The mentally ill wear stigma like a scarlet letter, but Christ can make it a badge of honor.
Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission
Author: Amy Simpson
Publisher: IVP Books (www.ivpress.com)
Troubled Minds by Amy Simpson was a must read. My on and off relationship with Dave, who suffers from mental illness, left me looking for help. Relating to troubled minds is rewarding, but it can also be frustrating and draining. This book did not disappoint as a reference and guide on a subject that has often been neglected and misunderstood by the church. This goes a long way towards bringing clarity and wisdom.
The author is more than a researcher presenting her findings. She shares openly about her mother’s battle with mental illness and how it affected her family. It is troubling to read how her mom, a pastor’s wife, turned from her faith and wound up on the streets before being incarcerated. When you read accounts like this, or when I think of Christians who have Alzheimer’s, perplexing questions begin to multiply. How does this relate to God’s promise to keep and care for his children? Why must this be? What will be the outcome?
Fortunately, I kept reading. Simpson’s family story does not end badly. The author succeeds in providing a comprehensive overview of this subject from a Christian perspective. The wisdom found in these pages will be a source of comfort for those who struggle and for those who serve a population that is underserved.
I came away with greater compassion, which is no small accomplishment. I like how Matthew 9:36 in the King James Version speaks of Jesus, “But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.” Christ was moved with compassion. When you catch in these pages a glimpse of the harassed and helpless, who may be like sheep without a shepherd, don’t be surprised if the Spirit of Christ moves you with compassion.
One of the rewards of this book is seeing what the church should be in relation to the mentally ill. Simpson often shows where we fall short, but she does not browbeat. She instructs out of the compassion born of experience and learning.
It would be helpful if at least one member of every ministerial staff could read this book and be familiar with the contents. I recommend it for every church and theological library. It points the way forward for the church to do better. It also provides resource information for those wanting to start a ministry to the mentally ill.
They wear stigma like a scarlet letter, but Christ can make it a badge of honor. I saw this with my friend, Dave, who asked me to write his testimony (see the article at the end of this review). Even though he liked what I wrote, he was fearful of being associated with it. He wants others to know what Christ has done, but disclosures like this often lead to the mentally ill being judged and ostracized, even in the church.
When asked what this book is about, I mentioned in the presence of a non-Christian that it is an encouragement for the church to reach out to the mentally ill including the depressed. In reply, she remarked, “That’s good because a depressed person is not going to come to you.” Although that may be true, change is possible. This book contains stories and testimonies of churches that have successful ministries that are like magnets attracting the mentally ill. People are drawn to the supportive atmosphere.
The author is careful to point out that the church should not expect a quick fix for those who suffer in this way. This involves a long term commitment. Too often someone who does not get better in a few weeks, months or years may experience subtle rejection. Someone with this disease may struggle for a lifetime. It may be more realistic to think in terms of management rather than cure. It’s not enough to just refer people to specialists. The mentally ill need the support that only the church can provide.
This book shows that mental illness is more widespread than most people realize. It’s an overlooked ministry that is challenging but rewarding for all concerned. For those interested in the possibilities, this book is a fine starting place.
Crazy for God! (David’s testimony)
Crazy for God! You may laugh or think me foolish, but since 1977 I have been mentally ill. It’s a stigma I often bear, but Christ has turned it into a badge of honor. I don’t have to be ashamed. Mental illness is not a moral failure.
It was a trait that I inherited, and my home life was far from ideal. I witnessed promiscuity; my dad took me to an x-rated movie when I was only 16. But it was being rejected by a woman that triggered manic-depression and schizophrenia.
Since then many people have come and gone. I have seen the inside of hospitals and psychiatric wards. I am misunderstood and rejected even by other Christians. Although I should be able to find a place in a church, I still find myself searching to connect with people.
But this is what makes Jesus so precious to me. Since I trusted Him in 1975, he has never left me. Even more, he has given me a heart to share the good news that all may come to him for forgiveness and freedom. Who would guess that Christ would give me a ministry of evangelism?
I have lived in many places over the years. Everywhere I go I tell people about Jesus. I have given away hundreds of tracts, and I ever long for fellowship with God’s people. How many are fortunate to have that kind of love?
God put it there. His Son was no stranger to rejection. He knew scorn and abuse. When dying, after being nailed to a cross, he prayed “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34 ESV). Though I express it imperfectly, this is the love that God has given me. Though others may mistreat or forsake me, I keep reaching out.
Though I have wanted to marry, at least for now, Christ has given me the gift of celibacy. The 40-year-old virgin has nothing on me. I have been one for over 55 years. It’s been a struggle at times, but even when I feel lonely or discouraged, Christ stands beside me.
He’s the friend that walks in when everyone else walks out. He picks me up when I fall. He’s given me a love for the Scriptures. His Word is a continual comfort and makes me feel like I have a treasure that many people know nothing about.
I am not crazy, just crazy for God. It’s why you are reading this article. I want you to know the God who will love you no matter what. Just turn from going your own way and entrust your life to Christ. As Christian recording artist Evie sang in an old song, “Live for Jesus, that’s what matters/that you see the light in me and come along.”