In previous posts, we've shared true and difficult stories from families of loved ones with serious mental illness who have had a negative experience within their local church. Our hearts go out to these families and many others who share a similar background. In today's post, we'll hear another perspective regarding the church's role from our President, Deborah Geesling:
The Church's Role and Serious Mental Illness
Let me just get this out of the way, I love my church.
No church is perfect, but ever since we've entered the world of advocating we rarely hear positive reports of church experience with family members and those afflicted with serious mental illness. For some reason that has not been the case with us. So I wanted to share a few things from our experience that we've learned.
1. The church is not equipped to treat serious mental illness.
Yes, I said that. The church is also not equipped to treat diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure, lymphoma and dandruff. The responsibility primarily for illness belongs in the hands of medical professionals.
2. The Christian church's primary responsibility is to preach the gospel and to make disciples.
Yes, I said that too. You won't hear me jumping on the bandwagon of blaming all of societal ills on the church because they haven't filled every need in our cities.
3. If you need help, ask for it.
Maybe it will only be someone praying for you. Maybe counseling, a car ride, a phone call. Whatever. How can anyone know what you need unless you ask? Serious mental illness can be daunting, most don't understand or even have the answers for you (I didn't until I had my son!!), so be grateful for the little deeds. Just knowing someone is there for you can be enough at times. Keep your expectations real with folks. They have lives and responsibilities too.
4. The church can be equipped to give support, empathy, long suffering, acceptance and love to those with serious mental illness and their families.
This I have experienced. It didn't happen overnight, but our son taught us how to do it. And parents, may I be candid for a moment? Well, since this is my blog I'll just say it anyway...let's get some thick skin. First, if you are in the wrong church, leave. Find one that is truth and grace centered. And then go and be ye patient. If someone makes an offhanded remark? Forgive. If someone makes a judgement? Speak the truth in love and educate. Show the same long suffering with folks that you would want them to show you and your child.
Simply remember your own bias and judgements before God graced you with a special needs seriously mentally ill child, then remember the gospel and how long suffering and patient Christ is with you. And then wait...wait and see what glory God will bring out of your tragedies.
And if you've never gone to church because you are afraid that you will be hurt? Go anyway. You may be hurt. But you may not. You could be missing out on an oasis of care that God wants to grace you with, beginning with a relationship with Him.