I am often asked about my faith in relation to my mental illness or my mental illness in relation to my faith.
As many of you will know I have had mental health issues for years. In fact for the best part of my life – or as much of it as I can remember. Partly and more latterly very openly and partly and more formerly very privately.
Like wise most of you will know that I have been a Christian for years also. And before any humorous soul determines there must be a causal link between the two I can assure you that whilst there is without doubt a link it is hardly causal. 🙂
With psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists alike, this is often treated with caution and and an element of distrust.
Hm, should I make a humorous quip here about the dangers of sitting with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist and uttering the words, “I was talking to God this morning“? No perhaps I shouldn’t. But I am sure, if you have any knowledge of psychiatrists, psychologists, and/or therapists, you will have an idea of just how such a statement is likely to be received.
I am of course not having a pop at psychiatrists, psychologists, or therapists here.
The fact of the matter is that they are not alone in their caution or distrust concerning mental health sufferers who express a faith.
Non-Christians, atheists and agnostics, alike also express caution even disdain concerning such a thing. “Oh so your faith is a crutch!” They sometimes announce or ask, often with some self-satisfying smugness. I say self-satisfying as the suggestion often only seems to be logical and accurate to themselves and I for one would have to say faith with mental illness is far from a crutch it is often more like a cross to be carried.
And of course sadly even Christians can treat mental health in other Christians with sometimes appallingly poor responses.
“So, what is wrong with your faith that you haven’t been healed yet?” is a question I have personally been asked on more than one occasion. Or, “Do you feel that perhaps you haven’t fully given your life to Christ and that is why you haven’t been healed?” Is another harmful and naive question I have personally experienced.
The fact that a) the scriptures do not state that giving your life to Christ will always bring about immediate healing and that b) there are numerous examples of believers in the bible who also were not immediately healed, seems to have slipped their attention.
Another doozy (and a particularly harmful one)which I have personally experienced on numerous occasions is the question. “Do you think that perhaps what you see as your mental illness is actually demon possession?” A question which is sometimes accompanied with the inaccurate statement “After all the bible doesn’t mention mental illness.”
My response to this has somewhat changed over the years – although it is often influenced by where I am mentally at the time it is asked. But nowadays I simply remember that Christian or nor the person asking (and thus thinking) such things is as human as I am and so by no means meant to be perfect and I simply refer them to the words of Matthew 4:24 in the King James Bible which reads….
“24 And his [Jesus’] fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.”
“See the word ‘lunatick’ there and how those people were different to the people who were ‘possessed with devils’?” I ask calmly, “Now what was it you were saying about your thinking my mental illness might possibly be demon possession because the bible (how did you put it?) ‘doesn’t mention mental illness’?”
It usually sets them straight and I have learned over the years not to get all bent out of shape of the suggestion and indeed to recognize that actually it does often come from either a sincere wish to help, a lack of biblical knowledge or indeed a very real understanding that although we are physical beings there is indeed a spiritual element or all things.
Because as a Christian I have a faith in God through Christ Jesus and a believe in God and in His Holy Spirit. I absolutely believe that there is a spiritual aspect to all things regardless of whether or not we choose to accept it.
Do my physical and my mental illnesses challenge my believe in God, no not at all. Does it challenge my faith? Absolutely it does! It presents me with a whole plethora of experience and circumstances that some folk will never know and they challenge me to apply my faith in those circumstances. Often to varying degrees of success I admit, but I am (just like all those dear folk who ask those harmful or insensitive question) only human after all and I make no claim whatsoever to be perfect in any way.
And it is, I am convinced, the very application of that faith which brings the spiritual into the physical.
“But what about those folk who have mental illness and who don’t accept any spiritual aspects? Is there still a spiritual aspect to their health then and if so what should we as a believer who cares about them do about it?” I am sometimes asked.
“Someone’s belief (or lack of it) in something doesn’t change the reality of that thing,” I answer, “Only their perceived reality of it.”
There are a number of people whom I know who don’t believe in a spiritual aspect. Some of them suffer with poor mental illness and some of them (as far as I am aware) don’t.
As a Christian I am called to be loving and compassionate and to treat people according to my beliefs. Beliefs which, I believe, in and of themselves directly call for me to be sensitive to their beliefs.
Do I want to share my faith with people? Yes of course I do. Do I want to force my beliefs on others, no not at all! Do believe that there is a spiritual aspect to all things? Yes undoubtedly! And here’s the deal. Even when I meet someone who does not believe there is a spiritual aspect to their life the fact that I am (to various degrees) a part of their life at that time and there is a spiritual aspect to my life means that through me there must be a spiritual aspect to their life.
And that in the key point for me here. The spiritual aspect to their life in that circumstances is through me and thus the responsibility must lay with me.
I am the one who is to bring the spiritual into the physical in that situation and truly believe that is to be done through prayer and through trusting in my belief in trusting in God in that situation and not by my expecting them too. And that is true with or without the presence of mental illness in either myself or that person.
So does my having both a faith and mental illness issues place me a peculiar place in terms of not only my own perception of myself but also in other people’s perception of me? Absolutely it does, and I thank God for it!