This is the second of a three blog series to help spouses, parents, and families find healthy balance. Those personally living with a mental illness will find this validating and helpful. This will not be the "answer all" to every question and situation, however some simple tips to help you stay grounded.
The goodness of God vs. the root issue.
When mental illness is discussed in Christian circles, there are some who lean more toward God’s grace and unfortunately others who view it as spiritual demise. These negative views position mental illness as consequences from being disobedient to God, generational curses, and even bad parenting. Here's an example from one ministry’s extreme position on mental illness ....
"Mental illness comes into a person's life through disobedience to the Voice of God and His Commandments either through generational iniquities of the forefathers and/or through the parents not bringing their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord ...
"The spiritual root of mental illness without exception is rebellion, which is violating the Word of God and His commandments."
Wow, try chewing on that for a while and then try to find the grace of God! These negative biblical views on mental illness create demeaning "spiritual stigma.”
Now counter this from Rick and Kay Warren (Saddleback Church) who lost their son, Matthew, to depression … Kay Warren says,
"People with depression have something very valuable to teach us - how to live when it doesn’t ever feel good.
"The church needs to value and recognize the incredible courage of those struggling with mental illness.”
We don't hear about this beautiful grace within mental illness, nor is it often taught ... if it all. Instead many families and individuals are more often trapped battling the harsh spiritual ideologies … “spiritual stigma.” It leaves them trying to figure out the root issues in order to remedy the mental illness ... and they fight hard. They work hard against the judgment and that maybe God is angry with them. They’re exhausted!
The Goodness of God reforms us into grace unmeasured.
Before Grace Alliance, believe it or not, I actually was subject to some of these harsh views, not in any extreme, but some concepts were there. I was looking for what we did wrong. BUT, grace captured me as I walked alongside my wife for over 8 years through her painful mental health journey ... until we discovered mental health recovery. I found Jesus co-suffering with me (and my wife), and He began unveiling a reality of grace unmeasured (i.e., sufficient grace for all things, 2 Corinthians 12:9)!
You will find Him always the same for you.
So, now let's look at some helpful tips to stay grounded with the Goodness of God.
1. Discover love, not the law punishment.
Mental illness is not about fault-finding sin or discovering more weaknesses to re-crucify those individuals, spouses, and families all affected by mental illness ... it's to discover the love and forgiveness that leads to a meaningful comfort. Yes, you will have to learn and correct some areas of your life that are not helping ... like I did, but this is about discovering a good God with you in the journey.
As a good friend of mine recently shared with me, “The cross is about God's love and forgiveness, a full work of love completed. So, when Jesus said 'take up your cross and follow me' (Matthew 16:24), Jesus was saying 'take up the love and forgiveness towards others ... and for ourselves.' "
We don't start our view with a law fault-finding punishment, we start with love fulfilled.
"There is no fear in love but perfect love casts out all fear, because fear involves punishment ..." (1 John 4:18).
"Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:10).
"Now we who are strong ought to bear the weakness of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification" (Romans 15:1-3).
2. Comfort is not poured out from a distant heaven, you're intertwined with it.
Comfort means to alleviate pain, distress, and grief. The comfort that we receive from God is not Him visiting us, patting us on the back, and Him saying, "I'm sorry ... hang in there, this soon shall pass.” Comfort in Christ is something of a deeper fellowship and help.
In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, the greek word for "comfort" carries the meaning of one who is in "close proximity" and "to identify by name." This means that your very life is intertwined with His comfort. In other words, comfort is the very nature and expression of the full fellowship of the Father, Son, and Spirit in all our trials, pain, and distress … mental illness. It is God’s comfort validating our real pain and a grieving God who is intertwined with us ... a God who weeps within and with us.
Comfort doesn’t require work, it’s reminds us to rest securely in Him. Comfort let's us hear God saying, "Let me love you."
3. Comfort is a Helper.
"Comfort" is also the same word Jesus used of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us (John 14:16). This "Comforter" is also defined as a "Helper," so that we never feel weak and destitute, but ALWAYS remain in Him lacking in nothing (cf. John 17:23; Colossians 2:10; James 1:4).
Because of our full fellowship with the Father, Son, and Spirit ... that makes us co-laborers with Christ AND Christ co-laborers with us (cf. John 14:20, 17:21; 1 Corinthians 3:9; Galatians 2:20). It's not all up to us ... He is the intercessor, He is the One bringing relief, He is the One guiding, He is the One strengthening, He is the One giving wisdom, fill in the blank to what you need, He is the One co-laboring with and for you ... comforting and helping (cf. John 16:14; Romans 8:26; Philippians 4:13; Hebrews 7:25; James 1:5 ).
“Some things in life you are not going to get the answers to. What I get from God is not explanations, it’s comfort.” - Rick Warren
His comfort goes beyond explanations, and HELPS us remember we are secure in His habitat of Love. His comforts goes beyond explanations and He weeps with us over the pain and loss. His comfort goes beyond explanations as He reminds us that the pain and distress can never hold us captive, leave us defeated, or let His joy for us be robbed from us … because HE is Christ in us, the hope of glory, who tarries with us in all things (Colossians 1:27).
No mental illness can change the fact that we are always intimately intertwined in His own Spirit of "Comfort" and "Help." And comfort always leads to hope!
Now that's Good News and incredibly comforting!
4. Comfort is the fruit and the expression of community.
Comfort is best experienced in a loving and supportive community ... because everyone in the community is a conduit of God's grace and comfort for one another.
When I went through this journey with my wife, secular groups had no structure and were co-ruminating over pain (venting groups). They were more discouraging to attend ... I didn't go! I got to talk to my friends Dr. Stanford and another family friend 2 hours away by phone, but there were no Christian mental health groups in my city. My other friends didn’t really understand ... and I didn’t force them to. However, they are incredible friends and knew me … so they patiently listened and asked helpful questions ... I grew deeply in my journey.
This is why we created The Family Grace Group in order to provide that comfort, an understanding of God's grace, helpful tools, and people who can share in supportive prayer. If you don't have a Family Grace Group in your city or area, you can buy the group workbook and discover more personal support. You can also reach out to a NAMI affiliate in your area and ask for other Christian families who are involved. Meet with them, share the challenges, but DON'T stay in venting mode, learn and grow (use our Family material if you want), and support one another through ongoing prayer.
When it works in the church.
Here is a beautiful story of how simple this comfort and community works in the church ...
A family went to a meet with the pastor and elders to receive prayer for a difficult family situation. The pastoral leadership quickly recognized this was a situation involving deeper mental health needs. Fortunately, the leadership had healthy mental illness awareness. They could not provide a lot of counsel, but they lovingly prayed for the family and then said they had something else to offer.
After their meeting, the Senior Pastor walked the family across the church campus to the Family Grace Group that was already in session. The Senior Pastor introduced the family to the group and said, "This is where you need to be." The family was amazed and deeply comforted to know that there was an understanding community of believers that they could find grace-filled support.
Community is the greatest place to see the goodness of God!
Let us know how you have discovered the goodness of God vs. trying to figure out root issues that may have wiped you out. Comment here and or on our facebook page.
NOTE: if there are no available Family Grace Groups in your area, you can purchase the Family Grace Group Participant workbook in our bookstore and go through the workbook on your own for additional education, tools, and support.
Another great resource is a book by my brilliant friend, co-founder, and board director, Dr. Matthew Stanford, "Grace for the Afflicted: A biblical and clinical perspective on mental illness."
CEO / Co-Founder The Grace Alliance