Earlier this month Pastor Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the best seller “The Purpose Driven Life” lost his son, Matthew, age 27, and life long member of their church. After an earlier day of laughter and joy their son went home and had a severe depression spell that ended with him tragically taking his own life. Warren says that Matthew dealt with depression for many years. The reason I bring this up in my blog is because the cries of the Warren family strike like a knife wound to my heart. When I first read the article about it on TGC (http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2013/04/06/praying-for-rick-and-kay-warren-and-family/) I couldn’t help but cry bitterly to the Lord. This is altogether an issue that I am not only familiar with but also battle with. I want to ensure anyone reading this who either struggles with mental illness or has a loved one who does that your cries are heard by the Lord and to encourage them to pray unceasingly to Him. These cries go deeper in myself than I can express on here.
I come from a background of mental illness. Both my grandmother and my uncle have suffered severely with it. My grandmother on my dad’s side suffered the majority of her life in the walls of an institution without end.
During much pressure and change in my life, at age 15 I lost my grandfather to cancer, was on the verge of losing my neighbor (also a grandfather to me) just after leaving him in a different state, and grieved at the loss of many childhood relationships as well as the world as I knew it during a sudden out of state move from Aurora, Illinois to Lapeer, Michigan. It was a move I desperately wanted not to take place and soon after struggled with depression without any counsel or anyone to talk to. I did not know anyone at the two churches that got involved in there after nor did anyone seem interested in talking with me about any of these things. Soon after I came down with severe tics and was later diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome. Tourette Syndrome is a neurological disorder, brought on by stress, that results in symptoms like sudden vocal outbursts, hand, arm, leg, neck, and facial twitches called tics. After my mom took me into the doctor I was later prescribed anti-depressant and and anti-psychotic medications that did not help, but made this condition a lot worse.
What seemed like an endless cycle of anxiety, worry, doubt, depression, would later turn me into non-functional in and out of hospitals as depression and Tourette Syndrome turned into Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and Bipolar Disorder. A spiral of smothered and tearless cries, questions about God’s Sovereignty, restlessness, sleepless nights, anger, bullying, and mental abuse from trusting family and even church friends soon left me in a state of daily inability. It was not until after I met my wife and moved out of Michigan towards northwest Indiana did I receive my first steps of victory in the Savior, Jesus Christ. Much of this started when my dad sent me a copy of Watchman Nee’s book “The Normal Christian Life” and I saw, recognized, and remembered the essentials of the Christian life. That it was simply not about perfection, but about the power of God’s grace that would be the key in my therapy into deliverance.
My deepest cries and prayers go out to Rick Warren’s family for the loss of their youngest son Matthew. I know what the pain of mental agony that can lead into the oppression of Satan feels like. I remember many restless nights of depressive spells some 6-7 years ago that left me trying to stay calm enough to not jump to suicidal thoughts while daily taking the highest doses of some of these stabilizer medications. The point is that I understand much of the pain of both that gone through by the patient and that of the family. This leads my heart properly into grievance, prayer, and ended with praise and thanksgiving.
After reading Ann Voskamp’s blog “What Christians Need To Know About Mental Illness” (http://www.aholyexperience.com/2013/04/what-christians-need-to-know-about-mental-health/) and hearing much of the feedback from it; I feel compelled to write my best wisdom and insight on the current struggles of mental illness.
Here are five points that I will convey.
1. Mental illness is biblical.
In Genesis we see Jacob (Israel) the father of Joseph struggle with a severe depression at the potential loss of his last son, Benjamin, after previously losing his beloved wife, Rachel, and his older son, Joseph. And this is after wrestling with God most of his life.
In the book of Job we see the Satanic oppression of Job that was meant to test his faith.
In the Psalms we see much of King David’s cries of questions, cries, and what seems like depression after losing many of his children to wickedness or despair.
We see King Solomon’s cries of hopelessness in the Lamentations and the Ecclesiastes.
We see many of the prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, and Hosea struggle with cries of despair and depression-like symptoms.
We especially see the prophet Daniel’s cries and questionings to God through his prayer life and about the fate of God’s chosen nation after Israel was conquered by the wicked nation of Babylon and disbanded which ended with God’s promising Him the restoration of Israel through the coming Messiah and later the end of the world measured in 70 weeks.
