Friday, December 05, 2014

Grrnk Grrnk Grrnk Goes Mrs. Smucker's Can Opener



We Mennonites don’t like pride.

Or we say we don’t.

After all, pride goeth before destruction, God hates a proud look, and so on.

Pride manifests itself in various ways, we say.  Among these ways is being spiritually self-sufficient and arrogant, saying or thinking things like, “I don’t need my brothers and sisters to speak into my life.  I don’t need help with my personal issues.  Hey, just me and the Bible and the Holy Spirit, we can figure it out.  I don’t need anyone else’s input.”

Pride pride pride.  Tsk tsk.

“No no, you need to be humble,” we say.  “You need the brotherhood.  You need people with wisdom and experience to speak into your life.  Yes, you need the Word and the Holy Spirit, but you also need help from others.  Stop being so independent and self-sufficient.  What makes you think you can figure things out all by yourself? You’re not going to make it on your own.”

That's when someone is skipping church and questioning closed communion or the head covering.

But then one of us is struggling with depression or bipolar disorder, and suddenly the wind shifts.

“You don’t need help from all these supposed experts,” we are told.  “God has given you everything you need in the Bible.  Hey, just you and your Bible and the Holy Spirit.  That’s all you need.  Pray about it.  Repent of your sin.  Figure it out.  ‘We are given all things that pertain to life and Godliness.’ ‘Great peace have they which love thy law, and nothing shall offend them.’  Why are you looking to people for help when you have God’s Word?  You don’t need all this other stuff.”

What??

If God hates pride, then surely He hates it in this manifestation as well.

I may soon be trying to solder the lid back on the can of worms I opened here, since this is such a volatile issue among certain churches.

On Tuesday night I spoke at a fundraiser for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  I had never heard of them until they asked me to speak, so I visited their office in Eugene to get more information.

And I wished I had known about them a long time ago.

They are a national organization run mostly by volunteers.  Their primary approach to mental illness is a huge emphasis on information and support.  They offer classes, referrals, support groups, and much more.  Much of it is offered by people who have lived with mental illness or dealt with it in a family member.

I could have used many of their resources in the past, with some of my own issues and also with parenting a young adult with depression.  It would have meant a lot less floundering before we finally found some answers.

I gathered that NAMI’s focus is more on peer support than on professional intervention or throwing medicine at a problem, although they are not averse to either if needed.

I thought: if anyone would be educated about mental illness and the healing power of support, brotherhood and fellowship, it ought to be the church.

And yes, I see you there, waving your hand in the air.  You're going to say that SEE, we have all the resources we need in the church.  We don't need counselors and stuff.

Well.  To that I would say, "We as a denomination are not informed and equipped."

And I would tell you to go read Proverbs and all the admonitions to listen to people wiser than you. It doesn't say listen to Grandma who has life wisdom but not to Aunt Barb who's a psychiatrist.  It says, listen to the wise.

I have been helped by counselors, by doctors, by friends who listened, by a wise husband, by children who cut through the fog and clarified things.  I benefited by listening to wisdom, especially if it was accompanied by care and support.

This is not for a minute to discount the fact that healing comes from God.  Or the power of prayer and reading the Word.  The most healing thing ever was when a counselor showed me how Jesus can heal That wound. And He did.  

I’ve found that so much of people's responses depends on what they've experienced.

My observation has been that the most voluble and thoroughly-convinced mental-illness-is-a-sin-problem, anti-counselling, anti-medication, anti-psychiatry folks have never been hammered with mental illness.

Once people have experienced mental illness in themselves or someone they love, they speak with the gentle, careful words of the humble and wounded.  “I don’t have a lot of answers,” they say, “But I will be here for you while you walk through this.”

If you care to comment, please be kind.

45 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post. You are right on!

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  2. Very wise words yourself, Mrs. Smucker.

