This is the third of a three blog series to help spouses, parents, and families affected by mental illness 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 long-haul grace vs. the quick-fix miracle.
Mental illness hurts. It hurts a lot! It hurst so much that it often creates a desperate cry for relief … and those affected would do anything to see a "quick-fix" miracle. Now, add-in “spiritual stigmas” (i.e., mental illness is sin, weak faith, or demonic) and getting a "quick-fix" miracle and breakthrough is exhausting ... they all feel stuck.
So, let’s get unstuck and discover something more beautiful!
1. Shock and bargain the breakthrough.
When someone experiences the loss of a loved-one or discovers a life altering disease, they immediately enter the grieving process. Grieving is an expression of love ... a love disrupted.
God created us to grieve our pain - our love disrupted - in order to lead us to a renewed comfort and resilient strength (Matthew 5:4). In fact, God Himself grieves ... Jesus wept (grieved) over the broken state of Jerusalem - love was disrupted (Luke 19:41-44).
In addition, grieving was never intended to be painfully lonely. My friend and expert on grief, Dr. Helen Harris, explains the beauty of our oneness in Christ and grief, "When you grieve, you're experiencing God." That's comfort.
Grieving is normal ... and let's be honest, we tend to react more than respond. Thus, in the grieving process you may see the "quick-fix" miracle mindset, however more clearly in the beginning shock and later stage of bargaining.
Shocked into "quick-fix" miracles.
"What! Wait a minute Doc! Mental illness? I know he/she has problems, but we have faith, we’re praying and he/she is receiving lots of pastoral counseling and care ... this is not mental illness, God will give us a breakthrough.” The shock creates a sense of denial leading to spiritual "quick-fix" miracles. This is reactive and okay, Dr. Harris explains the shock is “God’s airbag to cushion the impact.” This reaction helps keep life moving forward in a sense of “normalcy," while slowly absorbing the painful reality.
Bargaining the "quick-fix" miracle.
“God if you will heal my loved-one I will increase my giving, I will spend more time in your Word, I will …," fill in the blank. They have accepted the diagnosis, however this is the internal pain crying out for "normalcy." They are trying to make a deal with God to regain control. This bargaining has lots of tears, but the process leads to an unspeakable comfort in God.
Spiritual Stigma ... stuck in the mud or loved?
“Spiritual stigma” keeps people trapped in the cycle of pain, like trying to tread through deep mud. The burden of "spiritual stigma" never leads to comfort, it leads to more despair. It can perpetuate into "situational depression" or “complicated grief” … a continual feeling of helplessness. Unfortunately, this can cause some to leave the church and even reject Jesus. Why?
They are not leaving the church or falling from grace, they're trying to escape the "spiritual stigma" of a wrath-filled law and judgement - of never being enough! All those affected by mental illness are asking, "Will I be free, will my loved-one be healed?" But when the breakthrough and healing doesn't come, their deeper cry is, "Will I be loved?”
2. Mental illness recovery - the long-haul resilient grace.
I heard a minister once say, "God can do immediate miracles, but some of His best works are done over the long-haul ... and I'm one of them.”
I believe God can do miracles and in almost 20 years of ministry I can share some great stories. With mental illness recovery I have seen incredible lives transformed, but I've not seen it happen within days to weeks, rather a grace process of months to years.
The mental illness recovery process is for both the individual and the family ... they become resilient with grace upon grace.
3. Family transformation .. from despair to delight.
During my wife's darkest days a great friend, and Grace Alliance board director, “Buzz" Moody, would often comfort me with simple, yet profound clinical and biblical truths. Buzz had been through the journey with her loved-one’s mental illness … no cure, but over years they saw ongoing mental illness recovery ... Buzz and her family were transformed.
One day, Buzz was giving me some overall insight and she tenderly said, “Joe, this experience will take you to a deeper understanding of God's heart and truth than you have ever known." My honest response was, “Look, Buzz! I love Jesus, that’s it! I don't want to go deeper, I’m done with trying 'find and trust God,' I just want a simple life, and I just want all this to go away.”
Well, years later ... she was right ... actually Jesus was right! As I grieved, I felt like God interrupted my theology, to reform me into His. This journey took me to a new depth of an unspeakable grace, rest, and joy! Painful, but I was in His delight of love, comfort, and HOPE!
I've met many other spouses and families who have unspeakable transformation of life! There is a unique delight in their eyes.
In our Family Grace Group, I’ve heard countless stories of families being transformed! We’ve seen families and marriages restored! Even after they pray, some have seen unique miracle breakthroughs in their loved-one’s professional care, relationships, and they’re own emotional wellness. They start out in despair, but by the end of the curriculum (months later) they’re eyes have life. In fact, many of these groups continue to stay together … some even for years!
They are transforming from despair to delight.
4. The beauty of mental illness … the mastery of grace.
Your loved-one’s mental illness is no limitation for the mercy, love, and the life of Christ. Some of our greatest influencers in church history suffered severely with mental illness.
In the 1800's Charles Spurgeon was know as the "Prince of Preachers," yet he struggled intensely with depression, which left him absent from the pulpit for 2- 3 months. Spurgeon described his experience by saying ...
"I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go through ... Every mental and spiritual labor ... had to be carried on under protest of spirit. My spirits were sunken so low that I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for."
This is the same man who said, "I would go to the deeps a hundred times to cheer a downcast spirit. It is good for me to have been afflicted, that I might know how to speak a word in season to one that is weary."
As difficult as mental illness can be, their suffering touches the deepest fabrics of human life and, like Spurgeon, they uniquely have a deeper sense of compassion for others who are weary of life. Their incredible empathy empowers them to be beautiful conduits of Christ's love and grace. Jesus is with them and He teaches them the mastery of grace! I love learning from them ... even when it's difficult.
I once had my teammates come into my office to listen to a new worship song. With amazement one of them said, "Wow, that was great ... we need to sing that at church." Then, I explained, the worship song was written and recorded by a friend with severe mental illness and was currently in the middle of a psychotic episode.
Years ago I visited The Well (clubhouse for mental illness needs) and before the devotional time a man with schizophrenia leaned over to me and said, "You know, God leads us to green pastures ... not burnt ones! Hallelujah!"
God is deep and wide!
5. The long-haul transforms pain to resilient grace, not quick-fix happiness.
The pressure and trials of mental illness is not a sign of God's absence … because afflictions never define our worth or limit God's grace. Christ is our context and that changes the point of view of everything … even mental illness (2 Corinthians 5:16; Acts 10:28). Nothing condemns where grace dwells!
May you experience new depths of transformation ... and you and your loved-one discover ongoing mental illness recovery - a resilient mastery of grace.
Find a Family Grace Group near you, 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.
Joe Padilla | Co/founder & CEO
Mental Health Grace Alliance