We also see Jesus having compassion on oppressed people with uncontrollable compulsions, self-mutilation while living isolated in caves, lame, and crippled people.
Peter struggling with identity issues, Paul with many longings of wanting to go home to the Lord, and many others throughout the Gospels and the New Testament with these issues.
2. Mental illness is not insanity.
Many people, sadly even in churches and youth groups, think of mental illness as being something like “insanity,” not knowing reality, talking crazy, pointless rage, or psychosis. This is a popular misconception encouraged by Hollywood and media writers who love to make big bucks on writing epic horror plots and laughter out of people’s “senseless bipolar jokes.”
The answers to these deep problems are usually never found in self-help books, universalist therapists, television media, internet yahoo answers, or even medications. They are best found square on in the Bible by the promises of God and the constant prayer life of the believer. Of all of the greatest therapies I have received while dealing with the scars of agonizing stress disorders and mental illnesses, I have never met a do-it-yourself method or counterfeit god that actually came through as promised. My only positive mental, physical, and spiritual therapeutic progression has come from one place. The Lord Jesus!
3. Mental illness should be treated with extra grace, not extra punishment.
Being that mental illness roots from anxiety (the discomforts or worries about the things of tomorrow) and depression (the deep and cloudy pit of lack of future sight and hopelessness), I cannot help but strongly disagree with much of the traditional and fundamentalist ways raising children with mental illness dictated by “make stricter rules for the child, work him harder, and belt him harder.”
I have seen this treatment, more than once, end in grown up adults who deal with endless trauma, rage, running away, hate, terror, and even psychosis.
I think the church needs to treat people struggling with depression, infirmity, shame, guilt, and fear with the compassion that Jesus Christ, Himself, treated them with: encouragement, grace, love, healing, and deliverance.
We need to invite the sick and hurting into our homes, not keep them as far away as possible.
4. Mental illness does not determine a person’s future.
Many of us have dealt with the fear after hearing another misconception that “mental illness” determines that the person undergoing the trial is beyond hope and only going to get worse.
To my horror I have seen young people in churches attempt to avoid mentally ill children because “they are just trying to get attention, give them less and they will bother you less.” This is not only un-Christ like but it is altogether cruel and hateful.
No, there is hope and therapy in the Living Word of Christ for those struggling with depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and senselessness. It is best demonstrated by love, mercy, sacrifice, and grace.
5. The best therapy for mental illness.
In my previous blog I wrote about the importance of prayer. Once again, prayer is the primary key to maintaining hope in your life and relationship with Christ. Picking up a cross and nailing yourself to it next to Christ may sound a lot like despair and pain, but it is actually the greatest joy you will find. Hope is the existence of meaning in a person’s life. Meaning is motivation and joy throughout trials!
Our pastor said last Easter Sunday “Deterioration begins where hope ends.” This is the truth of the matter. We cannot possibly move on to greater things in our lives for God’s plan when we are weighed down with the lies of Satan rendering us meaningless.
The common factor in all of the Biblical figures that seemed to struggle with mental illness is that after many desperate cries, their speech always ends with hope. Hope that was given to them by Christ. Hope that was found in thanksgiving.
My groans to God are some of the most important parts of my prayer life. But the most joyful and fruitful part of it is my thanksgiving! This has been the key to my own therapeutic recovery from the pits.
Christian prophet and martyr of World War II , the German, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, wrote a well known heart breaking cry to God entitled “Who Am I?” (http://www.dbonhoeffer.org/who-was-db2.htm) which expresses some of the deepest and darkest life questions and ends in the peaceful reassurance of the Holy Spirit in thanksgiving, “Whoever I am, Oh, Lord, I am Thine!”
Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, struggled with severe depression and anxiety leaving him sometimes harming himself bodily to atone for sin before his deliverance through the assurance of the finished work of the Cross of Christ.
Christ is my sealed adoption in whom I cry “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15). And throughout the trials of this world I will be mature enough to count it all joy! (James 1:2)
“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” – Luke 12:27-30 ESV