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  3. Hats off to you! This is one of the bravest blog posts I've read from my cultural background! Thank you! In hindsight I can see that I went through serious depression, postpartum depression and anxiety but with no awareness and no support, I was oblivious to it. How I survived it, I have no idea, apart from the Grace of God. I always enjoy your blog, when

    I read it, and especially so today. (Funny think, I just posted a blog last night about not going to church regularly--not that I'm encouraging that--and then I read your post this morning and had a little chuckle.

    I work with sexual abuse victims in churches, and I know they would all line up and hug you and thank you. They feel unheard, unacknowledged and are often offered a Bible verse or two and told to pray more... still their depression deepens. So to have you address it so directly, offers hope for change. Blessings to you!

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  4. Amen,sister! Preach it from the mountaintop! Well said and oh too true...

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  5. Well done! Having someone in my life that has dealt with some of the issues you mentioned has proved to me how well-meaning-but-uninformed church members can be. Being told "just focus on the positive things in your life" and "ask God to supply all your needs" etc. can totally put them in deeper. The church (and our denomination in particular)need to stop being scared of talking about it, and become educated about mental illness.

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  6. I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Anxiety disorder. It is proven that because I have this if you scanned my brain (it would show visible injury) compared to a persons brain who does not have this.

    If a church believes mental illness is a sin problem- so is influenza.
    Thanks for the post.

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  7. My sense is that when mental illness is present, brain chemistry has gone awry somehow. On one hand, I've learned enough about how choices and experiences can change the brain to be thoughtful about the role of these factors. In addition to these, I'm also aware that Satan's direct action can sometimes manifest as mental illness. On the other hand, I think that reflexively proscribing (cutting out) any of the "remedies" you mentioned is linked to a poor understanding of a host of realities regarding mental illness. All kinds of harm result from this. Asking God for help is the first thing to do, but it may not be the last thing.

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  8. It's fine to leave that can of worms open! People need to hear this truth! (That is, the people who've never dealt with depression.) One thing that helped us during my husband's journey was being open about it, so folks could pray. A support group is valuable, especially if they have experience. A caring church is important, but like you said, they also need to be informed. Thankfully, we only had one person tell us that it's wrong to take medication, trained counseling, etc. My sense is that the stigma of mental illness is less now than years ago, thankfully!

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  9. Thank you for opening that can of worms! :) we are body, soul, and spirit and depression affects all three in a very profound way. I love your post for it is true and there are many things I can connect with! God bless you!

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  10. Couldn't agree with you more! Don't think its necessary to say more :)

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  11. Thanks for being brave and addressing a touchy issue! I have found healing through the Father, His truth, through friends, my husband, God's Word, counsellors, and more! I praise God for people that are trained to help!
    Renita R

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  12. Oh my, oh my, oh my! So glad those worms are out of the can. I couldn't have said it better myself.

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  13. I love the old Indian adage: "Never judge a man 'til you've walked a mile in his moccasins.." That applies to virtually all of life's experiences... Bless you for sharing

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  14. Thank you for your loving, funny, frank talk. I have gone through several bouts of depression and I have tried lots of helps, but the consistent one is my loved ones who are tender and helpful and with me in those times. I used to think depression was something to be ashamed of (still not sure I would stand up in church and request prayer for it - I hope to get over that in the future), but I know that honesty is healing. "The truth will set you free."

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  15. Short, sweet, and dead on. While there is a person in our own small outreach congregation who is a NAMI member, I fear this is a terrible rarity. More Mennonite churches would benefit by forming an alliance with that alliance. Thank you for writing this.

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  16. Thank you for saying something.

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  17. janelle glick12/06/2014 12:23 PM

    Thank you for posting! I have recently been introduced to an organization called Sister Care... They have a training manual that I believe would be very helpful for use in helping to train Mennonite women to care for others in their local congregations - you may find this organization helpful as well. There is a day of training being offered in Sarasota Friday in March - Maybe more conservative mennonite women could join me there?! Thanks again for writing a clear, simple post on an issue that we've been getting wrong for a long, long time.

