And so for day 11 of my 30 Day Challenge and I have a little bit of an extra challenge today. The question/subject for today according to list simply says “Family”.
Not “talk about your family”, or “what does family mean to you” just “Family”. And that is very vague isn’t it?
What is more, it is a subject with which I truly struggle. One which I have struggled with for most of my life it seems. Please don’t get me wrong here. I am by no means complaining. I am grateful for this struggle as it has taught me so very much and, as you may have noticed from my previous challenge post, learning, to me, is extremely important.
So let’s talk about family…
Childhood Mental Illness and it’s potential effect on Family:
Just as learning is important to me, so too is family. Sadly it hasn’t always been that way. When you are born with mental health issues, and I believe I was either born with them or developed them very early in my childhood, (due to memory issues I really can’t be sure which it was) it can seriously affect things.
Some of those things are obvious and often talked about – strange or bad behavior, inability to accept the obvious, dogged determination that your understanding/reality is the right/real one – to name a few. But what often isn’t talked about so much is how different it makes you feel and how that can make you feel and believe that you “just don’t fit in.”
Of course verbalizing that, communicating that in a constructive and clear way as a child and in a way in which it will be understood and not just seen as your being “difficult” is extremely hard. Even more so if your childhood happened some 40 odd years back when mental illness was far less understood.
Add to that the fact that those self-same altered understandings, confusions and resultant behaviors actually do stress your relationships and make you feel that you are somehow “bad”, “un-loveable”, “damaged” and/or a “freak” or “just a burden”, and it is a recipe for disaster at worst or alienation at best.
And that is an important point I think and certainly an important point for any parent with a child who has mental health challenges and certainly an important point when it comes to family. Being born into a family doesn’t necessarily result in you actually fully feeling a part of that family.
And trust me, the resultant self-worth issues can be as subtle in their development as they can be devastating in their effect. Thankfully, for me personally they were, whilst still very harmful, not as devastating as for some.
I became a bit of a loner and sought the company of others where no expectation of acceptance was present and thus any acceptance could be taken for what it was and not disappointing in it’s perceived absence. As my mother later commented of me, “You would go out of the door in the morning and I wouldn’t see or hear from you again until I heard you whistling or singing away to yourself as you came down the road at night. ”
My Biological Family:
My immediate family structure at that time was that I had a mother, a father, an older sister, an older brother and then a younger brother. And in the spirit of both charity and honesty I cannot say that they were perfect in their responses to my mental health or that they were even aware of it or understood it for what it was. But they certainly weren’t the worst when it came to family and I did come from what to all intents and purposes would be classed, in those days, as “a very good home.”
But of course such things in childhood do have a knock on effect and lasting impacts into later life. As a youth I pulled even further away and as a young adult even further still.
Why? Because, as I said before, I sought the company of others where no expectation of acceptance was present and thus any acceptance could be taken for what it was and not disappointing in it’s perceived absence. Additionally, and perhaps more tragically, because when you see yourself and a “freak” or “damaged” or even “harmful” the conflict between your inbuilt love for those you should but don’t feel part of and the fact that you don’t feel accepted or part of them either turns outwards in blame and anger – even hatred – of them, or inwards against yourself and in protection of them.
For me it was the latter. I blamed myself. I was, in my eyes, the “freak”, I was “the damaged one”, I was “the harmful one”. So I pulled away.
That is not to say you give up all hope of acceptance or love. Nor that you don’t still have those needs or that somewhere deep inside there isn’t the hope that perhaps you can’t have a acceptance and love from someone.
Perhaps and possibly with someone who doesn’t know your mental health issues and who doesn’t know your history. Someone who doesn’t have an expectation of your “being like your brothers and sisters” and who will accept you for who you are and not notice the damage?
I fell in love with a wonderful woman and got married and together we had a son. Surely now it would work? Surely now I could be accepted. After all she really was a wonderful woman. So much so that on my wedding day I asked my father if he was happy that I got married and with my choice of wife, and he replied. “She is a great girl. Far too good for you.”
Of course the same issues and challenges and lack of understanding of them were present in me as an adult and I was soon to feel as little a part of my own new marriage and family as I did my biological one. And inevitably (perhaps some would think) that marriage was later to fail.
But as I said in my opening, I am (as strange as it may seem to some) grateful for my struggles with family.
I am older now and hopefully a little wiser, (although it may not always seem that way lol) and I understand my mental health issues much more now and certainly don’t hide them or keep them secret anymore. But even more than that there have been two saving graces in my life.
My Adopted Family:
I have been extremely blessed over the years to have been either unofficially but oh so fully adopted by or to adopt many kids and much family.
I cannot tell you how great an honor and blessing this has been or how much healing and knowledge and wisdom and understanding God has brought about through this. Several of us in the family have mental health issues and that has without doubt been one way in which God ha brought about the healing and knowledge and wisdom and understanding that I mentioned earlier.
