Some struggle with mental or physical illness. Some people don’t understand me and they walk away. This really hurts, and so I isolate ourselves even more. We might feel not only forsaken, but cursed. We may see ourselves as accomplished losers. But these things shouldn’t separate us from our Father’s love. I think He loves “his special needs” children even more, lol.
But we must believe that we our transformation is happening, more and more, into the image of Christ. We are becoming like him (hence the word, Christlikeness). This is a long process, but it is happening! God has given his word. Don’t give up. Don’t give up on his plan for you. It may take years, or maybe taking just a few moments.
I’m seeing lately that spiritual growth and getting older often work hand-in-hand (and why shouldn’t they?) Often as we get older, we will start having many different issues. When you’re 60 years old, you don’t have the same situations that you had when you were 14 or 30. Physically we grow and understand things differently, and this works into us spiritually. This blends or melds together, especially when the Word and Spirit are present.
“Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. 4 Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, 5 for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. 6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”
Philippians 1:3-6, NLT
It is my wish for you that you could walk in your own shoes, and not somebody elses. Also that you would know the grace of God intimately. Being disabled means special efforts will often be necessary, but Jesus’ love for your soul will be molded to fit that disability. There will be no wheelchairs or canes, or even ‘seeing-eye dogs’ allowed in heaven. I imagine there will be a considerable pile outside the gates. Glory awaits.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
This should supply direction and dialogue on the issues faced by every church member. It is a great opportunity we have been given— to minister to every person in the Body of Christ. —Bryan
by Ken Camp, Associated Baptist Press —
Living with depression — or any other form of mental illness — is like viewing life “through a glass darkly,” according to Jessy Grondin, a student in Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School. “It distorts how you see things.”
Like one in four Americans, Grondin wrestles with mental illness, having struggled with severe bouts of depression since her elementary-school days. Depression is one of the most common types of mental illness, along with bipolar disorder, another mood-altering malady. Other forms of mental illness include schizophrenia and disorders related to anxiety, eating, substance abuse and attention deficit/hyperactivity.
Like many Americans with mental illness, Grondin and her family looked to the church for help. And she found the response generally less-than-helpful. “When I was in the ninth grade and hospitalized for depression, only a couple of people even visited me, and that was kind of awkward. I guess they didn’t know what to say,” said Grondin, who grew up in a Southern Baptist church in Alabama.
Generally, most Christians she knew dealt with her mood disorder by ignoring it, she said. “It was just nonexistent, like it never happened,” she said. “They never acknowledged it.” When she was an adolescent, many church members just thought of her as a troublemaker, not a person dealing with an illness, she recalled.
A few who acknowledged her diagnosed mood disorder responded with comments Grondin still finds hurtful. “When dealing with people in the church … some see mental illness as a weakness — a sign you don’t have enough faith,” she said. “They said: ‘It’s a problem of the heart. You need to straighten things out with God.’ They make depression out to be a sin, because you don’t have the joy in your life a Christian is supposed to have.”
A Baylor University study revealed that among Christians who approached their local church for help in response to a personal or family member’s diagnosed mental illness, more than 30 percent were told by a minister that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness. And 57 percent of the Christians who were told by a minister that they were not mentally ill quit taking their medication.
That troubles neuroscientist Matthew Stanford. “It’s not a sin to be sick,” he insists. Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the doctoral program in psychology at Baylor, acknowledges religion’s longstanding tense relationship with behavioral science. And he believes that conflict destroys lives. “Men and women with diagnosed mental illness are told they need to pray more and turn from their sin. Mental illness is equated with demon possession, weak faith and generational sin,”
Stanford writes in his recently released book, Grace for the Afflicted. “The underlying cause of this stain on the church is a lack of knowledge, both of basic brain function and of scriptural truth.” As an evangelical Christian who attends Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, Stanford understands underlying reasons why many Christians view psychology and psychiatry with suspicion. “When it comes to the behavioral sciences, many of the early fathers were no friends of religion. That’s certainly true of Freud and Jung,” he noted in an interview.
