“Cross Jesus one too many times, fail too often, sin too much, and God will decide to take his love back. It is so bizarre, because I know Christ loves me, but I’m not sure he likes me, and I continually worry that God’s love will simply wear out.
Periodically, I have to be slapped in the face with Paul’s words in Romans 8:38-39, ‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’“
I admit I live with a continuous fear that God’s love has limits. That someday, I will sin myself beyond a Savior’s reach. It nags on me and betrays me. The fear that I will end up on some spiritual “junk heap” is real, and it is pervasive. I guess it has to do with the unbelievable richness of God’s fantastic grace.
This doubt accentuates my depression, aggravating it and poisons my whole being. I feel worthless and so alone. Since my particular struggle is with paranoia, I end up bringing that with me into the throne room. Kids who have been beaten by their fathers often visibly flinch when Dad raises his arm to scratch his head. They cower and duck out of habit, waiting for the blows.
Our heavenly Father has gone out of his way to make the gospel truly good news. We often have to be convinced of a love that cannot be diluted by the stuff of life. And we who are the wounded and paranoid need that assurance. We are loved with a love of such quality and quantity, and such magnificence that all we can scream is “GRACE!”
As broken people we must come and allow ourselves to be loved with this outrageous love. Our depression, bipolar disorder, addictions, BPD, OCD, and schizophrenia are not insurmountable issues. We are sick, we admit it. We are different than other people (“the norms”). But the Father delights in us. He especially loves his lambs who are weak and frightened.
How many families in your church have a loved one who struggles with mental health problems? That’s kind of a trick question. People don’t talk about mental health problems. You’re more likely to hear them describe their child’s condition as “something like autism,” as the elder of one church we know says.
Or they might cover up entirely, as does an elder’s wife in another congregation. When her bipolar disorder swung into mania after childbirth, her family, already managing the added responsibilities of a newborn, had to manage her condition as well. But because her condition is a secret, they did so without any support beyond the usual “new baby” dinners.
The answer to the question is, if your congregation is representative of the U.S. population, one in four households will struggle with someone’s mental health problems over their lifetime. That’s schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, disabling chronic depression, and various anxiety disorders. Look at the faces seated around you this Sunday. Someone is probably hurting. And they’re probably afraid to tell you.
The least acceptable disability
A study where people ranked disabilities by their “acceptability” returned these results, in order–most acceptable: obvious physical disabilities, blindness, deafness, a jail record, learning disabilities, and alcoholism.
Least acceptable: mental health problems. People with mental health problems frighten us because when people become mental ill, they become someone we don’t know. A bright boy who was his family’s bright hope may find he just can’t cut it anymore as schizophrenia turns him paranoid, disoriented, unmotivated in the extreme, and overwhelmed by delusional voices that tell him, over and over, how worthless he is.
Or, in the case of bipolar disorder, a girl who was a well-liked and active member of her Teen Challenge group may suddenly turn promiscuous, run away from home, and make a new home in the streets of a strange city. Laziness. Promiscuity. Violence. Sin. That’s what many people see when they look at those with mental health problems. It’s hard to believe that people may behave in such unacceptable ways and not be in control of their behavior.
Having a mental health problem is a lot like being on alcohol or drugs, without being able to stop. Medications “work” for about two-thirds of us. That means that a third of us can’t ever get off the chemical ride that our brains produce.
For those of us who can use medications, the side effects can be daunting. I have lost about 20 percent of my small motor functionality as a result of one of the five medications I take for bipolar disorder. I prefer that to losing large motor control and having another auto accident, being so disoriented I can’t find my way home from the store, losing bowel control in a busy bookstore, gaining 45 pounds, or any of dozens of side effects I’ve experienced on other medications.
Many people become so frustrated with side effects that they stop taking medications. Only about half of us accept treatment. Even when we are treated, not everyone regains their status as a fully functioning adult. In our extended family, six people have diagnoses. Those with bipolar disorder and chronic depression are successfully medicated and work full-time. Those with panic disorder and schizophrenia are on permanent disability. Nothing has pulled them through.
What the Bible says
The Bible talks about mental illness, as well as physical illness.
It describes a king who was made mentally ill until he would recognize the sovereignty of God (Dan. 4:29-34).
It describes demonized men who lived among the tombs and terrorized everyone until Jesus set them free (Matt. 8:28-33).
It also describes as demonized a young boy that most scholars today say had epilepsy (Matt. 17:15-18). Jesus delivered him, too.
What does this tell us about illness?
First, that God is able to heal. Second, that some physical and mental illnesses are caused by demons. Third, that some mental illnesses are caused by sin. But are all mental illnesses caused by demons or sin, and is seeking God our sole resource for physical and mental healing?
Since the 1950s, we have usually sent church members with epilepsy to doctors for effective treatment with anti-convulsant drugs. In a similar way, we’ve learned that medicines can effectively treat many cases of mental illness. So if all mental illnesses were caused by demons and sin, medicine would be exorcising demons and turning hearts to repentance. That is certainly untrue, for those are the works of the Holy Spirit.
Instead, we now know that most if not all mental illnesses are biological in origin, with environmental factors possibly triggering an existing genetic predisposition to the illness. Mental illnesses, just like epilepsy, are biological disorders of the brain.
What can the church do?
Compassionate service is one of our core charges as Christians. We observe it almost daily in the experience of one man we know with schizophrenia. His life is confined almost entirely to his home due to the fear, indecision, and lethargy that have become the shape of the illness in his body. But neighbors bring him occasional meals. The secretary of his small church talks to him by telephone every weekday. Several other members take weekly calls at designated times to help break his isolation. If he doesn’t feel up to driving to his Bible study meeting or Sunday services, some member will give him a ride. Nearby relatives help him plan and manage his finances, and come by to clean occasionally and for DVD “movie nights.” Phone cards given as gifts allow him to call his mother nightly. There’s much more that could be done—more frequent house cleaning and more meals and more visits—but he enjoys far more contact with many more loving people than many shut-ins.
