Compassionate Love Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness (c)2017 Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministry
A girl eats too much. Is she a glutton, mentally unhealthy, or both? Could it be she is not used to having enough food, has a thyroid problem, or is taking medication that makes her ravenous? Maybe her family taunts her when she tries to eat healthier than they do. Perhaps it is her way of protecting herself from more sexual assault.
No behavioral issue is as simple as it looks on the surface. That is why it is such a gift of grace to know that God looks at our hearts – our intentions, and deep motives. He sees beyond where humans judge.*
Mental Health and Recovery Advocacy is promotion of that higher ideal with a challenge to all. Look beyond what your eyes tell you, take the time to ask gentle questions, and choose to love a person with the respect that allows her to share her story. **
There is an unfortunate confusion. I suspect in the Christian faith, and perhaps in other religions as well, that stigma surrounding mental illness translates a person’s difficulty into “spiritual problem.”
Inside and outside Christian circles, openness about my struggle with major depression recurrent has brought funny looks. Prospective employers dismiss me after a Google search. I lost my radio show sponsor last summer due to his fear. In general, where stigma exists, there is anger, distrust, and disapproval.
Let’s get it straight
Misunderstanding is based on the assumption that mental illness and its symptoms are mere choices. By that misguided standard, if we are not joyous and hopeful we stand to be condemned as weak or attention-seekers. Hearing voices is “crazy” and makes a person less-than. Suicidal ideation is a character flaw.
Do we with mental illness need to love and obey God? Yes, and he is often the only hope we know. However, since we cannot know the intricacies of another’s suffering, it is unfair to tell anyone in the struggle of their life that stability is simply a matter of choice.
Thinking errors may necessarily have to be addressed before an understanding of God’s Word can take full effect. Traumatic pasts create warped worldviews. Dysfunctional families do not pass down the tools necessary for healthy giving and receiving of love.
Changing my stinkin’ thinkin’ was driven by a desire to honor God. Yet in the five decades prior, he did not turn his back to me. Jesus stands with us in our confusion.
God is present in the middle of our gravest mental illnesses, in our despair, cognitive impairment, and false beliefs. He is with us while we practice addict behaviors in motels, empty warehouses, and during our self-loathing. We stuff our faces and pride, and he is there. We lie for the fiftieth time, and he knows us better than we do. If all we can muster in our darkness is ”help,” he hears and honors that heart-cry.
The psalmist indicates his faith by writing, “O LORD, God of my salvation…,” yet adds, “I am in a trap with no way of escape. My eyes are blinded by my tears. Each day I beg for your help, O LORD; I lift my hands to you for mercy.”
Love points to the character of God.
In all of our imperfection, God is meeting us where we are, and loving us back into healthy bodies, minds, and souls as we let him. Since he who knows us intimately is patient with our limitations, how can we not advocate for each person who suffers?
Knowledge and insight produce the best spiritual fruits of kindness, goodness, and gentleness. God is love, and that is our calling.
Today’s Helpful Word
“Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can fully share its joy.”
NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.
If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.
*”If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread our hands in prayer to foreign gods, God would surely have known it, for he knows the secrets of every heart.” Psalm 44: 20, 21
*”The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
**”A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash.” Proverbs 15:14
-heart pic by LUSI on rgbstock.com; couple pic from Kozzi.com