Many conservative Christians also believe the behavioral sciences tend to justify sin, he added, pointing particularly to homosexual behavior. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association famously removed homosexuality from its revised edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. As a theologically conservative Christian, Stanford stressed that scripture, not the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, constitutes the highest authority.
But that doesn’t mean the Bible is an encyclopedia of knowledge in all areas, and all people benefit from scientific insights into brain chemistry and the interplay of biological and environmental factors that shape personality. Furthermore, while he does not presume to diagnose with certainty cases of mental illness millennia after the fact, Stanford believes biblical figures — Job, King Saul of Israel and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, among others — demonstrated symptoms of some types of mental illness. “Mental disorders do not discriminate according to faith,” he said.
Regardless of their feelings about some psychological or psychiatric approaches, Christians need to recognize mental illnesses are genuine disorders that originate in faulty biological processes, Stanford insisted. “It’s appropriate for Christians to be careful about approaches to treatment, but they need to understand these are real people dealing with real suffering,” he said. Richard Brake, director of counseling and psychological services for Texas Baptist Child & Family Services, agrees. “The personal connection is important. Church leaders need to be open to the idea that there are some real mental-health issues in their congregation,” Brake said.
Ministers often have training in pastoral counseling to help people successfully work through normal grief after a loss, but may lack the expertise to recognize persistent mental-health problems stemming from deeper life issues or biochemical imbalances, he noted. Internet resources are available through national mental-health organizations and associations of Christian mental-health providers. But the best way to learn about available mental health treatment — and to determine whether ministers would be comfortable referring people to them — is through personal contact, Brake and Stanford agreed. “Get to know counselors in the community,” Brake suggested. “Find out how they work, what their belief systems are and how they integrate them into their practices.”
Mental-health providers include school counselors and case managers with state agencies, as well as psychiatrists and psychologists in private practice or associated with secular or faith-related treatment facilities, he noted. Stanford and Brake emphasized the vital importance of making referrals to qualified mental-health professionals, but they also stressed the role of churches in creating a supportive and spiritually nurturing environment for people with mental-health disorders. Mental illness does not illustrate lack of faith, but it does have spiritual effects, they agreed. “Research indicates people with an active faith life who are involved in congregational life get through these problems more smoothly,” Brake said.
Churches cannot “fix” people with mental illness, but they can offer support to help them cope. “The church has a tremendous role to play. Research shows the benefits of a religious social support system,” Stanford said. They stressed the importance of creating a climate of unconditional love and acceptance for mentally ill people in church — a need Grondin echoed. “There needs to be an unconditional sense of community and relationships,” she said. She emphasized the importance of establishing relationships that may not be reciprocally satisfying all the time.
People with mental-health issues may not be as responsive or appreciative as some Christians would like them to be, she noted. “Others need to take the initiative and keep the relationship established. People don’t realize how hard it can be (for a person with a mood disorder) to summon the courage just to get out of bed,” Grondin said. Christians who seek to reach out to people with mental illness need to recognize “they are not able to see things clearly, and it’s not their fault,” Grondin added.
Mostly, Christians need to offer acceptance to people with mental illness — even if they don’t fully understand, she insisted. “Just be present. Offer support and love,” Grondin concluded. “You won’t always know what to say. Just speak words of support into a life of serious struggles. That means more than anything.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Camp is managing editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.)
A great book:
“Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness” [Paperback] can be found at www.Amazon.com, by Matthew S. Stanford Ph.D
For more information: National Alliance on Mental Illness (800) 950-6264 Anxiety Disorders Association of America (240) 485-1001 Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (800) 826-3632 American Association of Christian Counselors (800) 526-8673 Stephen Ministries (314) 428-2600
I wrote this poem a couple of months ago. I wrote it while trying to process the struggle of dealing with one sister who suffers with mental illness (bipolar disorder and bulimia) and other family members who don’t understand.