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  18. Thank you for this post. As someone with bipolar disorder, I completely understand the judgement and stigma that goes along with it, even from some well-meaning church people. Personally, I believe that modern psychology and psychiatric medications are gifts from God, and we should look at them as such. Sure, there's more to it than simply "throwing" pills at the problem, but everyone needs to be educated to understand that it is indeed a physical illness, rather than a sin issue.

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  19. Oh Dorcas. These words brought tears. Tears because they made me feel like there actually is someone "out there" that is willing to speak about this in such a gentle, caring way. I've been blessed with strong emotional health, but I have family members who have gone through desperately fragile times. Being there for them and supporting them has been one of the hardest things I've ever had to do because I felt so helpless and uninformed and... just really clueless. I feel like my church family has been exceptionally caring and supportive to my loved ones, and that is beyond-words precious to me. However, it's a subject that's hard to talk about to so many people because of misunderstandings that arise. Most of the time it's a subject better avoided in order to avoid hurt or misunderstandings.
    Thank you for opening the can of worms, and for being willing to be a voice for those of us on this journey.

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  20. I'm new here but I like the way you write already. Thanks for your gentle way of informing us. Ten years ago I would have been the critical one on this issue. I would have never chosen the journey God has given to me, but the compassion I have gained from it I would not trade. I have dealt with depression and anxiety intensely with not many people understanding. I thank God for a very strong husband who supported me well. My issues have been incredibly relived but the changing of my diet and the grace of God and I've learned so much along the way but I agree whole heartedly - information is so important. Ignorance is not bliss in this scenario. Thank you.

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  21. Funny, I came to this post expecting a story about a can opener. =) The content was much better than that. You gave perfect perspective to it, and I completely agree that if anyone should be educated about it, it should be the church. I back you up 200%.

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  22. Thank you so much for this post.

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  23. I think part of the problem is that mental illness manifests itself as poor behavior choices. In my own little panic disorder/ADD/OCD world I have trouble sometimes figuring out whether it's me controlling the behavior or the behavior controlling me.

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  24. ^ "Short, sweet, and dead on" So true! About this, and all of your wonderful writing :D :)

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  25. Thank you, Dorcas! And thank you, Elisa! "I think part of the problem is that mental illness manifests itself as poor behavior choices. In my own little panic disorder/ADD/OCD world I have trouble sometimes figuring out whether it's me controlling the behavior or the behavior controlling me."
    Elisa, that really rings a bell with me! And gives me direction for praying! Thank you, Dorcas, for speaking out and thank you to all who commented. You have given me much to think about. I have been aware that I struggled with mental/emotional/depression issues since high school or before, but many times still do not know what to do or how to help myself. I became aware of how so much this is a physical issue (i.e., the brain not working as it was designed to) some years ago when taking Paxil for depression (a diabetes side effect). It made such a huge difference in how I felt and reacted in so many ways that I could not doubt that what I was experiencing was not just a "head" problem. So much good, helpful advice here. Gives me a different focus on mental illness and I'm grateful!

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  26. Thank you so much for this post! We're parenting a teen with mental illnesses and a young child with PTSD (both adopted). We find that most people have no clue as to what this involves. They seem uncomfortable if you mention it and the pastor said, "Just talk to the child." He seemed flabbergasted that talking does not help.at.all. We pray for, bring meals to, help with child care, cleaning, etc to cancer patients & others who are ill. Yet very little is done to help families and those themselves dealing with mental illness. I have talked to many families in the same situation who feel very alone, misunderstood and unheard. I am thankful to be going through this so I can be much more aware of how to support and care for those with mental illnesses and to be able to support their caregivers/spouses/children.

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  27. Thank you for posting!Struggling with depression can be a lonely journey!But this has been so encouraging to read!Thanks again!

