help keep everyone safe and boundaries clear.
This one simple space has multiplied into over 150 spaces. Renew Wellbeing, the charity, now helps churches all over the UK with free online training, ongoing support and networking to see a web of wellbeing springing up in quiet shared spaces where it’s OK not to be OK. I dream of a day when there is such a space on every street and in every village!
The God of wellbeing is faithful. This quiet revolution is good for the Church and good for the community. It’s time for us all to renew wellbeing.
Does your church have a space you could set up as a Renew Wellbeing ‘cafe’? Do check out the resources on the Renew Wellbeing website. At this time of national crisis in mental health, it is more needed than ever.