Hey Church, Rethink Your Theology on Mental Health – Questions & Answers Part VI


The Church’s Steps Toward Recovery

Question:  How can the Church offer compassion to those facing Mental Illness?


Today we continue asking questions that need answered in order for the Church to make steps towards it own recovery in mental health?

Answer.  Jesus had his daily routine interrupted by a funeral procession led by a grieving mother of an only child that died.  He was “moved” with compassion and raised the child from the dead.  One of the most famous quotes from the Bible for kids having to memorize Bible versus is, “Jesus wept”. He was “moved” with compassion.   When seeing the multitude following him in the dessert with no food, He was “moved” with compassion for them and the miracle of the fish and the loaves occurred as he met their physical need by feeding them.

I like the verb “moved” beside the words “with compassion” because it infers that an “action” is associated with the emotion.  When “compassion” is released, it requires an action, not just a passive emotion. Often at funerals we say, “I feel sorry for your lost,” but we are not really “moved” to do anything about that, often because we do not know what to “do” to relieve their grief at that time.  The Church finds itself often in the same place today with Mental Health because it does not know what to “do” to show “compassion” to those struggling with mental illnesses.  What can we “do”?

I do not say this out of judgment.  There was a time when I hated visiting someone ill in the hospital because I did not know what to do or say. Saying something stupid like, “How are you feeling today?” deserves a stupid answer like “Great! That is why I am in here, you idiot!”  I had to learn that words did not show compassion toward the sick just my “presence” did because I was “there” for them, or a “touch” knowing that I was “near”.  The same is with mental illness as physical illness, for those suffering just need someone “there”, someone “near” when they feel detached, alone, in a dark place, isolated, scared, insecure, frightened, crying out for help.  The Church’s presence can go so much farther than its judgment.

“Understanding” and “reason” is not effective when showing compassion toward the mentally ill.  You do not have to understand why they are ill, or how they are ill, or try to figure everything out, and there is no reasoning with the one who is detached when ill.  To be effective just be “there”, be supportive, often not even “understanding” what is happening nor questioning why it is happening, but just being there. 

If no one is there, government services, churches, family or friends, homelessness is a very viable option, a distinct possibility. Governments have closed their mental health institutions, churches have isolated, families have abandoned, and the streets become the only option left.  Isolation, detachment, and numbness are common feelings among the mentally ill.  To show compassion the Church, we Christians, must be there for them, so they are not alone where they can endangering themselves or others, or even threatening their own life.  We can and must not detach our selves from their experience because of stigma, but be supportive, and we must “care” during the numbness; the isolation, the hurt; that is compassion. 

Often the caregiver, family, or friends become the victims by the one who is ill. The one ill will argue, blame, and try to control the very people who are trying to help them, their support system, and it is hard to stand by someone who is attacking you, blaming you, controlling you!  There is where compassion is powerful when reaching out to the person in spite of how they are feeling or treating you in their detached ill state. That is unconditional love.  Compassion is “feeling” for the person who is hurting who claims they have “lost all feeling.”  Compassion is not reciprocal! It is “moving” in the direction of helping, caring, and unconditional loving the one who is hurting, who is ill.

Will someone who is facing mental illness interrupt your well-planned, courteous church service? Possibly, no probably, but will you still love them, visit them, actually invite them back, or will you reject them, ostracize them?  Will someone who is facing mental illness begin blaming “the church” for everything and anything? Yes, that is a given, for they do it to anyone, especially to those who are caring, when they are ill, calling out to the very person whom they are victimizing for help!  If you aren’t going to be there for them, who will?  Will someone who is facing mental illness be manipulative? Again possibly or even probably, but can you love them through their manipulation, for only unconditional love breaks those manipulative patterns. Even Jesus’ disciples tried to manipulate him into picking themselves to sit on his right or left in his kingdom, but he saw through them, into them, and unconditionally walked with them through their life’s journey in spite of who they were or what was their background.  We say that believers in Christianity are disciples of Jesus, even those facing mental illness who have had at some time made a profession of faith, so why would Jesus not walk with them through their life’s journey too? So why would the Church not walk with them through their life’s journey too?