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  28. Thank you for posting!Struggling with depression can be a lonely journey!But this has been so encouraging to read!Thanks again!

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  29. Years ago I listened to a teaching tape by Mennonite minister and author, John Coblenz, on the subject of mental illness and was educated and greatly encouraged by what he said.

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  30. I was impressed with two NAMI reps' presentation to my Abnormal Psych class. I agree with everything you said about them. They are a valuable resource to anyone dealing with or wanting to know more about mental illnesses.

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  31. Thanks for your wise words. I find that I am usually the most critical when I have the least experience with a specific issue. When I sense myself being critical, I need to take it as a warning sign to turn on the love until I have experienced what they have.
    Gina

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  32. Mental Illness is so misunderstood by Mennos !! No one tells a diabetic to "just snap out of it!"
    I will never forget when I was struggling desperately with postpartum depression, the incredulous comment my pastor's wife made to me, "I don't see how anyone can feel bad on a beautiful day like today!"

    To anyone struggling, guilt about feeling depressed can be a huge factor in your depression. Feelings are just that, feelings!
    Some where there is someone that will love you and understand. Keep looking till you find that person!

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  33. My worm out of Mrs Smuckers can went a little to far...I am sorry for some of the statements I made about some of the churches I grew up in .Please accept my apology

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  34. Thank you to all of you for your insights and kind words. And Nancy, I understand how the worms can crawl a bit farther and faster than we intended. Blessings.

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  35. Very well written... Appreciate your honesty and keep the lid off, it's ok, the worms will continue to rot and put off a stench that already is unbearable in most church settings on this subject if the lid stays on... Keep on keeping on!!!

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  36. Some has said the church (and I am not just addressing Mennonites here - but most denominations) has been wrong about mental illness for a very long time.

    May I offer caution about being too quick to blame the church? There seems to be a lack of concern within the church, but that may also be an effect of helplessness in the face of a problem they do not understand. Of course one may argue the church is wrong for not trying to understand and help, but that is where I believe something else must come into play.

    Most modern knowledge about mental illness (and most medical issues) is coming out of incredibly secular lines of thinking that attempt to reason all susceptibility to disease and treatment thereof back to an evolutionary heritage of swamp muck. It does not accept human life in the image of God, or even look at the human as a total person inseparable from the environment God created for him.

    Christians in whole have bought this philosophy completely. They will say Christ is their Great Physician (but unfortunately he didn't get his medical degree from the state university). I think this is where the guilt of the church resides.

    I do not think it is quite right to blame the church for a reluctance to accept modern science that thrives on discrediting their beliefs.

    Unfortunately, there is not an easy answer. (No, I am not advocating the sects that eschew doctors and rely on miraculous healings only). I think the answer must be for the church to be bold to begin to rethink, in its own circles, the "sciences" from a Deo-centric perspective.

    I believe the outcome would look far different from the modern view of medicine.

    Just to clarify, I do not wish to discourage people who need help from seeking whatever is available. I speak only to blaming the church for failure to engage in secularity when the church should be encouraged to learn what it already knows to be true.

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  37. Thankyou Mrs Smucker, you are so right! One thing is for sure the church is overdue to understand God's heart on this issue. Those in ministry know that we have seen such suffering in the lives of people struggling with mental illness. We have seen such suffering in their families lives. We still struggle to find the balance between trusting Jesus and modern medicine. Thankyou for opening the can... One thing is for sure, it's not just a sin or self control issue.

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  38. I agree that a lot of people may not understand mental illness but why do we have to bring in "Mennonites" in the blog or discussion? I have family that have depression problems...2 have had it quite severe...and the one family member's doctor doesn't think it's necessary to take medication all the time...he thinks you just need to think positive...rise above it. And he's not a Mennonite either.

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  39. Thank you so much for all the kind comments, everyone.
    To Anonymous: I mention "Mennonite" because I am Mennonite. I can't speak for other denominations. I quoted what I've heard from Mennonites.

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