The Stigma of Mental Illness in the Church

Mental health—it’s a touchy subject, one that has started to garner a lot of attention through the media but is mostly neglected through the church.  Yet even the media’s focus tends to center on the tragic events that involve someone who finally “loses it” in a violent act.  We don’t hear much about the ordinary, everyday people who are dealing with mental illness.

There is a stigma attached to issues of mental health in the church.  I have heard a wide range of questionable thoughts and opinions.  For instance, some say that depression is a lack of faith.  I’ve also heard there is no such thing as a generational curse of mental illness because Christ set us free.

I’m not diminishing the necessity for strong faith or living in the freedom of Christ.  Yet it doesn’t negate the very real struggle that some believers go through.  And it is no different than someone suffering from physical health issues.

In all honesty, it’s a topic that makes me uncomfortable, so writing this post isn’t exactly “my thing.”  But this is an issue that I strongly believe needs a voice—and not just because it affects me on a personal level—I know there are others out there who have felt the stigma.  Those who have felt shame or embarrassment or even outright denial of the struggle.

It’s not possible to cover everything in one post.  So, it’s probably safe to say that this won’t be my last.  But I wanted to at least open up the conversation.  I would guess that almost every reader knows someone who struggles with mental health or has fought their own demons with it.

Know that first, mental illness is not a sign of weak faith.   Depression was something that King David struggled with—if you don’t believe me, read the Psalms.  Or remember Elijah, who at one point was so depressed he was ready to give up…even asking God to take his life.  I believe that our greatest faith comes from the lowest points in life, the moments of desperation and when we feel the most unable.  Because it’s then we see the power of God move on our behalf…whether that means healing or strength to face the battle.

Second, mental illness can be a generational curse.  Just as diabetes or breast cancer might run in a family, so can schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.  My family has a long history of mental illness.  My acceptance of Jesus doesn’t erase this truth.  But it does empower me to break the hold it’s had over us.

It’s an important topic…especially among believers.  Not just to draw attention to it but to point the way to the One who has the answers.

Psalm 42:5 “Why, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.”

Remaining Faithful NO MATTER WHAT

 

Dealing with trials is part of life.  We can’t outrun or outsmart them.  We can’t even be a “good enough” Christian to avoid them.  What we can do is remain faithful to God…no matter how hard the road before us, no matter how uncertain things seem or how painful it becomes.

Easy?  Hardly.  Heck, we oftentimes blame God in the first place!

When everything is going right in our life, it’s easy to stay faithful.  But what happens when everything is going wrong?  Or the worse thing we could ever imagine happens?  What if our greatest fears come to pass?  Or a difficult season stretches on for weeks, months or even years?

I almost always think about Job of the Old Testament.  He lost everything that mattered to him.  It’s one thing to have empty pockets and a broken body…but to have all of your children die?  Even the loss of just one I cannot imagine.  And so, I have to ask myself, would I be able to remain faithful if I were in Job’s shoes?  I would like to be able to say yes, that I would…however, I really don’t know.

I know it’s not the Sunday School answer.  But it’s my honest answer.

I’ve been mad at God plenty of times.  Even if I haven’t blamed Him for circumstances, I’ve been sure to remind Him of the power He has to change them.  I might have lost my way and my faith may have been teetering on the edge, but I never fully turned my back on God.  The good news is that even I had, He would welcome me back with open arms.

Deep down inside we know He is the answer to our trials.  And even if He chose not to do anything about what we’re going through, He is the one who will carry us through.

Life is full of unfair events, tragic loss and disappointments.  We have little control over much of what happens.  But we can determine there is no better place to run to, than His arms of comfort.

After all…

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

Psalm 139:7-12 (NIV)

 

You might also like:  The Biggest Mistakes Made When Someone Is in a Trial

There Is Only One Perfect Father

My dad’s early part of life was pretty rough…which in turn made mine a bit bumpy.  As a child, he was a victim of abuse in more than one way.  When he was old enough, he joined the Air Force and went to Vietnam, where he served on the front lines. He witnessed and participated in some pretty horrific things.

