Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness (c)2012 Nancy Virden
Seated around the sprawling oak dining table were thirteen different tales, more than thirteen conflicting beliefs, and thirteen diverse ideas of what Thanksgiving is all about.
At one end sat a grown daughter who had spent the last thirty minutes arguing vehemently with her mother over who was in charge of the kitchen. She looked serene, but anyone who knew her well understood the forced little smile and straight back. She was angry. To her, Thanksgiving had to be a perfectly orchestrated experience.
A quick glance at this woman’s defeated contender revealed a face lined with exhaustion. Now her arms hung at her sides, her apron still tied loosely about her neck. Her Thanksgivings included weeks of preparation, and great relief at its end.
Two male teenagers sat at the table’s divide. Both stared hungrily as the measured holiday prayer droned on. Spiritual words went unheeded as their thoughts turned to the afternoon. Thanksgiving for these two meant hearty servings of favorite dishes followed by a snowball fight.
Pious words continued as a younger girl peeked through squeezed eyelids at the expressions of those who offered thanks. Her brother was staring at the pie. Their Dad was wearing a religious face while the lips of uncles and aunts moved silently in supposed earnest. While childish cousins were playfully kicking each other under the table and suppressing giggles, her early training that nothing is as it seems colored her perceptions.
You see, behind the roast turkey and succulent dishes was a reality in harsh contrast to any superficial joy. Her parents were divorcing. Having observed abuse, lies, and hypocrisy all of her life, young faith contorted to fit around uncertainty, and her stomach knotted in dread. Wanting so much to believe in a permanent love, in her mind this Thanksgiving was a chance to deny the fear, to grab at the retreating familial fantasy for a short while longer.
One suppressed tale was not actually seated at the table. A painted plaque on the wall read, “In this house, Christ is the unseen guest at every meal, the silent listener to every conversation.” It was ominous for the fact that despite its profound message no one paid any attention. It was a simple story with the potential to change every family in the room. Yet much stayed the same.
The Redeemer of parents, children, marriages, attitudes, and broken hearts was given cursory attention; the grand truth that God is the difference-maker went unheeded as the Thanksgiving prayer continued.
Much was on the line now for this girl. Often having wondered what it is like to have a real family, would she search for that sense of stability and acceptance in all the wrong places? Would she grow to know the difference between the ‘faith of her fathers’ and true reliance on God? If she went on to make unhealthy decisions and her life became a wreck, could anyone be accountable for the mess?
While each of us is responsible for our own choices as adults, mental and emotional challenges not-withstanding, one of those choices is how we will choose to live in front of children. Will we create environments where the young are confused and emotionally damaged by our behavior? Or will we provide mentally healthy homes and holidays?
We may not be able to prevent mental illness, but we do have a choice whether or not to cause suffering.
NOTE: I am not a trained or licensed mental health professional. I am not a doctor. I speak only from my experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.