Love and Humility for the Mentally Ill

What is the nature of the soul, and how is it related to the mind and the brain? Why do bad things happen to good people, how do these trials shape them, and what can be said of God when there seems to be no relief? What does it mean to be born again and made new in Christ? How should the truths of scriptures be understood in our modern world, which is so often viewed through a scientific lense?

How we answer these questions shapes the very most basic parts of our faith. And all four of these q uestions are just the very beginnings of how we view mental illness.

Mental illness. Is it going too far to call mental illness the dirty little secret of the church?

I’m not sure that this would be an exageration at all. I think we’d all be hard pressed to name a single issue which has effected so many but which is so rarely discussed. It would almost be a good thing if we could, in fairness, say that the topic was controversial. I almost wish that we could say that the church is divided on the issue. Because this would imply that we’re at least trying to deal with it. This would imply that we’ve at least recognized that it’s an issue.

It’s not altogether surprising. The secular world doesn’t do much better in this regard.

And a person could spend his whole life on any one of the questions mentioned in the beginning of this article. Yet, too formulate a cohesive and Christian response to the fact of mental illness almost demands an answer to all of those questions at once.

Consider the question of the relationship between soul, mind, and brain: The use and sometimes-success of medications imply that there is some physical aspect to mental illness. The very use of the term, “mental illness” draws a comparisons with physical ailments.

Or begin with the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Mental illnesses are not brought on by any doings of the person who suffers from them. “How do trials shape us?” Even a casual survey of the research leaves one understanding that traumatic events impact the brain itself. “What can be said when there seems to be no relief?” One of the most heart-breaking aspects of mental illness is that it is so very unpredictable. It can go on for years and decades, being mostly the same. And then? Then it gets better. Or it gets much, much worse.

What does it mean to be born again, or made new in Christ? People accept Jesus as their savoir, and their mental illnesses linger. Others, who are life long Christians develop mental illnesses. It is a real and legitimate question: where is Jesus’ healing for them?

The question of where Jesus healing is for the mentally ill leads to that last fundamental question: “How should the truths of scriptures be understood in our modern world, which is so often viewed through a scientific lense?” In the entirety of the bible, the events that seem like the nearest descriptions to mental illnesses are in fact examples of demonic possession. Yet modern science has no room for this explanation. And modern science has sometimes been succesful in explaining and even managing mental illness. How do we handle this tension?

This is not a series of abstractions. This is not an interesting quandry. If you are fortunate enough to not have grappled with this yet, you will.

If you spend long enough in ministry, you will wrestle with how best to hold someone accountable for actions they may well have no control over.

If you spend long enough trying to bring Jesus’ love to everyone, you will find people so thoroughly depressed that they can not feel His love or hear the truth of your words.

If you spend long enough in small groups, you will become authentic enough in your community that someone will share these troubles, that can be so very hard to understand or change… unless of course you suffer from mental illness yourself. And if you do, you may find that there are no lonlier places that a person might be.

I am not suggesting that there is no answer to these questions. In fact, I believe there is a desperate need for better answers to these questions.

But I am clear that we do not have these answers. Not fully, completely, or consistently.

And I have seen the damage, the terrible damage inflicted by people who believe that they did have the answers.

I think one of the lessons that God wants us to learn from mental illness is that He will not be placed in a box and He will not work on our time tables or according to our plans. I do not believe that mental illnesses occur so that God can teach us these things. But I do believe that He uses mental illnesses to teach us these things.

I believe that when we don’t see healing the way we think it should occur, when the same issues and challenges wear and tear on us year after year, I believe we are all confronted with a decision. Will we take the path of Christ? Into the pain and doubt and suffering? Or will we take the path of Judas, into the safe and comfortable?

In small ways and big ways I have shunned the suffering. The suffering are reminders that I am not God, and I can not heal whoever I choose. The suffering are reminders that God is not a genie, he is not a cosmic ATM. I repent, right here and now, of all the times I have taken the path of Judas.

The mentally ill are not the only people who are suffering. But there are a few cruelties we save for them alone. There are limits to the comparisons between mental illness and physical illness. But there are ways it is a useful comparison.

Yet most of us don’t encourage people with high blood pressure to stop taking their medications. Most of us do not think that the people who wear glasses among us lack the faith for healed eyes. Most of us don’t cast doubt on the ideas that a secular doctor might have some good insight about our flat feet.

There is a part of me that wishes so desperately that I had more. And yet, over and over, in the scriptures, we are told that love and humility is enough, they are more than enough.

So may all our actions be saturated in love and humility. Whatever specific things we do, I think they will be the right things if they begin in love and humility.

Our own human attempts at love and humility are so small but I know that there is an infinite storehouse of love and humility in Christ. And I know that we can access this storehouse in Him and through Him… That is not the end but the only worthy beginning.

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jeffsdeepthoughts

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

4 thoughts on “Love and Humility for the Mentally Ill”

  1. I could have written this post, from beginning to end, even including the questions at the beginning, upon which I have blogged many times throughout my short blogging life.

    Everything you’ve written here are thoughts I have had or continue to have.

    As to myself, I hope I am not mentally ill, though sometimes I think I might be, but I have had to deal with the issue of elusive mental illness, abusive and catastrophic mental illness, life-changing mental illness, in family members. The tragedy of it, and there is so much, is that in large part the condition was exacerbated by the doctrine, claims and practices of TV-based “word of faith” pentecostalism, specifically Trinity Broadcasting Network. If this “Christian” conglomerate has had so disastrous effect on my family, what has it done to others?

    Mental illness is only one facet of a whole range of issues that the churches either do not handle well or not want to face. All of it comes from, as you so boldly state, taking “the path of Judas, into the safe and comfortable.”

    Though you and I may have made a decision to not follow this path any longer (I made my decision one night sitting alone with the Lord in my arbor on Yom Kippur, http://cost-of-discipleship.blogspot.com/2006/10/chrona-poll-many-years.html ) we still have to deal with the consequences in the lives around us, in which our lives participate.

    Like Christian in “The Pilgrim’s Progress” we may find ourselves having to leave behind everyone and everything in our outward journey from the City of Destruction, and like him we find ourselves on a lonely path with few companions and beset by dangers and deceptions along the way. Hopefully, though, taking the “road not taken” by the majority, we will at last come to our destination, with all those who have likewise left all to follow Jesus.

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  2. I have been searching for some help/ comfort regarding my husband, who I think has a mental illness. He refuses to seek help or acknowledge anything is wrong with him, so our marriage is being destroyed and it is devastating to me. I just want to say that your article has been the most help to me yet. Thank you for your insight and validation. I’ve been looking for examples of how Christ handled the mentally ill. I only know he healed them. He is not healing my husband, but I’m having a hard time being loving and long-suffering with the abuse that the illness inflicts upon me.

    Thanks again for the encouragement.

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  3. Thanks for sharing to you both.
    You will be in my prayers.

    Billie, your quest reminded me of my wife. I was not a Christian when we married. I was, however, a jerk. She did a brilliant job of being loving and yet not putting herself in situations where she was verbally beat up by me… There is a narrow road to be found; I do believe that we’re called to be suffering servants, but we’re not called to constantly place ourselves in destructive situations.
    It’s so much easier to talk about this happy medium than it is to find it, I know.

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