When he came home, he struggled with alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder (it would be the 80’s before we’d start to hear about this form of mental illness).  By then he was married to my mother and was not only raising me, but my aunt.  My mother’s much younger sister came to live with us when my maternal grandfather killed my maternal grandmother.  Eventually my sister came along.

We were poor and mostly lived in bad areas of the city.  There was a lot of fighting and violence in the home.  It was not the ideal upbringing and although I legitimately have every reason to focus on the imperfect parts of my father, I choose instead to remember there is only one perfect Father.

My dad left my mom right after my husband and I had our first child.  It was devastating.  Eventually my dad remarried a much younger woman, who had three children around the ages of 10 and 11.  Suddenly I had to embrace this new family.  It wasn’t easy.  It seemed his new wife got the better of him.  Her children benefited from his improved financial position.  They got to enjoy things, and a side of my dad, that I never did.

My dad changed as he got older.  We became closer and I got to experience the more loving side of him.  He enjoyed being a grandpa to my three children and warmly embraced my husband as his own son.   The latter part of my life with him was much better.  And I got to hold his hand as he took his very last breath just over two years ago.

My dad wasn’t perfect.  No dad is perfect—even the most loving, available and caring one.  I believe with all my heart that he parented the best way he could.  It’s easy to blame our parents for the wrongs in our life or to make excuses for our bitterness because of what we experienced.  Perhaps God’s expectations are a little lower than ours.

I don’t know your story…what type of father you were brought up by, or even if your father has been around for you.  I don’t know about your disappointments or the rejection you felt.  You may not have a single bad thing to say about your dad.  Regardless, he is (was) imperfect.

God’s perfection is what enables us to forgive and see past our own pain to better understand someone else’s pain.  It doesn’t diminish the hard times we’ve gone through.  But what’s the point of having a perfect Father if we can’t enjoy the benefits of it?

It’s His perfect love that enables us to love.

It’s His perfect love that allows us to show grace.

It’s His perfect love that helps us to trust again.

It’s His perfect love that enables us to remember we’ve all sinned and fallen short.

May this Father’s Day be a time of healing…of self-reflection…of determination to forgive…of recognition there is only ONE perfect Father!

 

 

 

The Cure for Soul Burnout

I’ve been exhausted physically, after a sleepless night.  I’ve been tapped out emotionally, when everything is going wrong.  And I’ve been mentally drained by difficult circumstances.

But when all three happen or any one of them seems unending, it can lead to soul burnout.  A nap won’t help.  A comedy won’t make us feel better.  And thinking positive won’t change a thing.

The cure?  Soul rest.

Sounds blissful, doesn’t it?  But how exactly do we get there?

Let Go.

So much of what happens is beyond our control.  We can’t change the circumstances or the people.  Yet oftentimes we expend a large amount of energy in trying to, emptying ourselves of any reserves there might be left.

Letting go is one of the hardest things to do, especially for perfectionists (like me).    I think there’s a couple of reasons why this is so hard.  One is that it feels like we’re giving up…we’ve accepted defeat.  The other reason is that we’re putting more stock in our ability than God’s…we think we know a better way.

True surrender is accepting that we don’t know what to do but God does.  Surrender is recognizing that victory can only come through Him.  And it’s coming to the realization that although we may not understand why things are happening, God remains in full control.

Seek quiet.

The noise of this world can easily drown out the solitude our soul needs.  This includes not only the devices and activities that suck us in but the thoughts that cloud our mind.  I do a fairly good job at letting things go…unless it involves those closest to me.  Then I tend to do the “worst-case-scenario” in my head.  Or I get caught up with my emotions, anger when they’ve been hurt or worry over their circumstances.

