A Tough Look At Reality, Or Is It Non-Reality
Is any Church immune from mental illness? I thought mine was immune until it struck my wife, for I knew nothing about mental illness or how to identify it. Now I know there are several in the congregation that I attend who face mentally ill challenges in their lives. My family, who went through NAMI’s (National Association for the Mentally Ill) Family to Family course for people who have loved ones who face mental illness, have had their eyes opened by the course and were shocked to discover other members of their church family who are facing mental health challenges. The Church is for the hurting, so the hurting are in the Church.
Often, even as Christian Church goers, we tend to think of some in our congregation or church family as being different or weird but can not place our finger upon it. With mental health there is a stigma that needs to be broken, and the Church should be leading the way in this effort. What brings this stigma is ignorance, not understanding mental health, and to tell you the truth, I do not know if you can ever understand it unless it effects you directly. That is what makes NAMI’s Family to Family course so effective over counseling with professionals. Those teaching the course have experienced it first hand. What they teach is not theory, but applied practicality through experience. NAMI also has a Peer to Peer Course where those recovering from mental illness teach their peers from not only a proven researched course, but most of all through their personal experiences.
How can the Christian Church reach out to the Mental Health world? Through understanding. They also have much more to offer because they should not only be teaching but also practicing grace, mercy, forgiveness, acceptance, friendship, fellowship, etc.
Mental Illness is filled with moving forward during recovery, but also accepting and facing set backs, reoccurrences of their illnesses. A member that is bipolar or schizophrenic will experience multiple set backs in their life. The Church has to change its mindset about the theology of “back sliding” when dealing with mental health. They need to understand what caused this reversal. The church then needs to “minister” to that person who is again in crisis, in pain, emotional pain, deeper than anything we have never experienced. Jesus, because of the suffering on the cruel, non-forgiving cross, not only learned about human suffering but also forgiveness. “Father, forgive them, FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO.” The Church has a lot to offer in the field of understanding pain and forgiveness if they are really in touch with the Jesus who “suffered” and died for the “forgiveness” of sin. Like Jesus taught about forgiving seventy times seven, the Church needs to reach out to those fighting mental illness in their lives seventy times seven, or multiple times.
The Church must also recognize that mental illness is not a sin; it is an illness. I know some churches who have placed guilt on people teaching their sickness was a punishment for their sin. Balderdash! They got cancer, diabetes, or became bipolar because they “deserved it” since they are a sinner! Balderdash again! Those who are mentally ill are already condemning themselves, feeling worthless, full of guilt and pain, and they do not need another institution to add to their condemnation, nor guilt, nor pain. If the Church believes in resurrection and newness of life, then they need to build up not condemn, forgive, support and accept rather than pore on more guilt, and help the healing process rather than adding to the pain.
Any Christian church of any substantive size IS NOT immune to mental illness, but tends to choose to turn the other way out of ignorance, lack of understanding, or not practicing what they preach, unless they choose to reach out to those hurting, suffering, in conflict or in crisis. “Open our eyes, Lord”, and “he who has ears to hear, hear.”