My friends, Sue and Jessica, are finding their faith stretched. Sue’s mother, Edith, shows signs of mental illness. So does Jessica’s son, a victim of drug-induced schizophrenia. The emotional roller-coaster ride upon which my dear friends ride is grievous. One day, the mentally ill individuals are kind and trusting; the next, they are paranoid and accusatory. My friends constantly are looking for verbal weapons to combat the struggle.
A few minutes ago, I hung up from a phone call with Sue. Her elderly mother last month was told that she has only a few months to live, so my friend and her husband, John, traveled to her home in Texas to help clean up the mess created by her hoarding and inability to handle her finances.
After years of not being allowed in her mother’s house, time was up. Things were worse than expected. Unpaid bills and stock reports piled in heaps amidst hundreds of magazines and newspapers.
It was obvious that John needed to acquire a power-of-attorney to protect his mother-in-law. Edith signed the documents. Which lasted about two weeks. Sue’s mother then began accusing her only daughter and husband of taking advantage, stealing her gold coins and documents from her safety deposit box. The details aren’t necessary.
Sue wept as she shared the latest allegations, all unfounded. No amount of reason could change her mother’s decision…until, that is, her mind flipped into a loving, understanding, accepting perspective. Once again, John could have the power of attorney…until, that is, Edith trumped up more reasons to negate her judgment.
Jessica’s son, filled with guilt over past regressions, remains hopeless and unable to see how God wants to turn his badness into goodness. (God’s good at that, you know.) I shared with Jessica of pastors who had turned from their evil ways to lead growing, dynamic churches, after repenting and admitting their failures, and I asked that she share that with her son.
Mind and Soul Foundation documents that 25% of Christians suffer from a form of mental illness, yet most are ashamed to admit their issues. Both of my friends understand the complexities of dealing with dysfunctional loved ones and are continuing to love and support their mentally-ill relatives.
Still, loving the unlovely might be the most difficult challenge we all are asked to do.
God is our example of how to pull it off since He never gives up on us.
As Christians, we are to be mindful of damaging things we say to those who suffer from mental illness. “Surrender your infirmity to God.” “You can will this away.” “God is testing your faith.” “Jesus is calling you to repent of your sins.”
Psychologists question why we would ask such things, citing how we wouldn’t say that to a cancer victim. (Sadly, I have heard those “helpful” messages expressed to people with physical illnesses.)
Sometimes, no words are the best words. Merely practicing the ministry of presence might be the most powerful weapon on which we can rely.