Seeking quiet may require a setting aside of those devices and activities.  But it also means taking captive our thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:5).  Although we can’t completely control our thoughts, we can choose to not dwell on them.  When we mull something over in our mind, we’re likely to go places we’d otherwise not go.  Even righteous anger can turn an ugly direction if we fail to reign in our thoughts.

Another way we can take captive our thoughts is by refusing to react.  Reactions are usually knee-jerk and come from the flesh.  Prayer is more likely to produce a godly response.  This requires getting quiet before God.  The more time spent with Him and in His Word, the less noisy this world becomes.

Pursue God.

When our souls are weary, sometimes the last thing we think about is reading God’s Word or even going to church.  Prayer feels useless.  Keep pursuing God.  Even if you’re not “feeling it,” don’t give up.  It might not feel like He’s there or that He’s listening.  Yet it’s when God feels the furthest that He’s actually the closest and doing the most work in your life.

Some of my most victorious moments have come after a long time of what appeared to be silence from God.  It only made me more aware (and amazed) of God’s power to work in and through a situation.

Enlist help.

If you’re anything like me, the last thing you want to do is enlist help.  I tend to isolate myself when I’m struggling, which is the very worst thing you can do.  But soul rest isn’t a solo sport.  It’s important to ask others for help, whether it’s in a tangible way or just to have a listening ear.  At the very least, ask those who are trustworthy for prayer.

There was a long period of time in which I experienced soul burnout on my own.  I didn’t turn to anyone.  It was incredibly painful and lonely.  Then a friend invited me to attend a Bible study group.  From the first moment I sat with those ladies, I felt welcomed.  And it didn’t take long before I felt loved and truly cared for through their prayers, words of support and encouragement.  Without their help, I don’t know how I would have made it through.

Soul rest is the cure for burnout.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him (Psalm 62

The Biggest Mistakes Made When Someone Is in a Trial

Going through some personal trials in my own life, I’ve learned what not to do when someone else is suffering.  Although people generally have good intentions, oftentimes they become more of a hindrance than a help to the healing process.  While I certainly don’t have all the answers on how to help someone, I’ve come to an understanding about some of the biggest mistakes we can make.

Mistake #1 – Pretending to understand someone else’s trial

If you have not personally experienced what someone is going through, it’s a disservice to pretend to understand.  It’s okay to say that you can’t relate to their pain.  There is nothing wrong with admitting you don’t know what to say or do for that person.

When my close friend’s husband died in a tragic workplace accident, there was no way I could help her in the grieving process by pretending to understand what she was going through.  I had no words for her…and that’s exactly what I would tell her.  My presence, my listening ear, my care and concern were all she needed.  She wasn’t looking for someone to say, “I understand.”  She was looking for someone to just be there.

If we haven’t experienced what someone else has gone through, it doesn’t disqualify us from helping.  It’s always better to admit we’re at a loss as to how to help rather than pretending to understand their pain.

Mistake #2 – Comparing your pain to their pain

Sometimes we have experienced a similar type of trial, which in many ways can be very comforting to the other person.  But in the midst of their pain, don’t compare what it was like for you to what they’re experiencing.

During the more than a yearlong process of seeking custody and going through the legal system for my granddaughter, I had a friend who was constantly telling me about her own experiences with custody more than 20 years ago.   Her intentions were good, I know that.  But it eventually made me stop sharing with her.

When someone is hurting, it’s hard for them to see past it.  It’s not that we shouldn’t share our insight or experiences, but we have to be careful that the focus doesn’t become about our pain instead of their pain.

Mistake #3 – Diminishing what someone else is going through

Sometimes we unintentionally (or perhaps even intentionally) diminish the other person’s trial.  What is tragic for one person might not be to another.  But that doesn’t make it any less important.

While losing a pet might not compare to losing a spouse, it is still a loss nonetheless.  A demotion might not be as bad as getting laid off…but it’s still discouraging.  A parent who is upset about their child getting caught smoking maybe doesn’t compare to a child hooked on drugs…yet it’s still a disappointment.