The challenging good news is that when people with mental illness turn to someone outside “the system” for help, the church is first to get the call 40 percent of the time. Is your church ready?
Carlene Hill Byron is the former Director of Communications for Vision New England. Through NAMI—the Nation’s Voice on Mental Illness, she and her husband, James, train churches to effectively serve people within the congregation with mental health problems and also teach NAMI’s class for families of people with mental health problems. They are members of Asbury United Methodist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, where James serves on staff. First published by Vision New England’s Ministries with the Disabled, Acton, Massachusetts.
1) they are available to call 24/7
2) they are 100% confidential
3) they are free
Here’s a list of hotlines that may help you in whatever situation you find yourself in: Dial 911 for an emergency
Christian Counseling Services-General
New Life Clinics 1-800-NEW-LIFE
National Prayer Line 1-800-4-PRAYER
Bethany Lifeline Pregnancy Hotline 1-800-BETHANY
Liberty Godparent Ministry 1-800-368-3336
Grace Help Line 24 Hour Christian service 1-800-982-8032
The 700 Club Hotline 1-800-759-0700
Want to know Jesus? 1-800-NEED-HIM
Biblical help for youth in crisis 1-800-HIT-HOME
Rapha National Network 1-800-383-HOPE
Emerge Ministries 330-867-5603
Meier Clinics 1-888-7-CLINIC or 1-888-725-4642
Association of Christian Counselors 1-800-526-8673
Minirth Clinic 1-888-MINIRTH (646-4784)
National Christian Counselors Association 1-941-388-6868
Pine Rest 1-800-678-5500
Timberline Knolls 1-877-257-9611
Post Abortion Counseling 1-800-228-0332
Post Abortion Project Rachel 1-800-5WE-CARE
National Abortion Federation Hotline 1-800-772-9100
National Office of Post Abortion Trauma 1-800-593-2273
National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
Stop it Now! 1-888-PREVENT
United States Elder Abuse Hotline 1-866-363-4276
National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD (422-4453)
Child Abuse Hotline / Dept of Social Services 1-800-342-3720
Children in immediate danger 1-800-THE-LOST
Exploitation of Children 1-800-843-5678
Missing Children Help Center 1-800-872-5437
Marijuana Anonymous 1-800-766-6779
Alcohol Treatment Referral Hotline (24 hours) 1-800-252-6465
Families Anonymous 1-800-736-9805
Cocaine Hotline (24 hours) 1-800-262-2463
Drug Abuse National Helpline 1-800-662-4357
National Association for Children of Alcoholics 1-888-554-2627
Ecstasy Addiction 1-800-468-6933
Alcoholics for Christ 1-800-441-7877
American Cancer Society 1-800-227-2345
National Cancer institute 1-800-422-6237
Elder Care Locator 1-800-677-1116
Well Spouse Foundation 1-800-838-0879
Chronic Illness/Chronic Pain
Rest Ministries 1-888-751-REST (7378)
Crisis Numbers for Teens (Under 18)
Girls and Boys town 1-800-448-3000
Hearing Impaired 1-800-448-1833
Youth Crisis Hotline 1-800-448-4663
Teen Hope Line 1-800-394-HOPE
Covenant House Nineline 1-800-999-9999
Crisis Numbers for Help (Any age)
NAMI Hotline, 1-800-950-6264
Suicide Hotline, 1-800-273-8255
United Way Crisis Helpline 1-800-233-HELP
Christian Oriented Hotline 1-877-949-HELP
Social Security Administration 1-800-772-1213
Crisis Pregnancy Helpline
Crisis Pregnancy Hotline Number 1-800-67-BABY-6
Liberty Godparent Ministry 1-800-368-3336
Cult Hotline (Mercy House) 606-748-9961
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE
National Domestic Violence Hotline Spanish 1-800-942-6908
Battered Women and their Children 1-800=603-HELP
Elder Abuse Hotline 1-800-252-8966
RAINN 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention 1-800-931-2237
Eating Disorders Center 1-888-236-1188
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders 1-847-831-3438
Overcomers Outreach, Inc. 1-800-310-3001
Remuda Ranch 1-800-445-1900
Family Violence Prevention Center 1-800-313-1310
Compulsive Gambling Hotline 410-332-0402
American Family Housing 1-888-600-4357
Recovery: Exodus International 1-888-264-0877
Gay and Lesbian National Hotline 1-888-843-4564
Trevor Hotline (Suicide) 1-866-4-U-TREVOR
Hotline for parents considering abducting their children 1-800-A-WAY-OUT
United States Missing Children Hotline 1-800-235-3535
Poison Control 1-800-942-5969
Boystown National Hotline 1-800-448-3000
Covenant House Nineline 1-800-999-9999
Laurel House 1-714-832-0207
National Runaway Switchboard 1-800-621-4000
Youth Crisis Hotline 1-800-448-4663
Grace Help Line 24 Hour Christian Service 1-800-982-8032
Want to know Jesus? 1-888-NEED-HIM
Mostly, these are Christian ministries that are there when life gets challenging. Use these phone numbers wisely, and I would encourage you to pray for the counseling you. Also, I am not able to check each number. These numbers are to be used with some precaution as a result.
This list isn’t complete yet. If you have a contact that isn’t here, please email me that information. I’m Bryan Lowe at firstname.lastname@example.org.