The unfortunate recent suicide of Robin Williams has caused the topic of mental illness to come into vogue. Yet I have seen very little talk of how Christians should respond when someone in the church has a mental illness. Mental illness not only affects our relationships with other people, it affects our relationship with God.
Mental illnesses, which include depression, bipolar, PTSD, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia, are a part of the life of many people in our society. Yet it carries a stigma that prevents many with mental illness from reaching for out for help. This is especially so in the church, where mental illness is often seen as a condition resulting from a lack of faith or a hidden sin. I am bipolar. From personal experience I will present some ways that the church can be a caring presence to those who struggle with mental illness.
The Bible tells us to be content and to have joy in all circumstances. I have been told that if I would simply follow the Bible, I would not be depressed. Yet mental illness is not something that can be snapped out of from hearing these words from another well meaning believer. In fact, it can make the person feel even more guilty and worthless for not being able to be a good enough Christian in their despair. Mental illness is not caused by a lack of faith and a refusal to trust in God. Instead, mental illness stems from a combination of chemical imbalances and triggering life events.
Mental illness colors one’s perception of God. Depression feels like a black abyss. When I go through these dark days, I can’t get out of bed. The things I used to enjoy seem to require too much energy and seem unappealing. Simple housekeeping tasks require more effort than I can possibility exert. I cry. I sleep. I stare at the ceiling, feeling that I am not good enough and that God has left me.
Many people throughout the Bible felt that God had abandoned them as well. Even Jesus in his final days on earth asks why God has forsaken him. It is ok to feel that way- we don’t need feel guilty about it. Often in hindsight you can see where God walked with you even when you couldn’t see him at the time. It is during these times when we can’t believe in the goodness of God for ourselves, we need someone to be like the friends who lowered the paralytic through the roof so he could be healed. We need someone to believe for us.
In mania and schizophrenia, a person can feel exceptionally close to God and feel that they hear his voice. Or they may think they are God. Secular psychologists say that anyone who claims to have heard from God is delusional. Yet as Christians we know that God does speak to us in his quiet voice. This makes it difficult for those who go through mania to discern whether their grandiose ideas are a vision from God or a product of the disease. I have engaged in several business ventures inspired by mania because even though rationally they were destined to fail, I believed that my great faith would see me through. Instead, I’ve lost a lot of money. Even now that my mania is under control, I wonder whether the directions in life that I choose are of God or of my illness. Sometimes God does call us to do things we otherwise would not have done. The church needs to recognize these tendencies in certain people and prayerfully be a voice of discernment for them. Great faith in big ideas is not always a good thing.
A person with mental illness should be encouraged to find a good doctor who can help them find the right combination of medications. This is an essential part of treatment. With the help of my doctor and the right drugs I finally feel like a normal person. But drugs can be expensive and the side effects can be difficult to deal with. I vomit almost every day as a result of my drugs. I’ve just learned to accept that that is better than the alternative. There is a temptation for anyone on psychiatric medications to stop taking them because they feel better. The church may believe that the person has been healed. Instead, if the person feels better, it is a sign that the drugs are working. Never stop medication without the consent of a doctor.
Often it is Christians who say the worst things. We don’t need platitudes about God. The church often upholds the stigma by keeping our illness a secret when we reach out for help. When I was hospitalized a couple summers ago for my illness, no one from my church came to visit me. Only a few were even told where I was, and none were told the reason for my hospitalization. I wanted the church to be with me in one of the darkest times of my life, yet it was kept undercover and unnoticed. I honestly believe that if I wasn’t married to my own shrink, I could have died.
I attend a different church now. During my last stay in the psych ward, I was able to come out about my bipolar disorder and feel like I was accepted by the church just as I am. I can be brooding and moody, and I like to sit next to the door because it makes me scared when I don’t have an escape route. But it’s ok. I have also begun to attend a group for Christians with mental illness. It is a safe place to talk about how our weeks went and our relationships with God. Sometimes our disorders cause us to do dumb things. I can feel loved even when I know I have completely screwed up that week, because it is a place of forgiveness and acceptance. I would like to see more groups like this in the church.
Our pain is often hidden and silent- we need someone who will walk beside us. We need someone who will quietly hold our hands and intercede to God for us when we feel like we can’t pray ourselves. We need someone who will offer to do the laundry, to cook a meal, to do those little things that we should be able to do ourselves but just can’t right now, and not pass judgment.
