Monday, November 28, 2005

What Is It Like to be Mentally Ill?

From time to time, I volunteer to help a fellow who runs a ministry named "Compassion Ministries". Usually my job is to show up at a seminar that he is running on a Saturday. I give a 10 minute talk about what it has been like for me to struggle with mental illness for the past four decades. This is followed by a question and answers from a crowd of about 20 or 30 folks who are there to learn how the church can better understand and help folks with mental illness or family members of folks with mental illness.

I gave such a talk yesterday morning for an adult Sunday school class. Suddenly, tonight, I had a thought. What if someone asked me to come to a group of church people and talk about what it was like to be Physically Ill. Almost anyone can come up with a pretty good description of some struggle they have had with physical illness. The vast majority of folks could describe a time when physical illness was severe enough to interfere with their family life, work, or school. It caused suffering. It may even have been life threatening.

If one were to give a little talk on physical illness to just about any group, the response would undoubtedly be rather tepid, unless you could come up with something pretty horrible. Bone cancer. Open heart surgery. Something like that. But there is a good chance that even then, a stranger might think "What's the big deal, that is as common as dirt. I know plenty of people who have struggled with something like that" , although they would likely be too polite to say so.

Seldom would anyone ask what it was like for a Christian to have physical illness. Occasionally you might run into some wacko that would tell you to quit taking your insulin or give up your cholesterol lowering drugs since they indicate that you lack faith in God. But most folks would say something like, "God can heal in many ways!" .

So it is always pretty interesting to me that a lot of folks seem to sit on the edge of their chair as
I describe my struggles. I am always fully confident that there are a substantial number of folks in the room who have also suffered from mental illness or who love someone who has. Many of those folks feel that they are hearing this openly discussed in a church for the first time.
They have longed to confide in others, but have been ashamed or afraid of possible consequences. They may even feel that they would be likely to get more sympathy at their yoga class or from non-believers in a quilting club.

Hey folks, it is time for us to do something about this! The church is a hospital and we are all sick from the consequences of sin in the world. By all means, have your cancer or broken arm prayed for. Please don't stop there. Are you sad, anxious, or manic. Share. Pray. Encourage. Serve one another. Maybe you hear voices or cut yourself. Take a chance on someone that seems trustworthy and share what is going on. And if they tell you that all you have to do is trust in Jesus and you will no longer suffer those feelings, move on to someone who is not just as deceived as the guy who might tell my diabetic friend to throw away his insulin.

I thank God that he has freed me to share a whole new category of my weaknesses. I pray that you will know that same freedom, more and more. I also thank God that he has given me a family in the Lord who encourage me and support me. I thank God whenever I am able to encourage or serve someone else. And I thank you for reading this far :-)
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