Red Vine Spirituality

Taylor K. Arthur balances Bipolar 1 Disorder, marriage, and motherhood with a nitty-gritty faith inspiring a twisted, blissful life.

An Open Letter to the Church: Let’s be the sanctuary, not the whipping post, for the mentally ill

If we look to Jesus for an answer on what the role of the Church should be in the ministry for the mentally ill, there is strong evidence that He came to deliver and love those suffering with mental illness. There is strong evidence in the Scriptures that He wished us to do the same.

As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”
Mark 5:18-18

Dear Church,

Recently, I applied to be part of a blogging network for blogs pertaining to mental illness. I was shocked when they rejected me because this blog is too Christian. When I wrote back asking for clarification, the editor explained that Red Vine Spirituality contains too much scripture. According to her, scripture can be a trigger (@JulieBipolar) for their readers.

As sad as I am that my blog won’t be included because she later stated “it doesn’t reflect the typical bipolar experience,” I was more saddened that the “typical bipolar experience” is scripture-less. Light-less (Psalm 119:105).

The real truth is that editor was right.

I have been beaten over the head with mis-understood and mis-wielded scripture so many times by well intentioned people that I barely flinch anymore. I see them coming, with the Word of God rolled up in their fist like newspaper, ready to pound some Holy Bible sense into me. And of all the times I’ve tried to listen because maybe I missed something? Maybe this is my fault and there is a way to fix me if I follow their instructions?, I have never heard one argument that made serious, Jesus sense to me.

I remember black depression so deep I was convinced that there was no way out. I remember giving way to death, laying down and accepting that this illness would devour me completely, leaving me picked over like a rack of bones in the desert. If I could have mustered the energy, I would have fulfilled my fantasy of climbing onto my parent’s roof and jumping. I imagined 100 times a day what it would be to drown myself in their toilet.

I woke up mornings with a seated presence bearing down on my head. I couldn’t stand erect the presence was so overwhelming. I hunched in the back yard smoking because I couldn’t stand up straight. I saw demons and angels in my peripheral vision, perched, waiting, as if to see what would be decided for me. This from a church girl? This from the child who first lay in God’s presence at the mere age of nine, who spoke in tongues at 13, who lived to work and serve on Campus Ministry retreats, who majored in Religious Studies for the sheer love of the Lord? This girl? This girl, really? Shattered and forgotten even as she begged God to help her?

I went to a priest, and he prayed with me. I went forward at church and had hands laid on me for healing. I started to memorize scripture pertaining to my mind:

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Romans 8:31-32

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2

I still was not healed. I became more sick. I was told if I would just read my Bible some more, I would get relief.

None came.

I would have marched into an ER if my legs or eyes had stopped working. I wouldn’t have left without a diagnosis.

But my legs and eyes worked just fine. It was my brain that was sick, and I believed it was my fault. So I tried harder.

When I became so sick that I could no longer see truth or goodness or love anymore, they told me I had been given over to my hedonistic desires. I began to believe these Christians who mis-used scripture and beat me senseless with their judgement.

This is how mental illness seeps into the spiritual realm. Or rather, the spiritual realm seeps into the cracks mental illness forms in our self image. When your brain is telling you can’t, you’re nothing, you’re worthlesslazystupidawasteofspace, and you have to fight that brain just to muster the energy to breathe in and out, how are you supposed to try harder?

The spiritual problem I developed was not one of depravity or demon lust or recklessness. Rather, I became so broken down by the battles I was fighting internally and externally that I began to believe the battle could not be won. I despaired because I truly believed God had let me go. I lost hope that I could be saved. And there–THERE–is suicide, there is a mind’s degradation, there is the loss.

The truth about serious mental illness is this: it respects no religion, no cultural group, no church, nor any level of education, gender, or race. The occurrence of serious mental illnesses are the same within the church as they are without. We would like to think that Christians, at least, would be less likely to suffer from bipolar 1 disorder, schizophrenia, and major depression . . . especially in this era of prosperity theology, especially when suicide is a sin, especially when we have–you know–the Ten Commandments, and doctrine, and the Catholics have the hierarchy! We all agree down deep that suicide is a sin of despair, right? Suicide is a straight ticket to hell, right?

Wrong. Absolutely wrong. There, I said it, and I’m going to keep saying it. It’s time Christians who suffer with mental illnesses are given the same help and mercy and love that is shown to the cancer patient and the diabetic and the alcoholic. I am a daughter of the Church. I have loved God all of my life. I didn’t open the door into demonic possession. I tithed on every pay check since my first job in high school. I didn’t even sleep with my husband before we got married. I did everything exactly how I was told to do it so that I could live a good and long life and earn God’s blessing, live in the Promised Land.

The lie of it all is that we can’t earn blessing and we can’t prevent evil as long as we live here on earth. Illness befalls us all eventually, and it breaks my heart to see so many Christians defend the idea that somehow these serious mental illnesses are diseases of the spirit. Everyday, more and more scientific truths are being unearthed to help us better understand the diseases of the mind. Epilepsy, for instance, was considered demonic possession for centuries. Now? We have drugs and treatments and understanding.

Jesus cast out many different demons while he was here on earth, from epileptic to mute to “Legion” demons. Correct me if I’m wrong, but he never once hesitated to free people from the torment they suffered. He didn’t spend time asking them, “Did you try hard enough? Did you ask for this?” He simply, completely loved them and desired for them to live in that love.

Church, it is time for us to love this disenfranchised group who not only must suffer the horrifying realities of mental illness but often suffer alone. It is time for us to see suicide as a morbid symptom of terrifying illness and work to both understand and prevent it.

We, the Church, can change the world with love in Jesus’ name, can’t we? May we not also be able to change the way people with mental illnesses are understood and treated? Can we not become their sanctuary instead of their whipping post?

It is time.

Your bipolar daughter,

Taylor

For more information on ways your Church can help the mentally ill, these videos provided by the Mental Health Grace Alliance and the International Bipolar Foundation are a great place to start:

2 Comments

  1. You’ll still be on Healthy Place, right?

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