We need to accept that mental illness is a real disease with real pain. If a church member has surgery or a physical illness, the church usually already has a ministry in place. The church often doesn’t extend the same ministry to those with mental illness because it is invisible and can be ongoing. We need to know that someone cares and loves us just the way we are. Just come and be the gentle Christ to us.
I loved it so much this paragraph is very expressive and gives you a wonderful sense : Many people throughout the Bible felt that God had abandoned them as well. Even Jesus in his final days on earth asks why God has forsaken him. It is ok to feel that way- we don’t need feel guilty about it. Often in hindsight you can see where Gods Of Egypt vk streaming walked with you even when you couldn’t see him at the time. It is during these times when we can’t believe in the goodness of God for ourselves, we need someone to be like the friends who lowered the paralytic through the roof so he could be healed. We need someone to believe for us.
Well, I'll bet you are all wondering who I am and what I am doing here. My name is Lizzie, and I am artist/writer/otherwise disgustingly creative person with a diagnosis of Bipolar. I am here to tell my story. There is still much stigma attached to mental illness. Through sharing my struggles and my journey to wholeness I hope to increase understanding and acceptance of what it means to live with this dark friend. And along the way you will see my latest creative projects.
I can't expect you to know all about me in a short blog post- a relationship takes many days of listening and of telling stories to unfold. So here I present to you an impersonal list of important things you should know about me before evening falls and stories are ready to be whispered into being.
I am an artist who works primarily in egg tempera. I am a singer and I have published a book of poetry. I love photography and I am learning to play the guitar. I guess I am your stereotypical crazy artist.
So that's me in brief. I hope I have tantalized you enough that you will choose to walk with me until we are no longer strangers, but friends.
Church makes me think and I think that is a pretty good thing. This week, Pastor Craig spoke on the church of Pergamum in Revelation and their main problem of idolatry. In our GraceGroup, we talked about our culture and how it can affect our faith. This is something I think about a lot, but one thing that was really thought provoking was the talk about how busyness in our culture can be an idol and a problem. Another person put forth that our culture has an epidemic of shallow thinking instead of really deep things. These are definitely huge problems for our culture, but I think that these problems are even bigger problems to Christians today trying to live out their faith in a meaningful way.
Our culture today promotes involvement in a vast variety of different activities. People have all sorts of different hobbies and responsibilities and commitments. Our culture promotes the resume--a piece of paper listing a ton of different interests and responsibilities that is supposed to show how awesome you are. I know a lot of people with great resumes who I would not want in my business. I also know a lot of fewer people with great resumes who I would want serving in my church. Our resume culture does not always lead to the best understanding of people's character for business. But our resume culture is an even worse way to determine if people are strong Christians fit to be serving in our churches.
Our resume culture is a result of a shallow culture that has run away from deep thinking. It is difficult to find meaning in our individualistic and materialistic culture, so we do our best to not think about it. We make sure that we are busy with all sorts of stuff so that we do not have to think about how meaningless our lives are. But, for Christians, things are different. We have meaningful lives because God created us and we have a relationship with Him. We have meaning because God cares for us, loves us, and allows us to know Him.
Because we have meaning, we do not have to fill our lives with busyness in order for us to feel ok. But, still, too many Christians still fill their lives with so much to do and so many responsibilities like they need to distract themselves from a life without meaning. Part of it has to be that our culture promotes this lifestyle, but part of it has to be that we do not understand that we have meaning in our relationship with God and are trying to put different things in front of Him as idols to make our lives feel meaningful.
The busyness culture among Christians is not only a symptom of a deep sickness of misplaced meaning, but it is also a huge hindrance to our ability to be servants of God. If we are doing all sorts of different things, we cannot focus our attention on one focus in our lives and make a difference there. My friend Joel was involved with virtually everything here on campus. He was on a ton of orgs and a ton of committees and had all sorts of responsibilities that would be wonderful resume material. But Joel was so busy that he could not be truly committed to any of them. He could not make a real impact in any of them. He just did not have the mental energy to do it, though he is a remarkably energetic person. This year, Joel has backed off on responsibilities so that he can focus on doing important things well and making an impact in those things.