When a marriage or family experiences their loved one's mental health distress or disorder, it brings about a lot of emotions and frustration. I can relate because my wife's mental health journey had me searching for answers from God, myself, and others. I learned a few things along the way and had the opportunity to encourage countless others couples and families. I don't have all the answers, but I may have some helpful notes for your journey.
1. NOTE: Blame & Fault-Finding Leave Us Stuck In the Mud.
After trying to understand the mental health distress and disorder, one of the first things that naturally comes up is, "Who's fault is it?" and "Why is this happening to us?" This comes with introspective blaming and outward fault-finding. Your loved one is also going through this experience. Many Christians default the situation to a "spiritual issue" with the blame game (sin, flesh, the devil, and God's "discipline"). I remember going through this, and the more I searched for the why and who's fault it was, the more I felt emotionally stuck in the mud!
I had to wrestle out of the mud (mindset) that God brings about suffering and hardship to do a greater work in us. I learned God takes no pleasure in our suffering because He is not a God who uses thorns to humble or help us grow, rather He is with us in our suffering and pain with all sufficient grace.
I've met some of the most endearing Christian couples and families (who did everything right, but not perfect) and end up blaming themselves for not being "a good spouse or parent." They also look at their loved one's faults and/or their bad influences (friends, music, social media, etc.). Then, great Christian friends and pastors give counsel to reinforce this thinking. They were stuck in the mud, too! It's easy to get stuck, we all do. This is just a simple reminder that we grow with Christ in us, with us, around us (always enough in Him), rather than trying to grow up for Him to be pleased and bless our holy efforts (that's the "I'm not enough" thinking).
2. NOTE: God Trusts You, Too!
I remember talking to one family whose young adult child had to live at home because of their mental health condition. They had a great relationship and home life structure, but their loved-one's condition still needed support at home. They were asking me what else they could do even though most of the problems were gone. After some more questions, we realized that they were feeling like (and counseled by other well meaning people) they were failing parents and trying to trust God for more. I encouraged them, like I do with most, "You're doing more right than wrong!" I encouraged them to see the beauty of what they already had and simply let their loved one grow ... eventually, their loved one may want to move on.
And lastly, I encouraged them that I think God already knows their amazing trust (faith), but also to know, "God trusts you, too! ... You're doing great, keep it up!" That took them from failing parents to being affirmed as faithful parents!
3. NOTE: These Emotions Are Normal and Balanced with Love.
All these difficult emotions are normal and right! Experiencing discouragement is not a lack of faith, it is part of the journey of faith. Somehow our brain doesn't do well without a formula that makes sense (maybe that's more a western culture where we need lots of formula steps to fix our pain or just our Adam nature to point the finger at someone else). This is all part of the grieving process to navigate all the challenging emotions (sadness, anger, confusion, doubt, and so on). Yeah, it's messy with a lot of pain, but that's okay and going through the emotions is the faith journey (Christ all in step by step). We know this is part of the process and that's whey we actually cover this topic in our Family Grace Group workbook, "Grieving and Grace."
"Over time, a new peace began to grow. (notice I didn't say "I arrived at a new peace")."
With the support of a few counseling appointments and some very understanding friends, I realized it was okay to have all these wild emotions, but I couldn't stay stuck in the mud of self-blaming and fault-finding. Somehow, the reality of love described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 naturally helped me move forward (day by day and through the months). Over time, a new peace began to grow (notice I didn't say "I arrived at a new peace"). That peace grows into a new acknowledging perspective that the mental health condition is now part of our lives, our marriage and our family, and we needed a new process of life. That new process of life is what my team and I have translated into our various resources to see the whole-health approach for mental health recovery.
4. NOTE: Grieving & Grace Leads to New Meaning of Life (opportunities)!
In John 9:1-3, we find a story of man born blind from birth. The disciples ask Jesus if he or his parents sinned to make him blind. I love Jesus' response: "Neither … but for the work/power of God to be displayed in His life."
"The question for us is not where suffering has come from but what we are to do with it ... Overall, it's about LOVE being fueled by GRACE and GRACE being fueled by LOVE!"
Jesus was changing the whole perspective. I love how the Expository Greek Testament comments on this: "The question for us is not where suffering has come from, but what we are to do with it." That changes the whole scenario to let love move us all forward. That gives a whole new meaning of hope and discovering a new story … reStorying life. Overall, it's about love being fueled by grace and grace being fueled by love.
5. NOTE: Vision Doesn't Inspire Change, Love Does!
This perspective does not develop overnight. It takes time to go through all the emotions and a new perspective along the way provides new meaning and hope. For us, it was my wife and I deciding to live our lives without trying to fulfill some expectation and to get back into our "calling" (as if her condition put our "calling" on hold), but to see what opens up over time as we simply love each other and our family. I understand that without vision, we can get off track. Yet, how love unfolds in us can make vision unique to each of us, because vision arises from love and love fuels where the vision takes us.
So, if you're still in the journey with all kinds of emotions … it's okay! Take this as a helpful reminder that God's not judging you or decreeing these hardships to make you a better "Christian." Instead, consider the perspective that He is right there in you and with you giving you sufficient grace ... to see His works manifest in your marriage and family!
Hopefully these notes provide some encouragement and maybe some creative brainstorming for your journey. What have you found helpful for your journey? Let us know here and/or on our Facebook page.
Joe Padilla / The Grace Alliance
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