“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mental Illness in the Church

Here is the slightly edited text of an email I sent to some folks who are attempting to integrate a person with mental illness into their church group. I provide it as several of the ideas might be worth chewing on.

You guys have sure been giving your best in trying to integrate --- into the group activities. I really appreciate your efforts on her behalf.

In the midst of the difficulties, I hope you are debriefing with the rest of the group so that they can understand your heart in this matter and why you and the others have gone to the extent you have to try to make integration work. Perhaps the group may themselves come up with something that would work to include her to some degree. Ultimately, I think we must have a place for people like --- in the church. As people evidence more disturbed behavior, however, those places will become more circumscribed.

Should you decide to offer her a more circumscribed place, please try to come up with a place where she can regularly be with her age peers. Perhaps she will not participate in all activities, however, I would recommend that there should be some place where she might be able to participate. Communicate to the group that a major part of the goal of that group might then be to act kindly toward her and people like her, attempt to overlook her negative or disturbed behavior and love her. It will not be easy, but it would be a stretching activity for those who would attend that particular meeting. I suspect the leadership themselves might feel less stressed about the situation as they are not attempting to offer the typical meeting or Bible study. They are offering a setting where Christian people are trying to reach out to a person who atypical, difficult to be with and possibly mentally ill. Because the rules for that sort of a meeting change, those involved in the meeting will also change their expectations. We will guage our successes or failures differently. We will be looking at how a particular group member grows in her ability to interact or accept a person who is difficult. We will look at how people are becoming tougher in their ability to show love to difficult people. It would be understood that we are here in large part, to include a person who is difficult to be with and who will evidence difficult behaviors. It is a ministry. I taught kids with serious emotional disturbance for a while, and I know myself that if I am prepared to go into a situation with a person with emotional disturbance, for example, I am much more able tolerate various behaviors as I recognize that it is the disability that is being evidenced. I recognize that in this situation, I am doing my best to love this person in spite of his difficulties. Obviously not everyone would choose to participate in this particular activity/class/or whatever. However, you might find many who would be willing to step up.

I recognize your significant efforts to integrate --- and truly do appreciate them.

I honestly do believe there is a place in the church, or at least should be, for everyone who would want to attend, even if they are mentally or emotionally disturbed. To create those places, however, causes me to see my involvement in the church differently. So I don't always go to a Bible study group just to study the Bible myself, I sometimes go to be a part of a place where people with mental illness can go. I help to create a space where a person evidencing difficult behaviors can come and study the Bible. I recognize that I am in ministry by creating that space. I may not be leading the study, or even participating to a great degree, however, my being present, being accepting, not being so fragile or brittle, I am in ministry because I have created a place of acceptance for people who are largely deemed unacceptable. I fight the urge to just kick the difficult person out, out of obedience to God. God wants to love the difficult person WHETHER OR NOT THEY GET BETTER and he wants to do it through his church, through me. It causes me to see my involvement in church differently. As Rick Warren says, "Its not about you." It truly is not about me as the focus. It is about me as the servant.


1 comment:

Impossibleape said...

If we realized that there comes a day when we shouldn't have to be spoon-fed another bible lesson, comfortably entertained and made to feel that our hearing the word (again and again and again) is enough.

A bible study group that included the eccentric and the socially awkward (not only included but prized and valued them) would be worthy night out for spiritually mature christians.

Why doesn't it happen everywhere, every week?

Perhaps we forget that the goal is to become Christ-like and to be powerful in that becoming.