Sunday, October 30, 2011

I Can't Complain But Sometimes I Still Do

I shouldn't be here.  I should be driving home from visiting my daughter in New York. But a nor'easter got in the way, forcing us to rise at 3 a.m. the day before our scheduled departure and drive as rapidly as possible across Manhattan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to stay ahead of a giant storm.

And for that I am grateful. Somehow God managed to get me to New York a day early ... for a client event that was cancelled ... so I got to see my daughter as much as I would have without the storm. We stayed ahead of the storm until New Stanton, Pa., and the drive wasn't nearly as awful as it could have been. And I have an extra day to get ready for a challenging week.

So, in the words of Joe Walsh: I can't complain, but sometimes I still do.  And when I do, I have to move a bracelet from one arm to another.  Fans of "A Complaint-Free World: Take the 21-Day Challenge" by Will Bowen will recognize that I have, in fact, taken the 21-day challenge that takes the average person about eight months to achieve. I may be wearing this bracelet, switching it from arm to arm whenever I complain, criticize or gossip, for months to come.

It turns out that St. James was right. The tongue is like a rudder to a ship. If it becomes negative, your life becomes negative. So we need to control the tongue with the help of grace as much as possible.  Yet, even if we stop complaining, we still have those thoughts. That's why I'm grateful for the other book I'm reading: "Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy" by Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Gratitude and praise are the keys to moving our thinking out of a terrible torrent that she calls "the undertow of life in a fallen world."  It's the place where you focus on what you "should" have that you don't. It's when you think life is hard and overwhelming, and you start to believe the original lie that God is not good.  Gratitude and praise get you to the place where you know that life is broken, but God is good.

Indeed, my meditation passage this morning was wisdom from Francis of Assisi. Christians follow a broken Christ into a broken world. Disappointment and challenge are our landscape. This is the place where we can be a light, where we can glorify God, where it matters the most.

So whenever I think "I shouldn't be here," I try to remember.  Yes, I'm supposed to be here. A good God allowed this, and let's look for a reason to be grateful for it.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

When Love Is Even More Patient Than Usual

I'm taking an e-course titled Contemplative Discernment ... it just started so I think you can still sign up ... that asks students to spend each day contemplating the famous words found in 1 Corinthians 13. "Love is patient.  Love is kind,"  Paul wrote. 

The words are read at many a wedding. But they also would be appropriate for the moment when you learn that a loved one has a diagnosis of severe mental illness.

I wrote recently about the need to help our loved ones understand that they are not only their mental illnesses. How hard is that? Wow. 

In the book, "A Balanced Life," Tom Smith has several good suggestions for implementing two strategies: minimizing the negative impact of mental illness on self-esteem and maximizing the positive impact of, frankly, love.  You say nothing that adds to the person's feeling that they are worthless because they are mentally ill.  And you create a climate of acceptance, openness and respect.

Of course, people with mental illness get plenty of negative feedback that you can't control.  And some illnesses feature the charming symptom of grandiose self-esteem. (In this case, the kindness is helping the person be more realistic.) Still, the only person you can control is you, and you can make sure at least that you are part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

This is where patience and discernment come in.  You have to learn to separate the person from the illness.You can't tolerate unacceptable behavior. But you need to set reasonable expectations that are based on a realistic assessment of what the person can control. When the behavior is out of the control and the person can do nothing about it, you need to get help, plain and simple.  Otherwise, try these steps:

  1. Don't spend much time looking back on what the person was capable of doing before the illness.
  2. Maintain a positive attitude as much as possible. 
  3. Don't take insults, anger or disrespect too personally.  But don't ignore them either. If your loved one is becoming volatile or violent, get help. And don't stop until you get actual help. 
  4. Respond patiently to symptomatic behavior. 
Love bears all things, Paul writes. One of the most profound impacts of having a loved one with mental illness is the growth in your own ability to love. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Losing Their Religion: Families Dealing with Mental Illness

It's official. Churches overall are not providing services to families dealing with mental illness.  And people are leaving the church and their faith behind as a result.

A study by Baylor University, released in June and published in the journal Mental Health, Religion and Culture, found these results. Baylor, which is a private Christian university, surveyed nearly 6,000 participants in 24 churches representing four Protestant denominations. It was apparently the first study to explore how the mental illness of a family member influences an individual's relationship with the church.

As you may know, I am a member of Vineyard Columbus, which has allowed me and my co-leader, to develop a small group ministry for families dealing with mental illness. Our group, Loving Someone with Mental Illness, meets in Columbus at the Vineyard Cooper Road campus at 7 p.m. on the first and third Thursdays, except in November.

This group and ministry came after decades of involvement in two other churches that did little or nothing to support the families of the mentally ill. Evidently that's the norm.

The study found that families who are dealing with mental illness tend to have less involvement in faith practices, but they did want the congregation to help them.  In our group, Job One is to help these families ... and let's face it, it's usually Mom ... to develop the kind of faith practices that allow them to survive and even thrive.

But the families are basically invisible to most churches, even though the survey found that ... believe it or not ... 27 percent of families surveyed were dealing with mental illness.  Those families had double the number of stressors, including financial strain and work-life balance issues, compared to families that did not deal with the mental illness of a family member.

Families dealing with mental illness ranked the need for the church to provide help for dealing with depression and mental illness as second ... No. 2 ... in priority.  Families without mental illness ranked it 42nd. Dr. Matthew Stanford, a professor of psychology and neuroscien at Baylor, said, "The data gives the impress that mental illness, while prevalent within a congregation, is also nearly invisible."

Baylor called for churches to work with mental health providers to help raise awareness in the church community and offer more assistant to struggling families. PsychCentral's Therese J. Borchard suggested that churches take five steps toward improvement:

  1. Get educated about mental illness.
  2. Talk about it.
  3. Create support groups.
  4. Provide literature to the congregation about it.
  5. Host a special service. 
Jesus must be quite unhappy when people in horrible pain walk away from his church because they cannot get help. I hope this study serves as a wake-up call.