Tag Archives: cross

Regarding Mental Health: How the Church Can Be Supportive

This piece was originally posted on http://forum.covquarterly.com/ in response to an article published in The Covenant Quarterly http://covquarterly.com/index.php/CQ/article/view/2Amy Simpsons article, “Supporting Families Living With Mental Illness” resonated deeply with me. Her story speaks of a journey that many walk in silence; one with which I am all too familiar.  I am ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church but currently am not serving in a pastoral position. However, I do have a ministry. It is through my own family’s journey with our child, who is being treated for Bipolar Disorder, that my eyes were opened up to the need for educating and equipping the local congregation to care for others walking our journey.   Recently, I had the privilege to lead a workshop at the Central Conference Women’s Spring Celebration for women whose children are affected by Mental Illness/ other challenges. The fact that the room was packed spoke volumes. That room became a place of refuge and belonging. Common themes expressed included isolation, exhaustion, and the need for community; specifically Christian community. Simpson’s calls to action regarding support for families affected by mental  illness, matches my own experiences; both as a parent and a part of the body of Christ. What I offer here, are specific points to ponder as well as practical ways we have found for the local church to demonstrate support.

Recently, I had the privilege of leading a workshop at the ECC Central Conference Women’s Spring Celebration for women with children affected by mental illness or other challenges. The fact that the room was packed spoke volumes. That room became a place of refuge and belonging. Common experiences shared included isolation, exhaustion, and the need for community – specifically for Christian community. Simpson’s call to action to the church to support families affected by mental illness matches my own experiences as a parent and as part of the body of Christ. I offer here some practical suggestions for how the local church can support families struggling with mental illness.
Educate: Become aware of organizations that supply information about the condition. For ministry staff, the questions that arise may include: How do I care for this person and their family? How do I help educate the congregation without drawing negative attention to the individual (and family members)? Since the symptoms fall on a large spectrum, the individuals have different needs.  Some churches have a sunday school class that particularly caters to children with special concerns.  We give practical suggestions to teachers when cues such as frustration or anger are presented.
Understand the impact on the entire family:As Simpson notes, “…behind every person with mental illness is a family that has been impacted-perhaps even devastated-by that illness.” Time, energy and resources are often drastically reduced in caring for the affected individual. Siblings may feel neglected.  One idea that has been welcoming to us is the inviting of our other children to play at other families’ homes. It’s a simple act that benefits everyone and reminds the siblings that they are special too. Any gesture that can ease tension is a gift to the family.
A  note on a theology of suffering: Simpson cautions against a theology of suffering that teaches   “that life should be easy and happy.” While I agree with her, I would also admonish against a belief that  medication/treatment provides a diversion from acknowledging the reality of suffering. I know persons with mental illness who have refused medication because they believe that the illness is a “cross to bear.” People facing other illnesses such as diabetes, heart conditions, etc. do not usually see their conditions from that perspective. In particular, parents of children with mental health issues may struggle with embracing the use of medication to help their child. Further complicating the decision by throwing a misguided theology of suffering on them is not helpful.  I believe that God has gifted individuals to develop medications that help restore “normal” processes of the brain and give those affected a better quality of life.The beauty of the Christian community is that we are made better by growing together.  We gain a bigger picture of God’s character through our interactions with each other.  My daughter loves and is effective in helping in certain tasks.  When she was younger, she placed the communion cups in the trays. She also helps prepare the snacks (and I might add enjoys being creative in this task) for our Café’ which follows our Sunday worship service. Children, in general crave purpose. Involvement affirms the truth that they are an important part of the community. . The Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…”. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)  As Simpson states, “Helping people with mental illness is part of the church’s mission and calling. This is true not only for church leaders, but also every Christian.  We are responsible for our response to people in need.”

 

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“What We Have in Common With the Thief on a Cross”

“I tell you the truth. Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

Words uttered by a dying Jesus to a man who is actually guilty of his crime.

Who does he think he is? This man; the recipient of Jesus’ promise of joining him in His Kingdom. He is , after all, a self professed criminal. A thief; indicating a desperate desire to seek security in things of this earth. This man is one of two criminals who hung alongside Jesus. All three facing the same sentence. We know nothing else of this man’s life except this glimpse into his last moments.

The attitudes, behavior, and goods upon which these men built their lives may have given them security in life but are unable to save them in death. Both men are left to endure their own slow torturous deaths while observing the display of horror aimed at the man, who hung between them. A drama that they not only observed but one in which they actively participated. According to Matthew and Mark’s accounts, both joined the crowd in hurling insults at Jesus. For these men, there would seem to be no peace on earth and no peace in death.

An outburst comes from one of the criminals; a challenge rooted in curiosity and desperation. He wants off the cross; “If you are the Christ…”. It’s an attitude of what’s in this for me? His plea is for Jesus to do whatever it takes to end his earthly suffering. A vision focused on this world and this moment.

Instead of receiving his request, he is rebuked. But not by Jesus. By the other criminal. “Don’t you fear God? We all are receiving the same sentence. “ This man; who had previously participated in the mockery of Jesus now seems to have a change in heart. A profession that Jesus did nothing to deserve his death sentence. …In these last hours of unimaginable pain, of emotional intensity, of deafening noise, he has noticed a presence in Jesus that is not of anything he witnessed on this earth. A presence of hope in something bigger than this moment. A presence of divinity to forgive those orchestrating this earthly horror against him.

Who on Earth could do that?

No one. Except the One who originates outside of this world. The Son of God.

This man waited until the last minute to cry out his trust in Jesus. Why should Jesus welcome him into paradise? Why should he get to follow Jesus to an eternal home of delight when he lived an earthly life following sin?

He believed that Jesus was where security is found. His vision was beyond this world and this moment. In his simple understanding, he claimed it . “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answers, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

The original text tells us that his cry to Jesus was not a one time plea but one that had been repeated. The same for the other criminal. He witnessed the same events and yet out of his lips poured repeated expressions of unbelief . Both at an hour of desperation; both at an hour of realization that nothing of this earth will bring hope or peace.

He who dies with the most toys, still dies.

Who does he think he is?

Who do you think you are?

The answer to both is this:  We are all sinful beings in need of a Savior.

I see myself in the face of this man.  How about you?

At whatever place in life we receive that grace extended to us through Christ, whether it be years shortly after birth or minutes before death, Jesus’ promise stands: life eternal in His Kingdom.

In the words of an old spiritual, “You may have the world, give me Jesus.”

(This piece was originally presented as a spoken meditation on one of the Seven Last Words of Christ )