I have experienced seven years of major clinical depression myself, and over the last few years have come to the realization that ending up there again is not outside the realm of possibility if I’m not ever vigilant. But that doesn’t make the family relationships any easier, and I often feel like I’m the only glue or buffer holding things together, and I’m not doing a very good job at it.
I share this here to maybe give someone else the strength to keep being that glue or to appreciate the one in the family who is the glue or . . . well, frankly I’m not sure why. It just seems like something I need to share.
A note on the final stanza: I do not, in any way, wish that the person this poem is about was dead. Far from it. I’ve lost too many other family members, including another sister who died of cancer two years ago. But on the day I wrote this, that felt like it would have been easier to take than the present situation.
Why does it feel like I’ve lost you
when you aren’t even dead?
Why am I the only one
who wants to make amends?
Why does it have to be so hard
after all these years?
Maybe it’s the tears
mine and yours, and theirs,
that makes breathing and living
loving and forgiving so impossible
I guess sometimes families and madness
can’t survive one another
Because that’s what you are, you know,
mad, or crazy, or mentally ill
whatever you want to call it
It’s torn us apart
because you don’t understand
why they can’t begin to comprehend
what’s going on inside your head
It’s torn us—you and me—apart
because you’ve convinced yourself
that I don’t at all understand
what’s going on inside your head
You forget I’ve been there
that those crazy, mad thoughts
have been inside my head, too
But then you’ve forgotten a lot of things
all the times I was there for you
just to listen
and the times you were there for me
Forgetting the good
is a tragic side effect
of medications meant to help
Somehow they don’t erase
memories of the less-than-perfect moments
My greatest desire is to forgive
and to be forgiven
to live and laugh and love again
to mend what has been torn asunder
to heal the thoughts inside your head
But right now, in this moment
it feels like you might as well be dead
at least that would be easier to live with
“He who masters his passions is a king even if he is in chains. He who is ruled by his passions is a slave even while sitting on a throne.”
Sometimes, I absolutely need a spiritual ‘wake-up call.’ The last few days for me have been taking on the general theme of freedom. It’s very easy for me to accept being a slave.
The bait that’s used is very desirable and attractive. (It’s hard to let such wonderful morsel go by without a taste!) I will sin– and repent later. But hidden deep inside me there is something very small, but very potent. It is a desire to be free from sin. God has placed that within.
Freedom, or that characteristic of walking unencumbered, doesn’t seem incredibly important, at times. But it is a question of identity.
As a Christian believer, am I really a child of the King, a prince in a spiritual world?
Royal blood was spilled to set me free. Is choosing to sin really in my calling?
Added to these concepts are many things that ‘trigger’ my Bipolar depression. Triggers are those things which set off symptoms, ‘kindling’ a sequence of events that leads to total catastrophe. All it takes is one–a lie perhaps, or a delusion that gets ‘airplay.’ I just slide right into the ‘paranoid’ trap set just for me. I essentially experience a total collapse of mood and emotion. Life will crash in all around me. I am left sitting in ashes, in a heap. I have become a ‘king in chains.’
My hospitalizations all have come as a result of giving myself over to ‘twisted thinking.’ My suicidal tendencies are often intensified, in part due to becoming enslaved. I become chained and held captive to these dark forces. Meds and ‘talk therapy’ can really help. But they are limited though to what they can do to push back the inky darkness. What does work are:
prayer, as intimate as I can make it
reading the Word, searching for insights
and fellowship, anything more than a handshake
There is a ‘recipe’ for freedom. But, I must initiate a believer ‘s response. I would like to suggest that “freedom” and “intimacy” are synonyms. You can’t have one without the other. Is Jesus real to you? Is His presence more-than-life itself?
Whoever you are–it’s time to get free. Really free. Fall in love with Jesus again and the chains will fall off. Unless you do, they will remain.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”