Just because it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you or it’s not as big of a trial as what you have gone through, doesn’t mean the person is any less deserving of encouragement and support.  Don’t diminish what someone else is going through…they’re pain is just as real.

 

Although I’m not a very competitive person, I don’t enjoy personal failure.  It’s not as big of a deal if someone else gets the promotion but if I get it and don’t do well, I’ll spend a lot of time rehashing my mistakes.

 

I don’t know anyone who gets a kick out of failing.  It feels bad…sometimes leading to shame, guilt and regret.  Yet there is good that can come out of failure.  Some of the hardest yet most profound lessons are learned through our mess-ups.

 

Those that fail at marriage might think it’s not possible to ever succeed and so they give up hope of ever having a loving, satisfying relationship.  However, taking an honest inventory of those areas that contributed to the breakup, can set you on a course toward a second chance at real love.

 

Failure at a job can cause doubt in one’s ability.  Yet time spent in personal reflection might reveal things we could improve upon.  As a result, a better opportunity may come our way.

 

Many of us have felt like a failure at one time or another with parenting.  While some mistakes are just part of the territory, others could be a result of deep-rooted issues that may be uncovered with time spent in prayer and self-examination.

 

There’s a recurring theme in these examples.  Not one alludes to someone else being at fault for our failures.  Instead, the focus is on self…looking within to find where growth, change, or confession may be the catalyst to go from failure to success.

 

Oftentimes we view success as everything going right.  Things come easily and there’s no real effort that we have to put forth…it all just falls into place.  While this might feel better, it doesn’t grow us as a person.  Failure puts us on alert that something needs attention.   It touches the places deep within our soul that only God can fix.

 

You may not find it easy to welcome failure, but you can embrace the wonderful work that results from it.  You can be a willing participant of God chiseling away the heart of stone and illuminating the heart of flesh within.

 

How to Deal with Trials in Life

Let’s face it…not a single one of us receives immunity from difficulties in life.  They come at us in all ways and at all times.  Some trials last a moment while others feel like a lifetime.  Some we see coming and others hit us quite unexpectedly.

 

So how does a person of faith deal with these trials?  How do we stand strong in Christ when everything is falling apart?

 

Coming out of my own particularly difficult season of life has been a huge learning experience.  I nearly lost my way in the midst of uncertainty, pain and heartache.  Yet it was in this place that God showed Himself in ways I had never experienced.

 

I learned that when He felt the furthest, He was actually the closest.  When He seemed silent, He was speaking the loudest.  Everything I thought I knew about God would be shattered…because He is so much more than we think or imagine.

 

My hope is that through this series of posts, you will be challenged to look at your trials in another light.  To see them as an opportunity to discover things about God you couldn’t learn any other way.  For the next 7 Mondays, I will share some of my personal experiences and the lessons learned through them.

 

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you (I Peter 5:10, ESV)

A REAL Family with REAL Problems

When I started this blog, I was coming out of a really difficult time in my life.  It was almost as if I was in a midlife spiritual crisis.  Life dealt some hard blows and although most of those circumstances are now behind me, I’ve learned that the battles never really stop.  Not as long as we’re on this earth.

 

I have a real family with real problems.  Children who are wayward.  Family members who are divorced, addicted to drugs, and other types of turmoil.  Sometimes the brave face is hard to put on.  Some days it feels like I can’t deal with yet another issue.

 

Discouragement is a battle I face often.  When it gets the upper hand over me, anxiety becomes a serious issue.  At one point, it consumed me to such a degree that I had to seek medical help.  Then shame tried to move in by making me feel bad that God wasn’t enough.  That was a lie.  It had nothing to do with that.  A cancer patient still takes medicine.  A sick person still goes to the doctor.

 

I had to take care of me before I could take care of my family.  God has been more than enough.  He has carried me through some pretty dark days.  He has strengthened me when I felt weak and unable.  He has guided me when I had no answers.

