CONVERSATIONS WITH SHEILA

In the spring of 2013, Matthew the youngest son of Pastor Rick and Kay Warren took his own life. Like most of you I am deeply saddened whenever I hear that a fellow believer has succumbed to suicide. For me, as for a few of you, it will always hit closer to home. My father took his life by drowning when he was thirty-four, leaving my mother with three young children and questions that no one on this earth could answer. I grew up struggling with depression, believing that no matter how fast I ran or how hard I worked, my father’s final choice would be mine as well. I understood so little about mental illness during those years. For many who take their lives, the element of choice isn’t there anymore. The darkness is too dark, the pain too deep to even begin to reason.

One day in the early fall of 1992 I simply couldn’t fight anymore. I was co-host of “The 700 Club with Dr. Pat Robertson” but on the inside I was falling apart. I stood at the edge of the ocean in Virginia Beach and all I wanted to do was to keep on walking until the waves were over my head. The only thing that stopped me was the thought of my mother receiving a call to tell her that once more she had lost someone she loved under the water. Instead I ended up in a psychiatric hospital for a month, diagnosed with severe clinical depression. For me, I felt as if I had gone to hell. I had been running from that place all my life. I had yet to understand that sometimes God will take you to a prison to set you free. In the ashes of my former life I discovered a life worth living, based on nothing I brought to the table, but on the fiery relentless love of God.

That was over twenty years ago and I am not cured but I am redeemed.

I still take medication. I take it each day with a prayer of thanksgiving that God had made this help available to those of us who need it but I see so much that grieves me.

We, as the Church, do not handle mental illness well. Because it doesn’t show up on an X-Ray we doubt its validity and make those who are already suffering, suffer more. We accuse them of secret sin or lack of faith. One of the saddest conversations I’ve ever had was with a mother who showed me a picture of her beautiful twenty-five year old daughter.

“My daughter has struggled for years with depression but she started to work with a church that doesn’t believe Christians should take medication. My daughter took her own life.”

Are there situations where people are depressed by circumstances or sin or the weather, of course there are but mental illness is a real disease that for many can be treated so that they are able to live meaningful, beautiful lives.

Mental illness has very little curb appeal in the Church but it’s time to talk, to be open, to be loving and supportive, to stop shaming those who suffer in ways too deep for words.

Not every child is born into a home where there is great empathy and the pursuit of anything that might bring relief, but even then at times the pain becomes too much to bear.

I think of the words of my dear friend, Ruth Graham, “When a believer takes their own life, God hasn’t called them home but He welcomes them home.”

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39 (NLT)

 

 

 

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Comments

manga stream: I like to read your articles 05.02.14
His Daughter: If we were to limp into a church building with a compound leg fracture we know our fellow believers would gasp with sympathy and want to drive us to the ER. Depression can be a compound fracture of the brain. Stress, bio chemicals, genes, can wreck the brain much like a fall or injury can snap a bone. The brain is part of the body. Like the pancreas or womb or lungs it may not work correctly. A doctor can help fix the brain so it works as it should just like a doctor may prescribe drugs or surgery for the pancreas, womb or lungs. God wants us whole. He wants us joyous. He wants us out there helping and healing the world in any way we can. Just as there is no shame in diabetes or asthma or endometriosis there is no shame in disorders of the brain. We can feel shame at our sins, but illness is not sin. It is the result of our complicated bodies going awry in one system or another. Curling up in a dark room agonized by our thoughts is not God's choice for us. He wants us in the sunshine and in the world. Perhaps it will take talk therapy or meds, maybe a hospital stay or even ECT to make our wonky brain work correctly. But no matter the course of remedy, God will be there holding your hand saying son or daughter joy is on its way. You would be stunned to know how many committed Christians are in therapy or take medication for issues of the brain. And praise God for the doctors and medicines that enable those believers to live fully in their faith and not languishing behind closed doors. Antidepressants are a lifeboat. Depressed Christians are praying on the roof in a big flood of pain. Please God send help! Heal me! So he sends therapists, medication, counseling. We just don't recognize the answer , thinking a Christian must be healed by a touch to the head and angel song. Often God's healing is through the men and women called to medicine as well as those called to ministry. As you would do anything to relieve your child's pain, God wants to relieve yours. Depression, compound leg fracture --it us the same to Him. His child is hurting and He wants us to toss away our pride and get help. Why did he create so many men and women of medicine and science? Because He loves us very much. And he wants enough gifted healers to go around. Thank Him for the remedies previous generations could only dream of. Thank Him for caring doctors and nurses and therapists . Thank Him that you live in a time and nation where mental issues are not seen as curses or mysteries but simple boo boos of the body that happen to occur in the brain. Thank Him for loving us enough to create gifted folks who ache to help relieve your pain. Then make an appointment with one today. 04.16.14
Faye: I believe a lot of Christians have experienced some kind of mental breakdown because of heavy pressures but unfortunately people aren't being real about these issues. 12.08.13
Spiritually abused: Thank you for so eloquently addressing such a painful topic. I too spent some time receiving help in a Psychiatric unit. I tried multiple times to end my life. Every judgment the "church" (Christians friends not from my church) laid on me was a heavy weight I could not bear. I feel shamed and unworthy and broken. Unusable by God. Useless. a burden to my family. Fortunately my family is supportive. I did get help, and I know God loves me. Most of the people at church don't know. I feel as though I have a deep dark secret that people will ostracize me if they find out. It has made my ability to fellowship and my recovery more difficult. 12.06.13

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