Has it always been easy? No of course not. But our ability to pray together, laugh together, hurt together, cry together, fellowship together, grow and develop together, and find some healing together all under the ever watchful and ever loving and compassionate eye of our Heavenly Father has kept us going for these 25 odd year together for some of us older ones.
As I write I am reminded of a prayer that I made sat in my then home church many years (about 22) year ago. I asked God to help me to learn how to be a son. To know what it is like to feel like a son, to feel loved as a son. To break through my wounds and hurt and mental health and show me what it really truly was like to be a real son.
Of course God is an on-time God and already knew my heart and needs and had – through my adopted family and even before that through my biological family – begun helping me learn those things.
But in response to that prayer, I believe, God stepped up that teaching and months later our son Matthew was born and I became a father and by becoming a 24 hour a day up close and personal father I began learning how to be a son.
And that has taught me (and us) God’s will and God’s design for us.
Family – God’s Design for us:
Genesis 2:18 “And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” (KJV)
As a Christian I am convinced that Family is God’s design. It is, I believe, unless we are specifically called to another path, God’s sovereign will for us to be part of a family. To live, know, love and be part of a family.
God chose for His relationship with us to go beyond that of just God and His creation to that of Father and child. Christ Himself taught us, in teaching us how to pray, to begin “our Father.”
The more I look at life and at faith the more I see and understand how that is intrinsic to God’s will for us and our existence both mortal and eternal.
The Family of Believers:
Which brings me to the other saving grace in respect of my struggles with “family.” The saving grace that has been present in the form of having a church family.
Perhaps it is because of my mental health issues and the way it has effected my understanding and experience of family throughout my life, perhaps because of my passion for God’s will and my love for others, or perhaps my understanding of how the early church lived and loved each other. Or perhaps a combination of them, but I am so very passionate about living and loving as a family under one Godhead.
Of all the literature, books, articles, blogs, comments, letters and emails that I have read in my life few statements seem to grieve and sadden the spirit within me that the countless statements made by dear folk who regret the fact that they never felt they fitted into a church or fellowship.
If honest I think it probably is a combination of those things I just mentioned above which makes me so sad when I read such statements, but what is more it is, I believe, because it also saddens God as our loving heavenly Father, even more.
To know that someone is struggling with their faith, or seemingly even lost their faith or relationship with God because they could not seem to develop a good and healthy relationship in a local family of believers is such a tragic thing.
And so very sadly I cannot begin to express just how many dear and wonderful folk who like me struggle with mental illness or poor mental health have made such a statement to me.
For numerous reasons, not least of all being my mental health, my relationship with my family suffered greatly and my relationship with my earthly father suffered greatly along with that.
But even more tragic and even more serious was the impact that this had with my understanding, experiences and ability to see myself as part of God’s family through Christ Jesus. And even more serious than all of that, to see myself as being someone God would even want as His child.
There is of course a spiritual side to all this that I have not even touched on here and I am already very conscious of the length of this post. So let me just flag that up as something we all need to be so very conscious of.
If God truly does exist, as I believe and as the bible stipulates, testifies and proves, and if it truly is God’s will that we see and experience Him as His children and thus be apart of His family, then surely the Devil exists and surely only the devil seeks to gain from our not realizing our place in God’s parenthood and family.
Do I still struggle with my acceptance as God’s child? Do I still battle with my acceptance of being a part of God’s family? Do those childhood and life-long experiences in this world, and sadly even in those difficult times with a local family of believers still hinder me sometimes? Absolutely they do. But here’s the deal.
I will not let my mental health issues, nor the devil, nor my past experiences inside or outside of a local family of believers who are (after all) as imperfect as I am, nor any one else convince me that I am not able to be a Child of the living God.
Because the ability to be a child of the Living God does not rest solely on me but on God and His will and desire to be; my Heavenly Father, your Heavenly Father, our Heavenly Father. And the right to be His child does not rest solely on my worth, your worth, our worth, but on the right that Christ earned for us through His worth.
And because the reality of being a child of God through Christ Jesus should not be reliant upon: my experience, your experience, our experience of being part of God’s family. No. Instead and very clearly; my experience, your experience, our experience of being a part of God’s family should and is only reliant upon the reality of being a child of God through Christ Jesus!
So there you have it. In this post – my answer to the open subject of “Family” – I have opened up some about my mental health, my life, my family and families and my faith.
Hopefully I have done so without causing hurt or pain to anyone – especially my family members. And I have done so not out of some personal need for catharsis but as a result of my passion for God and His family and for those dear folk who have shared their own personal struggles with me in this regard.
I am going to close now but I invite you to comment or contact me as your heart leads you. But more than that I invite you to consider my words and to pray and having done so to respond to those prayers accordingly.
Kind Regards and God bless you.