 

Believers don’t get a pass on difficulty.  We have real families that go through real problems.  Yet we have an advantage because we don’t have to rely on medicine or anything else to get us through.  God provides a variety of helps…but the bottom line is that we have a faith that sustains us unlike anything else.  We have the promise of a better tomorrow.  We have the assurance of one day all tears being wiped away and the end of death.

 

We have a hope that the world doesn’t have…and one that we need to share with them.  Not having it all together speaks louder than acting as if life is perfect.  We don’t do others a favor by pretending that faith means a problem-free life.  Faith is what carries us through this problematic life.

 

It’s okay to be a real family with real problems.  Because we serve a real God with real answers.

When Vindication Turns to Victory

Who doesn’t enjoy a good story of the underdog finally getting his day?  When evil is overcome by good and the bad guy gets what’s coming to him.  But what if this isn’t a movie or TV show and instead, it’s your own circumstances.  When the one who wronged you suffers and you can’t help but feel a little bit of personal satisfaction.

 

What does God say about all of this?

 

The Lord judges the peoples; vindicate me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me (Psalm 7:8).

 

Here’s the thing about these verses, the ones that make us feel good because God is on our side and He’s all about vindicating us…there is always more to it than the other person getting what’s coming to them. 

 

It’s easy to lay claim to scripture where God comes through for us.   Yet we neglect the portion of scripture that talks about “our righteousness” and “our integrity”.  In the midst of being wronged, have we remained true to righteousness and integrity?  Can we say that our handling of the situation has been Christ-like?  And do we really think that God’s vindication is supposed to bring us some sort of sick pleasure?

 

Could it be that true victory isn’t a matter of the other person getting what’s coming to him?  That instead it’s a resolution in which both sides come together in peace?

 

When someone wrongs us—especially if it’s done over and over again—our first instinct isn’t usually reconciliation.  It’s “God, get ‘em.”

 

Or maybe that’s just me.

 

God sometimes surprises us.  For months I was sure that vindication was the answer to some difficult people in my life.  Anytime things seemed to finally go against them, I would secretly rejoice (okay, sometimes I did verbalize it).  Yes, I know…very unChrist-like.  But I justified that satisfaction by recounting all the things they’d done to me and my family.  I don’t think anyone would argue that their behavior was in the wrong.  Yet that’s not where God wanted me to park my thoughts.

 

As-a-matter-of-fact, God would show me victory over vindication in a way I never expected.  It wasn’t going to be the satisfaction of the other side getting what was coming to them.  It wouldn’t even be a matter of things going my way.  Instead, God was going to take an awful situation and turn it into a complete miracle.  And I don’t say that lightly.

 

I can’t really say I’ve ever had an “enemy” in my life.  Sure, I’ve had people who rubbed me the wrong way, and those I can’t get along with.  But a TRUE enemy, not something I’ve experienced.  Yet that is what a couple of people had become.  Keep in mind the definition of an enemy is “a person who is actively opposed or hostile to someone or something.”  The opposition and hostility against my family was definitely active—for well over a year.

 

When peace is made with an enemy, that my friend, is a miracle.  Vindication wasn’t God’s plan in our circumstances.  Victory would come, instead, through reconciliation.  Not “let’s be friends and hang out” kind of reconciliation.  But “let’s be at peace” because it’s in the best interest of a young life.  I may not like you and you may not like me but we can still do this—even to the point of awkwardly sitting at a table together eating ice cream with that young life who is more positively affected by peace than conflict.

 

No one could have convinced me more than a year ago that this would happen.  Not because I wouldn’t think God is able to orchestrate this type of thing…but that I would never agree to it.  Because how do you sit down with someone who has caused your family grief and stress?  How do you make nice with someone who hasn’t been nice?

 

 

Only God can turn what you thought you wanted—vindication—to victory.  Because nothing is more victorious than making peace with others.

When Life Is Unfair